My parents used to have a burger shaping device that we used to make our own patties in the summer. It was a patty-sized cylindrical mold with a flat lid used to press a handful of seasoned ground beef so that it’s perfectly even and flat; so it comes out looking like one of the patties you can buy in bulk from the freezer section of the grocery store. I loved using it, putting my entire body weight into flattening the meat into a uniform disc. I ruined countless burgers, turning loosely packed ground meat into a dense circle sure to cook into a tough and chewy hockey puck. It would be years before I learned that a tender and juicy burger is the result of gently handled meat.
In my vegetarian years I traded over-pressed patties for veggie burgers, most of which had a uniform texture and tough chew reminiscent of what I grew up with. Then a few years ago burgers became a hot menu item. Besides the craze for fast food done slightly better, a la Shake Shack, Five Guys, and In N Out, gourmet versions were everywhere. They came oozing cheese, stuffed with caramelized onions, served with no fewer than five condiments. They were great and Jeff and I ate them until we could eat no more. But they were never really about the burger. In most of those creations the meat could have been removed entirely without any real change in taste to the meal.
There’s certainly a time for the blue cheese and bacon burger with onion rings and barbecue sauce eclipsing the obligatory lettuce. But if I’m making them at home there’s probably not much going on between the buns; lettuce, tomato, something pickled, mustard, maybe some mayo. I make my own patties without the help of any shaping or mushing tools. It’s just salt, pepper, sometimes Worcestershire sauce but usually not, and a light hand. The only pressing is the little divot in the middle, supposedly to prevent the middle from puffing up as it cooks. There’s not much of a recipe below because there’s not really a lot that goes into making a simple burger. It’s what you leave out that makes all the difference.
The Basic Burger
Makes 3-4 burgers
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbs worcestershire sauce (optional)
COMBINE the ground beef with the salt, pepper, and worcestershire (if using) in a large bowl. Loosely toss the mixture together so that the seasoning is evenly distributed. A folding method, similar to incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter, works well here.
DIVIDE the meat into three or four equal portions, depending on how many burgers you’re making.
SHAPE the meat into patties gently, patting it into place with your hands – no need to squeeze. The patties should be a little loose when you’re done and feel like they might fall apart if you’re not careful with them. When you have the shape you want, lightly press a thumb into the center of each patty to create a little divot.
GRILL the patties on a grill set to medium heat – too hot and they will char on the outside before they’re cooked, too low and they won’t get nice caramelized bits. It may take some testing to find how how your grill should be to achieve this. I like to cook mine about 7 minutes on each side, flipping them at the four minute mark so each side gets cooked for a four minute period and a three minute period. If you like your burger closer to medium than rare, add a few extra minutes. You could also cook these in a pan on medium high heat, following the same steps when it comes to timing and flipping. If you don’t use a non-stick pan, grease it a little before cooking. While the burgers will give off some grease as they cook, it won’t be fast enough to lubricate the pan while the first side cooks.