- By Eric Yu
Australia, we need to have a talk. As a nation of burger eaters, we’ve been led astray of burger greatness and seem to have lost the essence of what a burger really is.
At its core, a burger is, and should be, a celebration of meat. The bun, toppings and construction are mere servants, their purpose being to make shine the king that is the meat.
Now that we have that cleared up, here are five commandments to take to the path of burger greatness.
1. Thou shall use a squishy neutral tasting bun
The bun is an interesting paradox - I think it is the most important part of a burger (and the part most people mess up), but if you can taste the “bread” in your burger, your burger has failed. The burger as a whole should morph into this beautiful cosmic oneness that only great foods like sushi and pasta achieve.
Smashability is also one of the things that make a burger, well a burger. You can (and should) toast the inside of your bun, but if you’re using a crusty bun or heavily toasting the outside of the bun, you’ve made a toastie. Texture should come from the heavily browned and crispy crust of the patty or the toppings (more on that later).
So, forget the brioche, crusty bread rolls, flatbreads in burgers – if you ask me, Martin’s Potato Rolls and milk buns are the best buns for a burger. I’m convinced that you could sandwich anything with Martin’s Potato Rolls and it’ll be delicious.
2. Thou shall smash the meat patties.
Let’s be real - what’s the best part of a steak? It’s the beautiful brown crust courtesy of the Maillard reaction. It’s what makes meat taste even meatier, and the reason why we don’t eat our steaks straight out of a sous vide bag.
So why not maximise this crust (and by extension, flavour) in your burger by smashing your patties? If smashed patties are too thin for you, you can have the best of both worlds through the wonderful power of addition (of an extra patty or two).
“But Eric, thick patties means you get a juicier patty”. Well one of the juiciest patties I’ve had is at Henry’s Burger in Tokyo (chef Nakahara-san uses offcuts from his high end Japanese Wagyu BBQ restaurant for his patties) and that was a smashed patty.
Save the medium rare THICC meat for steak sandwiches.
3. Thou shall freshly grind and loosely pack the meat patties
As we established, burgers are a celebration of meat, so you’ll want to use the best quality meat you can get your hands on. 20% fat content, maybe 25% if you’re feeling decadent. Coarsely ground. Preferably a blend of a few different cuts to nail the different high notes of good meat (nutty, grassy/acidic, rich/umami). Bonus points for dry ageing.
4. Thou shall not put everything under the sun in your burger.
Any burger toppings should be supporting players that accentuate the meat blend you have carefully selected, not distract from it. I’m not a purist, so I’m okay with egg or beetroot in a burger (I’m not sure why, but I am okay with it). What I’m not okay with is egg, beetroot, pineapple, and everything that’s growing in your nan’s veggie patch. 5+ ingredient burgers that I have to dislocate my jaw to take a bite out of have to stop. I’m all for balance, but why compromise your eating experience with half limp vegetables steamed by your patty? Would you put your salad in your pasta? How about your pizza? Didn’t think so. Have a great burger and a great salad on the side.
5. Thou shall carefully consider the construction of the burger.
So, you have all the right ingredients and have followed the first four commandments. Well done, (and thank you!). Now just slap them together and call it a day, right?
We haven’t spent all that effort on the path to burger greatness only to stumble on the last step. How you construct your burger and how you order your ingredients can see a potentially great burger become a mediocre one.
Everyone will have their own views on this, but this is my 'Ideal Burger Order' (Top to Bottom):
1. Top Bun.
2. Sauce. Make this thicker than you think to prevent dripping, and if you have a mayo-based sauce, best to put this at the top so the heat of the patty doesn’t break the sauce.
3. Pickles. If you’re going for flavour and bite consistency, blend your pickles into your sauce.
4. Onion. Above the patty so the hot meat releases the onion flavour.
5. Cheese. Melted over the patty. (Can also be melted over the bun to create a seal to hold in burger juices and prevent bottom-bun-soggage.)
6. Patty (the side that was seared first facing the bottom).
7. Bottom Bun.
So that's the condensed version of my Perfect Burger Manifesto. You may wholeheartedly agree with my idea of perfection, or vehemently disagree. Either way, it's food for thought!
Eric Yu is our resident Burger Enthusiast. When he's not eating and critiquing Australia's best and worst burgers, he busies himself by mastering karting tracks across Sydney, and hunting down Gelato Messina's elusive Pear and Rhubarb flavoured ice cream.