(American grilled beef patty sandwiches)
They may be named after a city in Germany, but hamburgers are quintessential American food. The origin of the grilled ground beef patty on a bun is a matter of some dispute, but what's certain is that they first gained widespread popularity with hungry patrons at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
From the Fair, the humble hamburger quickly spread to diners and family restaurants around the nation, often served with a side of French fries. McDonald's, White Castle and others made hamburgers a staple of fast-food menus. And after World War II, the hamburger debuted around the world as an instantly recognizable symbol of American quick cuisine and economic dominance.
The recipe below is for plain old, basic hamburgers. But almost no one makes just plain old, basic burgers. Every cook individualizes his or her patties with all sorts of sauces, spices, seasonings and flavorings, often kept secret. See the variations following the recipe to get some ideas for customizing your burgers.
The breadcrumbs and egg are optional, but come highly recommended. Breadcrumbs hold in the patties' juices and help tenderize the meat. Eggs aid in binding your burgers together so they don't fall apart when you flip them.
For the Burgers
- Ground beef -- 2 pounds
- Dry breadcrumbs (optional) -- 1/2 cup
- Eggs, beaten (optional) -- 2
- Salt and pepper -- to season
To Make the Burgers into Sandwiches
- Soft, round hamburger buns -- 6
- Red onion, sliced into thin rounds -- 1
- Tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch rounds -- 2
- Lettuce leaves -- 10 to 12
- Dill pickle rounds -- 1/2 cup
- Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise -- to taste
- In a large bowl, use clean hands to gently mix together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, salt and pepper until everything is evenly distributed. Take care not to overmix, or your burgers could turn out tough.
- Form the meat mixture into six equal-sized balls, then use your palms to flatten each ball into a round patty about 1/2 inch thick. Press the center of each patty to make it a little thinner in the middle than on the edges. This will prevent it from bulging in the middle when you cook it. Keep the burgers well chilled as you start your grill.
- When your fire is ready, place the patties on a hot, clean, lightly oiled grill and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until done to your liking. Remove to a clean platter and hold warm until serving time.
- To serve, place the buns on a serving plate or basket and arrange the toppings nicely on a separate serving platter. The condiments can be served in their containers. Place the hot burgers, buns, toppings and condiments on the table and let each diner build their own burger.
- Meat: Ground chuck or sirloin is best for hamburgers. Some cooks swear by a mix of the two. The ideal fat content is about 20 percent. Any higher and your burgers could be greasy; any lower and they may turn out dry and tough. If you're not a beef eater, substitute ground turkey instead.
- Seasonings: All kinds of seasonings find their way into the humble hamburger. Mix whatever fits your fancy into the meat mixture before forming patties. Some of the more popular seasonings are minced garlic, mustard, liquid smoke seasoning, paprika, teriyaki sauce, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, sriracha sauce, chopped jalapeños.
- Bun: Burgers are typically served on a soft, round, sesame-seed bun. But Kaiser rolls or even baguette works well too. Try toasting the inside of buns lightly on the grill.
- Condiments: Try topping your burger with sliced avocado, bacon, grilled or caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, pickled jalapeños, guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, salsa. Use your imagination...and whatever you have in the fridge.
- Cheeseburgers: Add a rectangular slice of cheddar or American cheese to the top of each burger about 2 to 3 minutes before you take it off the grill. Or try a good quality Swiss, blue cheese, brie, taleggio...
- Sliders: These tiny hamburgers are perfect for a party. Form 12 patties instead of 6 and serve them on dinner rolls split in half. Sliders will cook in about half the time.
- Burgers on the Stove: If the burger urge hits on a rainy day, never fret. Heat a heavy, cast-iron skillet over medium-high flame. Soak a paper towel in a little vegetable oil, then wipe the inside of the skillet with the paper towel to lightly oil it. Lay 3 patties in the skillet and sear on one side for around 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for another 4 or 5 minutes more, or until done to your liking. Remove to a platter and hold warm while you repeat with the remaining patties.
- Doneness: Lots of burger connoisseurs sniff at burgers cooked any more than medium-rare. But given the danger of food-borne illness, only well-done burgers should be served to children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system.