Chatting with Joe Donatelli about burgers on the Gram got me thinking a bit about what makes for a good burger in my experience. I’ll admit this is something I think about a lot. I’ve been on a quest to discover the best burger in LA since the first time I moved to LA in 2002 and discovered it to be a burger wonderland… a wonder burgerland? I didn’t set out to become an expert on burgers, but sometimes you just have to take the hand life deals you.
Below are the qualities I’ve settled on as being key to the burger experience.
The most essential ingredient in any hamburger is often the most overlooked: the bun. The bun needs to be capable of containing the burger in every way possible. If your burger is overflowing with delicious juices, it needs to be able to absorb the juices without becoming a soggy mess. Whatever toppings and condiments the burger might contain, the bun needs to be able to hold onto those things without slipping off. The bun needs to come prepared because it is your conveyance for delivering the burger to your gullet, and if anything goes wrong with the bun, it will delay or even abort delivery of the burger.
People like to get creative with the toppings, which I get. It’s your opportunity throw your signature on an otherwise standardized food item. I don’t feel like the toppings have ever made or broken a burger experience for me. There are toppings I simply will never eat on a burger – weird cheeses being the top of the list. The type of topping may not be do-or-die for a burger, but the freshness is. If you have iceburg lettuce, it needs to be crisp. A tomato should be firm. Leafy greens need to be firm and full of flavor. Even a limp pickle might be enough to put a damper on an otherwise tasty hamburger.
The patty is the beating heart of the burger. It’s the main attraction. I know that I’ve spoken highly of the bun’s role in the burger, but it’s the patty you’re there to see. The bun is JC Chasez, but the patty is Justin Timberlake. There’s no one thing I look for in a patty, but there are a few areas of importance where being deficient in one area can be compensated for in another.
I prefer a shorter patty to a taller one because it makes it easier to actually bite the burger, but the more difficult the burger is to bite, the better it better be on flavor and juiciness.
A burger doesn’t need to be dripping with juices to be great, but if it is going to be a drier patty, it will definitely need to be seasoned to perfection to make the experience worthwhile.
This is easily the most difficult of the areas to skimp on, but if the patty isn’t going to be full of interesting flavors, every other part of the burger will need to play its role to perfection to keep the burger from going awry. It will need to be juicy, and the toppings and condiments will need to be the paint on the patty’s canvas.
My top 5 burgers in no particular order
- Stout (Los Angeles) – flavorful patty, just the right size, toppings are interesting and always fresh. I would describe it as pert.
- Badmaash (Los Angeles) – a bit on the small side but bursting with interesting flavors. You’ve never had a burger like theirs, before.
- The Tavern (Tulsa, OK.) – just the right size, toppings are ok, but the patty is flavorful and juicy
- McDonalds Deluxe Quarter Pounder (everywhere) – a perfect, standard burger
- Fatburger (Mainly west coast) – perfectly seasoned, juicy, and the relish is a sweet counterpoint to the burger’s seasoning. The bun is the weak point on this burger.
What makes for a good burger for you? Let me know in the comments, or just hit me back on Twitter.