Sigh…I might be one of the few people in the world who could elevate a lowly cheeseburger to some sort of cosmic significance…but, hey, if you’re going to do something, ya’ gotta’ do it right, you know what I’m sayin’?
When I was younger, I practically lived on cheeseburgers. Okay, I admit it. I love your basic simple burger. In my mind, there is no such thing as a “hamburger,” because the only real “hamburger,” is a “cheeseburger,” and that made with Swiss cheese. I know that are hundreds of gourmet burgers out there, with all manner of ingredients either mixed into the ground beef or piled on top.
But for me, just give me some ground chuck, some lettuce, tomato, red onion, and dill pickle chips, top the burger with double slices of Swiss, add a little mayo of course, slap it all on a toasted bun, and we are good to go! This is simply, “basic burger goodness 101.” And the way they are cooked is important too. Don’t stand there and flip it over and over 40 or 50 times. Puh-leeze…don’t make me come over there! NO….put the burger on the grill — and just let it cook. It has to be a really hot one too, because you want to seal the flavors in as you’re cooking. Ideally, your burger will be seared on the outside, and moist, yet completely done on the inside. I used to eat medium-cooked burgers years ago, but in today’s world, and for obvious reasons, I always like them well-done – but on my terms.
Ground chuck (my best choice for burgers – not too fatty, but not too lean either. You want a little fat in them babies for a good taste.)
Lettuce – a nice crisp leaf or two
Tomato – 2 or 3 thin slices
Bermuda Onion – two thinly-sliced layers
Dill pickle “chips” or slices – (either out of a jar, or sliced up ones from the deli)
Mayo – a slathering (*Note — regarding mayonnaise — I love Hellman’s “Real” Mayonnaise — but these days, what with the cholesterol and weight thing going on, I have opted for a really good (you won’t believe it) substitute for mayo. It’s called “Vegennaise,” and it’s soy-based, virturally fat free, and before you turn your nose up at it, go purchase a jar and try it. It has a taste that closely resembles ordinary mayo, but without all the fat content. It is a truly healthy alternative to actual mayo.)
(*Note X2: Recognizing that not everyone is a “mayo fanatic,” if you choose to substitute “mustard,” or God forbid, “ketchup,” as your choice of bun coating…it’s okay. We’ll get you some counseling and everything will just be peachy-keen. This burger is constructed on the basic principle, i.e., that once you employ lettuce and tomato, then mayo naturally follows. Mustard is reserved for your basic burger & pickles only burger, and ketchup is…well, you use it on fries. Please…I’m not competing with Mickey D’s or the BK here, and certainly not Wendy’s. We’re talking real food here, so let’s be serious, please. Do we really believe that a sandwich which has lettuce on it deserves ketchup as it’s companion? Surely, you jest. When’s the last time you had a lettuce & ketchup sandwich? Yeah, that’s what I thought, and we are so moving on here.)
Buns of your choice (I like the “French Hamburger Rolls” from the Publix grocery store.
Form the ground beef into patties, the size and thickness depending on the appetites of those you are serving. I’ll usually get about four patties out of a pound of beef, so we’re not talking ginormous here. Make ’em about 1/2 thick and big enough so that when they shrink a bit through the cooking process, they will still be big enough that burger diameter equals bun diameter. Nothing worse than a burger that’s more bun than beef. What’s even better…??…when the burger actually extends outside the edges of the bun…oh yes!
I like to use either wax paper or parchment paper, to form the patties, working on a cutting board or the kitchen counter. The consistency and character of the paper allows you to form the patties with your hands without the beef sticking to anything. Sprinkle the formed patties very lightly with the seasonings…seasoned salt, garlic powder, lemon pepper, salt, and pepper. Don’t overdo it, just a light smattering of each.
Regarding cooking the burger. I only turn my burgers over twice. That’s it. Period. Put them on a really hot flaming grill (the best method) and let them cook until the juices are literally pouring out of them…typically about 5-7 minutes or so. Then…turn them over (once) and allow to cook on the other side…maybe another 3-5 minutes — keep an eye on them — it’s flavorly important to cook them properly!. You may need to move them around a bit so the flames don’t overwhelm and scorch them, or perhaps keep that spray bottle of water handy as well. (or use an infrared grill) Just think of it this way — like in the movie “The Hunt For Red October,” Captain Ramius (played by Sean Connery, says to Capt. Vasili Borodin, played by Sam Niell….”…Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please….” And Vasily replies, “Aye, Captain…” Not several pings, or multiple pings, and certainly not 40 or 50 pings, no… “one ping only, Vasily.” It’s the principle of proper burger cooking. So we don’t stand there and toss the flippin’ burger over and over again as if we could make it cook by sheer effort. Sheesh! No, what you want is a nicely browned and mildly crusty exterior with a fully-cooked yet moist and juicy interior, but you must leave them alone to cook without falling into burger-flipping madness. Your really hot fire is going to sear and brown the outside while sumptuously cooking the inside. After the burgers are suitably cooked on side 2, turn them over one final time (this would be the 2nd turn I mentioned earlier) and apply the cheese. This would also be a good time to toast the buns, which won’t take much time either. After only a minute or less, the cheese should have melted and pretty much become one with the burger, but not cooked so long that the cheese disappears into nothingness.
While the burgers are sizzling on the grill, prepare the toppings. Lettuce leaf, followed by tomato slices, followed by red onion slices, and finally dill pickles. You can prepare this little topping collection and apply it to the bun later.
Slide the properly cooked burger onto the base of the toasted bun base, and put the collection of toppings on top. Slather the upper bun with your mayo choice and carefully place on top of the base bun and toppings. At this point, you have essentially created your little burger paradise. Serve it up and enjoy!
I normally buy ground beef from my local grocery store, typically Publix or Winn-Dixie. (I’m sure you have similar quality stores in your area, Meijers, Fry’s, Ralphs, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Basha’s, Safeway and the like. Well, you get the idea. Notice I didn’t mention Wally-world. Draw your own conclusions.) I like Publix’s “market ground beef,” because they grind it right there in the meat department and you know exactly what you’re getting. I also occasionally purchase it from one of two meat markets in the area. The bottom line is, don’t mess with the pre-packaged stuff, the “formed” burgers, the “tubes,” etc., because every health scare we’ve had regarding ground beef has been from the pre-packaged stuff that comes from packing houses. Yuk! Just stay with the fresh, local variety.
Re: Ground Chuck: Okay, I admit it, I don’t always use ground chuck. Sometimes, I resort to the down-to-earth-basic-boot-camp-ground-beef. I just want the juicy, greasy-dripping-running-down-your-wrist-while-you-bite-into-it goodness of your basic ground beef. After all, it is a “man-thing,” I suppose, you know, “where’s the beef,” and “gimme ground beef and use your tofu to patch holes in your sidewalk” mentality. Color me misogynistic if you must, but let’s face it – real men eat real ground beef!
And finally….At heart, I am simply a purist. Whenever I discover a new recipe, I always prepare it exactly according to the instructions when I prepare it for the first time. Only afterwards will I dare to add or subtract ingredients, or otherwise modify the recipe to suit my individual culinary desires. Well, I apply the same philosophy to “burgers…” For me, the true, “real” burger is basic – elemental and simple, no complications, no rocket-scientist long list of ingredients, just the basic elements. Like Jack Webb’s Dragnet Joe Friday’s character, “All we want are the facts, ma’am,” and Cary Grant’s “Judy, Judy, Judy,” and Sherlock Holmes “Elementary, my dear Watson,” here we only want the facts. Basic, boot camp burger goodness, nothing more, nothing less. If you want a really good burger, you’ve come to the right place. Ooh rah!
Oh…and one more thing. You might have to cut that bad boy in half to be able to get a good grip on it. 🙂 Hoo-yah!