The best burger is simply meat, pepper and salt. In fact, you could leave out the pepper. The beef to choose is minced from pieces that combine flavour and fat. Ground chuck, with maybe a bit of ground brisket or short rib, is the experts’ choice.
Valerie Berry, the brilliant chef who styled these photos, recommends 70 per cent chuck to 30 per cent short rib, which gives a flavour-packed, lusciously rich burger. In practice, to get that you are probably going to have to mince it yourself. Electric mincers are expensive to buy, but you can pick up hand-cranked mincers fairly cheaply (mine is a Sixties model from a charity shop). Use the largest size holes.
No time? Next best is to buy it from the butcher (avoid supermarket minced beef, which tends not to have a good texture) and look for a fat content of around 15-20 per cent as fat carries flavour and keeps the patty juicy. If the meat is on the lean side, you can bump up the fat a bit. Charles Campion, that giant among food critics, recommends a splash of double cream, about 1 tsp per 200g meat. It gives a slight sweetness as well as richness. For an even meatier flavour, try mixing in 2 tsp of grated dripping to each 200g meat before shaping.
- 160-200g minced beef
- 2 tsp grated dripping or 1 tsp double cream (optional, for leaner mince)
- One large onion, sliced into rounds 1.5cm thick
- A sesame bun
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
- Beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
- Grilled streaky bacon
- Cucumber dill pickles, sliced
- BBQ ketchup (see my recipe below) or chipotle ketchup
- If you are using lean meat, mix the dripping or cream into it. Don’t add salt now, or the burger will be rubbery.
- Press the mince into a patty 1½-2cm deep. The diameter should be slightly larger than the diameter of your bun, as it will shrink a little – 11cm wide is a good size. Press the burger together fairly firmly, but don’t overwork.
- With your thumb, make a wide dimple in one side of the patty. This will help stop the meat contracting so the burger bulges thickly in the middle. Leave to firm up, covered, in the fridge for 20 minutes (or longer).
- Have your toppings ready before you start cooking. Grill the onion slices for about a minute on each side until nicely charred. Keep to one side.
- Just before popping the burgers on the grill, season liberally on both sides and the edges with salt and pepper. Start it on direct heat, right over the coals, turning once it is well browned, about two to three minutes. When it is brown on both sides, transfer it to indirect heat (on the grill away from the coals) to finish cooking – aim for medium or medium-well done, about 60-65C with a digital thermometer.
- Leave to rest beside the barbecue for five minutes (turning halfway through, if you remember) before you put it on the bun (this stops the bottom of the bun getting soggy). Meanwhile, warm the buns cut-side down on the grill.
Everyone has their idea of the perfect burger assemblage. A few years ago, an Oxford University expert recommended a regime including spritzing over sesame oil and sprinkling with soy sauce – worth trying if you have the energy.
But a good start is to put a dollop of mayo on the bun, followed by lettuce, a slice of tomato, then the burger, two halved rashers of bacon, three rings of onion, three slices of pickle and a dollop of ketchup, before pressing the top of the bun on. Job done.