Making the perfect burger for each and every person reading this ultimate burger guide is impossible. There are just too many options available. Some people like a thick juicy burger while others prefer a flat crispy patty. Then you have cooking times, should it be a blue burger, rare, medium, well done or burnt to a crisp. Add topping options, buns, and cheese and the combinations go to infinity and beyond.
So, how do you make the perfect burger? For this ultimate burger guide, we’re going to talk you through all the options available and then select each option based on our experience and the common consensus for what makes the best burger for the average joe. This will be as good a burger as you can make for someone if you know nothing about their taste preferences. Once you have this knowledge you can then customize the burger to suit your own personal tastes.
You’d think that selecting the meat would be the easy part of making the perfect burger. Of course you have options such as bison, deer, and chicken to name just a few types of meat. But we are talking about a perfect hamburger, so there is only one choice – beef. Okay, that was easy, let’s move on.
Not so fast. You can’t just go into a butcher’s and ask for beef. If that was your only requirement an unscrupulous butcher would have you walking away with some high-end Kobe beef fillet, an empty wallet, and not much meat to make great burgers. You need cuts of beef that are well priced, can form well-held patties, have an amazing flavor profile and contain the right fat content.
If you want to play it safe, you can get a reasonably good combination of all the above requirements from chuck beef. Chuck is the cut of beef most commonly used in single blend burgers. It’s what most decent diners and mom and pops restaurants will use. But to enhance some of the requirements for the perfect burger we recommend a multi blend approach (using a few different cuts of beef). Before telling you our burger blend let’s have a look at what characteristics makes the perfect burger patty.
People want their beef to taste beefy. A burger that tastes beefy shouldn’t be hard if we are making it out of beef. But what does beefy actually mean? And do different cuts have more of this beefiness?
Several years ago a great chef called J. Kenji López-Alt broke down what beefy means into four distinct categories. And as he is renowned for his science-like approach to food these flavor profiles have stuck.
- Nutty, almost parmesan cheese-like
- Rich/savory, giving that meat flavor on the back of the tongue
- Grassy/sour, a metal, iron-type flavor
For perfect burgers, you need to combine all these flavors in the right proportions. This is why Chuck is often used. Because it is the best single cut for combining all these flavors. The problem is that none of the flavors are punchy enough for the perfect burger. So we need a multi-cut grind. And this combination must also take into account the following two sections into account.
If you’re a member of many BBQ, grilling and burger social media groups and forums you’ll definitely have seen the 80/20 ratio being touted as the fat content needed for perfect burgers. This is one of the common consensuses or group think rules our perfect burger is going to break. We’re going to be aiming for around 30% fat.
Why are we breaking the commonly excepted rule of meat to fat ratio? The reason is pretty simple, the fat ratio should depend on the intended internal cooking temperature, the lower the temp the lower the fat. Most people that give out advice on making your own burger patties are “foodies”. They say 80/20 because they are going to cook their burgers like they would cook steak – rare or medium-rare.
Pink burgers are great, but I don’t normally recommend them for backyard grillers because most people will be buying pre-minced beef and cooking to an internal temperature under 160°F raises the risk of food poisoning. Plus, most guests will complain pink burgers aren’t cooked properly and throw them away.
So our perfect burger is going to be cooked medium-well, which means more fat is needed to remain juicy. Obviously you don’t want large amounts of unrendered fat in a burger or dry burgers, so follow our meat to fat ratios below for the best burgers.
- 90/10 Black and Blue
- 80/20 Rare and medium-rare
- 70/30 Medium and medium-well
- 60/40 Well done
The texture of food is often overlooked, but many people are put off of food simply by how it feels in their mouths. And of course, the texture is important for burgers when grilling and flipping, as you don’t want them falling apart.
The perfect burger has to be tender and juicy. The main traits we are looking to avoid that are common with bad burgers are crumbly, gritty, and tough burgers. So even if you pick the right taste profile and get the right amount of fat, if the burger doesn’t form a well-held patty it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
There are some “cheats” available to overcome the problem of texture in burgers – binders. I’ve seen people add all sorts of ingredients to their burger mix to get the right texture (and enhance the flavor). You have classics like egg, breadcrumbs, and onions. But burger purists will tell you your burger is fast becoming a meatloaf. I’ve also seen suet, bacon fat, bone marrow and even some hard cheese added to the mix. Personally I’m not against any of these, but for our perfect burger we’ll just be using beef.
There are four main methods people use for getting ground meat to make their burger patties. And all four fall into two categories, either meat bought pre-ground at the store or buying chunks of meat to grind at home. We’ll cover all four methods but if you are going to grind your own meat there is one rule you should follow regardless of the method.
Chill everything! Your meat should be so cold it is almost frozen. And you should also chill any equipment you are using – your grinder or knives. One reason for this is it makes it easier to cut. But the main reason is to do with the fat. Warm fat will smear when you cut it, whereas cold fat will stay in nice little chunks. This results in a nice loose patty with juicy little pockets, compared to a tighter and drier patty.
Store-bought – Your options here are the packaged ground meat you’ll find in the freezer or fridge section of most stores. Or to get to know your local butcher and ask him to grind the meat of your choosing.
Option number one is the easiest of all the methods for ground beef. But it’s also my least preferred option. For one, you don’t know how long the meat has been sitting there. You can’t guarantee what cuts are in the grind. And each time you buy it the mixture could be different.
Option two is an excellent choice if you don’t have the skills or equipment to grind meat at home. On top of this getting to know your butcher will help with all you homing grilling. Having a butcher grind meat for you can be as good as a few of the home methods I’ll run through in a minute. But one thing I will say, it’s best not to cook pink burgers with store or butcher ground beef. You want to use fresh ground beef for pink burgers and to know all the equipment you are using is nice and clean. You can’t guarantee this with store-bought ground beef.
Another reason I’d say you should grind at home if possible is that you bought ground beef will likely be mushier than doing it yourself. As the store or butcher is unlikely to chill the meat and equipment before doing the grind.
Home Grinder – Most people will be using a stand mixer and attachment as a home meat grinder. Remember to chill the meat and put the attachment in the freezer for at least an hour before using it. Cut your beef into one-inch chunks and put the grinder on a high speed. The reason for this is to make sure the meat has been ground before the motor heats everything up.
Of course using a meat grinder is going to give great results. It’s a tool specially designed to make ground meat. I’d highly recommend this method, but I do understand that many homes will not have a meat grinder. And as great as this method is it’s not my preferred method for this perfect burger.
Food Processor – A piece of equipment that is more likely to be in the average home kitchen is a food processor. I’d recommend only grinding one burgers worth of meat at a time and use a pulse setting.
A food processor doesn’t give as good a result as a meat grinder but is significantly better than store-bought ground beef and is probably the method most people will use.
Manual Chopping – An often overlooked method of grinding meat is to use a knife – a meat clever is best. And this will be the chosen method for our perfect burger. If I had to make 100’s of burgers I definitely go with a meat grinder but for a few top-quality burgers for family and friends this is the best method.
Only do small amounts of meat at a time as you’d need to keep the meat cold while chopping and small amounts will be quicker. You’ll also be able to control the overall texture of the final grind if done in small amounts. The only drawback is the time it takes.
Forming the Patty
A lovely thick and juicy burger or a nice crispy smash burger are the choices for the perfect burger. When I picture the perfect hamburger I do lean more towards a thicker patty, so for this reason I’ll be going with a quarter pounder burger patty.
You can try form these patties by hand with great results, but for consistency and for a nicer looking finish it’s best to use a burger press. Don’t press the beef too tight, but you will need it packed enough to be able to easily flip the burgers without them falling apart.
This is just a quick pointer. For a long while people season their burger patties before forming them. It is now the consensus to only season your patty once it has been formed. Ideally just before you put them on the grill. The reason for this is that in taste tests a burger that is seasoned before the patty is formed is rubbery when compared to burgers that are seasoned after forming.
Grilling on a griddle or on grill grates is the option here. And although using a griddle is my preferred method when doing skinny patties the flavor is far superior on a grill grate with larger burgers.
We will be using a two-zone grilling set-up and using briquettes as fuel. The two-zone set-up is because we will be “reverse searing” our burgers. This means we will be keeping the burgers in the warm section of the grill until they are nearly at the required temperature. And then to finish we will flame grill them over the hot coals for a nice sear on the outside.
Why are we using a charcoal grill over a gas grill? The answer to this can be a whole article on its own. But the short of it is the extra smoke from charcoal adds extra flavor and searing is much easier with charcoal.
For our perfect burger we aren’t going to overdress it. There are a million and one topping options (see our best burger toppings guide) but we are going to stay with the classics because they are classics for a reason – people love them on burgers. So let’s run through these classics.
Tomatoes – As with everything included in the perfect burger, what seems a relatively simple step quickly becomes more complected as soon as you have a deeper look. Tomatoes come in many styles, sizes, and colors. I’ve seen people quoting there are as many as 25 thousand varieties of tomato. So it would cost you a heart attack if you wanted to try every tomato variety on a burger to see what is best.
There are some obvious choices, however. First the color, people expect a vibrant red color for a burger tomato, so we’ll eliminate all yellow, green, pink or black tomatoes. And you’ll want a slice that doesn’t get lost in the bun, so small varieties like the cheery tomato are also out. This still leaves a lot of choices, but we are going to select the beefsteak tomato for our perfect burger as it’s large, bright red, slices well, and is readily available at most grocery stores.
Lettuce – Iceberg lettuce is probably the most used lettuce in burgers and a great choice if that’s all that is available. But for my perfect burger I’m going to go with romaine lettuce. Taste-wise there isn’t much in it. I’m picking romaine lettuce mainly due to the slightly darker green color it has. And although being healthy isn’t the point of having a burger, romaine lettuce does have more vitamins and minerals. We will be shredding the lettuce. Have a read of our best lettuce for burgers guide for more options.
Onion – For such a simple vegetable there a numerous options for adding onions to your burger. I’m not talking about the types of onions available, that’s a how different ball game. I mean do you have your onions raw or cooked. Grilled or fried. Sliced, diced or in rings. Then you have the options of adding extra ingredients to your onions – bacon-wrapped onions, caramelized onions, pickled onions, onion chutneys and onions flavored with all sorts of herbs and spices.
I really like onions on burgers, and just writing the paragraph above had me changing my mind several times on which style of onion should be on the perfect burger. Not sure how I can justify eliminating bacon-wrapped onion or pickled onion, but there can only be one winner. And I’m going to stick with the classic raw, sliced onion.
As for the type of onion, I’ll not pick a single variety but will say you should pick a sweet onion. They don’t have the sharp, pungent flavor of other onions which makes them great raw in burgers. Having said that, I’d still recommend you don’t add too much raw onion as the flavor will still dominate too much if you do.
Pickle – Dill pickle is a classic. But it doesn’t make it into the perfect everybody burger. I’ve been to McDonald’s to many times and I’d say it’s 50/50 if the person you go with will open their burger and pull out the pickle. It’s one of the topping people either love or hate. And the taste is so strong it’s not something someone can ignore.
With McDonald’s pickles, as they are pretty dry pickles, people easily pick them out without worry. But normally, if you are adding pickles yourself they will be really juicy and not dry. Which means, even if people pick them out, the juices left will still ruin the overall burger. This isn’t the case with the tomatoes or onions we have decided to have with the perfect burger (and I don’t know anyone that finds lettuce offensive enough to have to pull it out).
Now to throw a spanner in the works – Personally, I’d not have a tomato in my perfect hamburger. Its space to taste ratio just doesn’t justify it. Anything that is taking up that much area of a burger should be packing a lot of flavors to justify its inclusion and a tomato mainly just adds water that dilutes the other flavors you’ve built up and can give you a soggy bun. But it’s a classic and would be expected in the perfect burger for its visuals alone.
I’d also add pickle to my best burger, but not the classic burger pickle, I’d have pickled jalapenos. Pickle has already been ruled out for the reasons given above, on top of that the extra heat given from the jalapenos would deter many eaters. So although it’d make my perfect burger it hasn’t been added to this version.
So it feels this is the right time to emphasize again, this burger is the perfect average joe burger. The burger for everyone and anyone. A burger that will please most people. But you know your own taste buds and preferences, so if you are making a burger just for yourself, customize the toppings, cheese, bun, and sauces. But if you’re cooking for a large group of friends and family you’ve not cooked for before, this is the burger you can’t go wrong with.
Bacon – It would be ridiculous not to give bacon a mention. I’m not going to add bacon to the perfect burger. Crazy, I know. I can’t bring myself to tell you not to add bacon to your burger, because I think bacon makes everything taste better. The only reason I’m not adding bacon is because I’m keeping this hamburger simple and all about the beef.
Having spent some time in France, Italy, and the UK I can say I have eaten some of the best cheese the world has to offer. But when it comes down to burgers there is one classic cheese that stands above all others – American cheese slices.
This cheese will never win any awards as a piece of cheese, and it’ll not be on any artisan burger joints menu. But the way it melts, it’s moistness and how it holds everything together in the bun makes it a perfect choice. Oh, and it also tastes great. We have made a list of all the other great options for burger cheese in our best burger cheese guide.
Bread is bread my dad use to say as he’d make what I called ‘dad burger’ by throwing a burger patty between two slices of square-cut bread. I like to think he was just being cheap and he actually had the taste buds to tell the difference. But being cheap, like with the cheese selection, doesn’t mean an inferior burger.
I’m not going to recommend a couple of slices of bread for our burger bun, but for our perfect burger I not going to recommend anything fancy either. You can read our best burger bun guide for other options, but this hamburger for everyone will have the classic potato bun. So having a bun for this perfect burger is as simple as grabbing a pack of Martin’s Potato Rolls.
To toast, or not to toast. that is the question. And there is only one answer to this question for our perfect burger. We will toast. This adds a little extra crunch and flavor while also adding a bit of a barrier to stop liquids soaking into the bun and making it soggy.
We’ll be toasting the bun by cutting it in half and then spreading a thin layer of mayonnaise on the inside before placing them on the grill. Only the insides will be grilled.
After a great burger patty, the next most important element of a perfect hamburger is the sauce – some people say it’s the most important part. As an amazing sauce carries a below-average burger in a Big Mac. And although it’s true a good sauce can hide a multitude of sins in a terrible hamburger, we’re talking about great hamburgers here. And for the perfect burger the meat must always be the star of the show.
Being a sauce fan it’s extremely hard to pick the best burger sauce. I love hot sauces, sweet sauces and family favorites like BBQ sauce and Ranch dressing. But there is no doubt that there are three sauces that will get medal positions in any poll. They are ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. In fact, many other sauces use one of these three mixed with other ingredients.
I think mustard has too powerful a flavor for burgers, so I am going to go with a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise for our perfect burger. They are sauces loved by young kids all the way up to the oldies.