The Perfect Hamburger or Why Even Snobby Italian Foodies Love the American Burger

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A thinner style burger on white toast with grilled onions and cheddar

You’ll be hard pressed to find a person who does not enjoy the occasional jazzed up hamburger.  You can approach a serious Foodie, a European transplant, and even a borderline vegetarian and they’ll all light up when you mention the idea of putting together a perfectly grilled hamburger with the appropriate toppings!  In my view, the hamburger is the greatest culinary contribution the United States has ever made and this is both frightening and impressive.

My method for making burgers is taken directly from Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut which, according to the Library of Congress, is the first establishment to serve the hamburger sandwich in the United States.  Louis’ Lunch uses white, thin sliced, toast as the sandwich bread and then flame broils it’s ground meat (made from a secret blend of five different cuts of beef) vertically in original antique, gas powered, stoves.

While I don’t utilize Louis’ cooking method I do keep my ground beef thin and don’t work the meat with my hands, as this toughen up the patty.  Rather, I form a loose patty and season both sides with lots of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

burgers on white toast with onion and cheddar
Cheeseburger and Onion Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • ½ pound of ground beef (see below for more information)
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 4 larger pieces of white cheddar
  • 1 large red onion
Process
  1. Our version of the perfect burger starts with chuck flap tail (short ribs without the bone), chuck, round, brisket, or sirloin. You can experiment buy choosing different percentages of the ground cuts (I like to have a good amount of fat in the mixture). You can, of course, buy leaner ground beef, but fat equals flavor (so be forewarned if you opt for leaner meats). We always purchase our meat from a local butcher we have a relationship with because we like to know as much about our food as possible for both high brow, intellectual, reasons and simply because meat or food that comes from a good source tastes better. For a full guide to choosing hamburger meat see Saveur's site.
  2. First, note that about ½ a pound of ground beef should equate to two ¼ pound hamburgers. In a medium sized bowl, lightly and gently combine your room temperature ground beef to create a thin pattie (it's doesn't need to be perfect in shape and you're looking to bring the meat together into a patty versus picking it up and working it heavily). The key here is to work with the meat at room temperate and that you do not, again, overwork the ground beef. Finally, you'll want to sprinkle both sides of the burger with plenty of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (the extra salt is going to make the burger taste outstanding).
  3. In terms of the onion, we like to have sautéed onions for my hamburger instead of the raw variety you find at diners and hamburger joints. So, grab a large red onion and dice it into thin slices. Next, slowly heat a small sauté plan and add your sliced onions and a bit of salt. Give the onions a good stir every 4-5 minutes and you should get perfectly caramelized onions in about 15-20 minutes (the key is slow cooking the onions).
  4. We use a large All-Clad non-stick grill pan to cook our hamburgers and we usually apply a bit of olive oil to the pan (both for flavor and to help the non-stick thing). We start by preheating the grill pan for 4-5 minutes on a medium flame. Next, place the burger on the pan (preferably in the center) and do not touch for about 1-2 minutes (depending on the thickness of your burger). After a few minutes, flip the burger and again do not touch for roughly 1-2 minutes. During the last minute of cooking place your onions on your burger grill pan and place the burger on top of the onions. Next, place your cheese on the burger and allow to melt (usually 30-60 seconds). Placing the onions below the burger will draw some of the onion flavor right into the meat!
Notes
We do like a bit of ketchup on our burger and even though the main character in Sideways drank a fine wine with his burger, we prefer beer; Specifically, a Brooklyn Lager or Pilsner.
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5 Comments

  1. Looks great! All of your food does. I’m lusting after the duck prosciutto from your previous post as well. Never read Vin’s blog when hungry – it’s downright dangerous! Keep up the good work.

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  3. That Louis Lunch thing…about being the first…..it ain’t….not even close…..it was a sory people started in order to save the buidling from being torn down……

    Oh, and a burger place that wouldn’t let you have ketchup……….yeah, Im gonna go to one as soon as I find an italian place that wouldn’t let me have fresh greated Pecorino or Reggiano.

  4. That Louis Lunch thing…about being the first…..it ain’t….not even close…..it was a sory people started in order to save the buidling from being torn down……

    Oh, and a burger place that wouldn’t let you have ketchup……….yeah, Im gonna go to one as soon as I find an italian place that wouldn’t let me have fresh greated Pecorino or Reggiano.

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