The key to a great burger is the meat. The meat can not be too lean and should not be too fatty either. I prefer meat that is 80% lean (20% fat). I always use Certified Angus Beef chuck and if I have the time for it I will buy a whole piece of meat like a pot roast of chuck. The Certified Angus Beef is considered the most flavorful and juicy.
So why would I grind the beef myself? Well, when you buy already ground beef at the supermarket you most likely will get a blend of meats from hundreds or even thousand of cows. Since ground beef is easily contaminated you could potentially buy unhealthy meat that won’t allow you to cook it medium or medium rare. Another reason is that when you grind the meat yourself you can avoid handling the meat too much and pack the burgers loosely. If you get it ground from the store it has already been handled way too much.
Store bought ground meat
If you are in a rush or don’t want to bother grinding you own meat, just get the ground Angus chuck at the store. If the store has a butcher see if they will grind the meat for you so you know it is the freshest possible. I prefer my meat to have a fat content of 20%. If you want it leaner you should not go lower than 15%. The fat content determines how juicy the burger is going to be and if you go too lean you risk ending up with a dry hockey puck for a burger.
Grinding you own meat
The key to making your ground beef is to work with the meat and the equipment as cold as possible. Use a stand mixer with a grinder attachment. I put the assembled meat grinder attachment and bowl in the freezer for at least 1 hour before I grind the beef. I also cut the meat up into cuts that will go into the grinder and freeze them 15 minutes prior to the grinding. Keeping the meat and equipment cold will make sure your meat is not exposed to bacteria and keep the meat fresh at all times.
Once you start the grinding make sure you handle the ground meat as little as possible.
Shaping the burgers
Shape 1/2 lbs (225 g) patties, 3/4-1 inch thick but pack the patties loosely. This is key!! Don’t overwork or squeeze the meat! Once formed make a depression in the middle of the patty to prevent the burger from becoming a flying saucer shaped burger.
If you are not going to cook the burgers right away place them on a tray covered in the fridge until you are ready. Don’t take them out until you are ready to cook them.
Seasoning the burgers
I only season my burgers with salt and pepper just before I cook them. I also never mix anything into the meat itself for several reasons. First you really want the meat to shine and not all the additional stuff you mix in. If you wanted to make a meat balls then don’t make a burger. Second, you will handle the meat too much by adding and mixing in additional ingredients and will not be able to loosely pack the burgers.
My two cents on cheese
In my opinion no burger is complete without cheese. I can definitely understand if someone may say that it takes away some of the taste from the meat and that’s why they don’t want it on their burger. But I think that the cheese enhances the burger and I never have a burger without cheese.
I recommend using American Cheese. Since American Cheese is a processed cheese you can argue that it’s not cheese, but it has been manufactured to be more melty and gooey than other cheeses. It melts very easily and is perfect on top of the burger patty as it melts and enter every little pore in the surface of the burger.
If you want to read more about cheese and which brand to get I recommend reading this article by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at AHT.
Cooking the burgers
You can cook the burgers in many different ways. I prefer grilling the burgers on a wood fired grill, but a gas grill will also give a great result. If you cook the burger inside, use a heavy cast iron pan if you have one. If not use a normal non stick pan. Add a little oil to the pan and heat it over high heat until is shimmers.
Place the burgers in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes for medium, flip the burger and top with your preferred cheese and cook for 3 more minutes. In the last minutes or so, loosely cover with aluminum foil so the cheese melts (make a small tent, since the foil should not touch the cheese). During the cooking DON’T press the burgers with a spatula since that will just remove moisture from the burger and make it more dry. Just leave them alone!
If you want to try something advanced that makes the burgers perfect all the way through try to cook them Sous Vide.
Assembling the burger
Now assemble your burger with all your preferred toppings and condiments and enjoy.