Building a Better Burger

Each year, as summer fades to fall, I reflect upon a season of dreadful hamburgers I’ve been served at parties and barbecues over the previous three months.

It’s not that hard to make a great hamburger. So why do so many people screw them up. Several reasons, the top two of which are:

• Too long on the grill/overcooked hockey puck burger
• Non-creative condiments (ketchup, mustard, tomato slices, iceberg lettuce leaves)

Overgrilling is the most frequent problem. And not just with burgers — you’ve been the sad recipient, I’m sure, of leathery chicken breasts or chalky soy-marinated mega-fillets of salmon fresh off their hour on the barbie. The grill should be as hot as you can get it, the burgers at least 1/2 inch thick and well seasoned with salt and pepper. Grill them until brown and a little charred on each side. Touch them with your finger, they should still have a little give — more if you like them medium rare. A burger should never be cooked beyond medium.

Non-creative condiments run a close second. First, pick a good, soft bun or crusty bread. Then think about what you can put on the burger beyond ketchup and mustard. In the video, I use a mixture of BBQ sauce and a little mayo. I cook bacon, and then caramelize onions in the bacon pan with a little rice wine vinegar, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce thrown in at the end. I crumble some bleu cheese on top, and then add some arugula. That simple, and people often say, “That’s the best burger I’ve had!” Here’s some other interesting condiment combinations you could try:

Grilled pineapple
teriyaki sauce
Maui onion
served on King’s Hawaiian Bread rolls

Wasabi mayo (wasabi paste mixed with mayonnaise)
julienned green onions
red oak leaf lettuce
served on thickly sliced brioche

cornichon pickles
Dijon mustard
frisee lettuce
served on a soft baguette

shaved parmesan reggiano
salt-cured black olives
served on a doughy, crusty ciabatta

In & Out Copycat
make two thinner patties for each burger
American cheese slices, cooked on burgers
chopped onion, pan-grilled in a little oil
Thousand Island dressing
ripe tomato slices
iceberg lettuce leaves
served on sesame seed buns

Just in case the above video left you wanting more, here’s the “Immy Cam” outtakes — me and friends talking about the pros and cons of Twitter, my friend Alex holding my new daughter Imogen:

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 22:51:55

    Immy and the rocking replacement dada 😉


  2. g
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 17:20:11

    We’ve been making mid-eastern style burgers, by mixing ground beef with lamb and spices, with chopped onion and parsley. Last time we did this we embedded a smear of garlicky feta cheese inside the burger. A little tzasiki, some chopped tomatoes and lettuce, wrapped in a pita bread. Pretty darn good!


  3. Andrea Thompson
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 17:22:19

    Yeah, that’s hilarious.


  4. Andrea Thompson
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 17:28:51

    I LOVED the burger video!


  5. Liz
    Sep 17, 2010 @ 19:57:25

    Hi SC!

    How do I go about making the actual hamburger patty?

    Congrats on the new addition and on the website. Staying at home has been great but I’m starting to go a little stir crazy.

    Hope all is well,


    • scolgin
      Sep 17, 2010 @ 20:16:15

      Hi Liz, I understand what you mean about stir crazy! ; )
      To make the patties, take your hands… take some hamburger, and pat it between your hands… and you’ve got a patty! LOL I also like to salt and pepper the patty after I make it.


  6. Suzanna
    Sep 28, 2010 @ 00:33:25

    Perhaps the “Colgin kids” blog is next…..didn’t expect to find the Immy cam here, but sure appreciate it! 🙂


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