Burger Night Your Way

19 Jun 2023

How to pull off burger night at home


Burger King debuted its iconic “Have it your way” tagline around the time I was born. They toyed with it over the years and recently adopted a variation, “You rule.” If you’ve streamed anything recently, or watched actual television, you’re probably humming that catchy new song about the Whopper right now. Sorry. But here’s the point: everyone should enjoy a burger however they like it best, especially at home. And I agree! Cheese, no cheese, fancy toppings or nothing but the classics, veggie, turkey, beef, or whatever protein you love — I support you. As the long, lazy days of summer offer plenty of opportunities for burger night, I thought I’d share my way. Maybe you’ll learn something new, or maybe you love where you are.

First of all, let’s talk about the meat. For beef burgers, 70 percent lean, 30 percent fat makes for the juiciest patty. That can be hard to find, so look for meat that’s at least 15 percent fat. When you shape your patties, avoid overworking the meat to avoid a dry crumbly burger. Conventional wisdom suggests adding salt and pepper before you shape the burgers. I disagree, because salt draws moisture out, so I add them just before cooking. Do feel free to add any other seasoning before shaping the patties.

Next up: cheese. I prefer to shape each burger around the cheese, rather than place it on top at the end of cooking. This method prevents it from sliding off into the grill or pan and also leaves it delightfully melty. And there are no rules about what kind of cheese to use: bleu, cheddar, Swiss, brie, gouda, Havarti, whatever. Of course, I have no beef with the perennial southern favorite, pimiento.

On to the toppings. Once again, you rule! Tomato, lettuce, pickles, and onions are great. Depending on the day, some of our favorite options are caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, avocado, pineapple, pickled jalapeños, pickled red onions, tzatziki, sprouts, bacon, fried egg, kimchi, guacamole, coleslaw, shredded and pickled daikon and carrots for a bánh mì vibe…the list goes on. An array of condiments is also key, including the classics like mayo, mustard and ketchup, as well as all the hot sauces.

As for cooking, though burgers from the grill are the standard, grilling isn’t always the best option. Maybe it’s raining, or the propane tank is empty, or you hate the idea of standing over a hot grill. For your consideration: the grill pan. Usually cast iron, often enameled, the pan has ridges to provide that delightful char-grilled look. Burgers in a pan are so easy you may never fire up the grill again. Heat the pan on high until flicking a little water on it sizzles, add a little butter or oil to prevent sticking. Turn the heat down to medium and sear your burgers a minute or two on each side. Put the pan in a pre-heated 350-degree oven to finish the burgers to your liking. We usually skip the oven since we prefer meat on the rare side, so a couple of minutes on each side on the stove suffices. For medium rare, internal temperature should be 120 to 125 degrees, 130 to 135 for medium, and 150 to 160 for well done.

In the final stretch, we have buns. Ciabatta, classic, croissant, doughnut, brioche, pretzel…all good. Do you! (But you already knew that.)

The most important thing about home cooked burgers is that you enjoy them. Really. That’s it. Burger night is fun, low-key, and delicious. You don’t need fancy china, unless you’re into that. No need to dress up, because a juicy burger loaded with your favorite toppings will stain your tuxedo in a flash. Just drop a stack of napkins near the toppings so people can grab as many as they need. You may want to take a minute to ice down your favorite cool beverages and pick a playlist, but that’s as complicated as it should get. Bon appétit!

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