It's Burger Week here at Eater, and we would be remiss if we didn't get some hot, juicy takes from the professionals. In this first installment of a three-part series, Atlanta chefs were asked to share their opinions on what, exactly, goes into a delicious burger. Their responses are below.
What makes a great burger?
Grinding meat daily, housemade buns, and cooking on flat tops.
Jeffrey Gardner, executive chef, Common Quarter
I think that great ingredients and proper technique go into making a great burger. You want beef with a pronounced flavor, preferably from working parts of the cow. The right ratio of lean to fat is also very important — I personally favor a blend of chuck and brisket in my burgers. Don't overwork them when you form them into patties, and keep seasoning simple with just salt and pepper. Remember, you're making a burger, not a meatloaf. Buns should be toasted and cheese should always be melted. You'd be surprised how often this isn't done. Finally, you've got to have the proper ratio of bun to meat to toppings.
Doug Turbush, chef/owner, Seed Kitchen & Bar
Quality, well-sourced meat; enough fat in the ratio; and the char — very high heat to get a good caramelization on the surface. I cook them on the grill or a smoking-hot cast iron pan.
Rick Tasman, CEO, FLIP Burger
Great beef, right amount of fat, cooked on a flattop, [and served] on a toasted, fresh bun with American cheese.
Eli Kirshtein, chef/owner, The Luminary
I think all the parts are really equally important: a great bun, really badass meat blend/grind, and carefully chosen garnishes. I always break burgers up into two varieties, the ones that are cooked to temp and the ones that are cooked more like a patty melt. For both I like a really a beefy, fatty blend and a potato bun. Garnishes really are a personal thing, but I find that both cheese and onions (usually cooked) are essential.
Gerry Klaskala, chef/owner, Aria
A great burger is about two things: great ingredients and great technique.
Jarrett Stieber, chef/owner, Eat Me Speak Me
A good fat content and a properly constructed build (substantial bun, placement of toppings and condiments).
Joey Stallings, executive chef/GM, Sweet Auburn BBQ
Seasoning. A good blend of seasoning on the patty and then the perfect sear to lock in all the flavor on both sides.
You can't make a good anything without good ingredients. And don't forget the right amount of salt and fat.
Chris Edwards, chef de cuisine, Holeman & Finch Public House
I believe, and Chef Hopkins emphasizes, that the key to a great burger is caramelization of the meat. It's what gives a burger its flavor. It sounds silly, but that flavor of seared meat really creates a memory spark. One bite and it immediately takes me back to baseball games and backyard barbecues. It reminds me of how good food can be.
A great burger is a balance of flavors and good composition. A perfect burger, to me, will have a balanced ratio of perfectly toasted bun to meat to cheese to pickle to ketchup to mustard. I like the last morsel of a burger to still have everything in it.
First and foremost, you start with fresh ground beef, with a pretty high fat content. That keeps it moist and provides flavor. We find that adding some ground brisket provides the beefiness and fat content that chuck and sirloin cannot provide by themselves. Salt and pepper are the only seasonings needed if the meat is high quality. Just sprinkle it on, don't mix it into the meat. Your burger should be cooked at a very high temperature so that you get some char and crust on the outside of the burger without overcooking the inside.
Next, a good bun is key, and often overlooked, I think. Nothing fancy — the bun is just the vehicle, not the main attraction. It just needs to be squishy and big enough to contain the burger and not fall apart, but also not so big that the bread-to-meat ratio is out of whack. I also think buttering and toasting the bun is essential to a good burger experience, so that it doesn't get soggy and fall apart from all the burger juices and toppings. As far as toppings, keep it simple, I think. Some aged cheddar or Swiss, maybe some raw onion, can't go wrong with some super crispy bacon, and finally some kind of sauce — I prefer Thousand Island-style sauces (ketchup, mayo, pickle relish, etc.) because they don't overwhelm the flavor profile, and it just kind of brings everything else together.
Joey Ward, executive chef, Gunshow
High fat content to the meat.
Zeb Stevenson, executive chef, Watershed on Peachtree
For me, less equals more in the burger world. It all boils down to great ingredients executed well. After all, you're never going to get a great result with cut-rate product and sloppy execution.
I prefer sirloin for true beef flavor, with enough brisket mixed in to get the fat content right. The meat needs to be mixed enough to keep the fat in emulsion as well. I can't overstate how important that step is. Without it, the meat eats like cardboard. Overuse of condiments should be avoided, too. The beef should be the star of the show.