A Burger…What It Should Be?


Chef Marc Johnson   Written by ChefMBJ    (posted w/ permission)




I love hamburgers. I think they are one of the great culinary treasures of the World. I think like most people, their first burger was a McDonalds hamburger or cheeseburger. I know for me, despite the evolution of my palete, I still enjoy a McDonald’s cheeseburger or a Big Mac from time to time. Yes…despite its grey-colored appearance and tasteless quality, they offer a trip back to my childhood, that I don’t know I want to give up anytime soon. That being said…. 

I’m a firm believer that 90% of the World’s hamburgers are cooked and constructed improperly. Over the past few years, I have made it a mini-mission of mine to try burgers, and then come up with my own conclusion on what a burger should be. Based on my “experiment”, here are my conclusions/opinions. 

(1) All burgers should be grilled. Not on a flat iron grill, as if you were at a diner, but I am talking about a grill, that will leave grill marks on it, and that has an inferno of flame coming from it. Why? When you fire grill it, it gives the burger a great crust. The crusty surface is supposed to contrast with the soft inner part of the burger. Whether you use charcoal or wood chips, when that flavor imparts itself into the burgers, there is no better flavor. It takes you back to a time of backyard bbq’s with family. Lastly…appearance. I don’t know what it is about grill marks, but it gives the burger, an better look. 

*Addendum to Point 1-Burgers that are cooked on a flying iron grill or skillet, they’re good too. I don’t want to totally exclude them. I just believe that fire-grilled is better. 

(2) Please…pick a proper bun and cook it properly. Anyone from Philly can tell you that the most important component of a Philly Cheesesteak is the hoagie roll, always Amoroso rolls. How many times have you eaten a burger…the meat was great, but the bun sucked, either because the bread sucked or how they cooked it (Or not cooked it) was bad? To me, the best buns are usually good solid potato bread buns, and the inside of the buns should always be lightly toasted or grilled. It should never be fully toasted, and it should never be raw. Lightly toasted or grilled. If you like a sesame seed bun…that’s your preference. Sesame seed buns are good, as our onion hamburger rolls. As long as the buns are fresh, soft, and toasted lightly…that’s all that matters. Also…size matters too. You don’t want a bun too small or too big. 

(3) QUIT OVER CONDIMENTIZING THE BURGER!!! I think a lot of Americans have forgotten what a burger is. lt is ground beef between two slices of bread. The reason why we don’t know, is over the years we have added, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, ketchup, bbq sauce, steak sauce, onions, cheese, bacon, ham, tomato sauce, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. Not that I don’t mind some toppings, but lets not go overboard. Like any condiment, it should be used to enhance the flavor of the burger, not outshine it. And, in my opinion, there are some condiments that should never be used on a burger, namely mayo and ketchup. 

(4) Burgers should be cooked medium rare to medium…nothing more, nothing less. If you like to ingest hockey pucks, then a well cooked burger is for you. If you want to eat a petrie dish, then a rare burger is for you. In regards to the latter, a rare burger, has so much juice, it will eventually make the bun soggy. Mind you, I would rather have a rare burger than an overcooked burger…a burger in which the flame sucked all of the fat, juiciness and flavor out of the burger. Again, like anything in love, balance is the goal, and a medium rare to a medium burger gives one that perfect and harmonious balance. 

(5) Never use lean ground beef. OK…I know we are all trying to be health conscious, so some may by leaner beef (Or even ground turkey) as an alternative. The way I think is, if you’re really trying to be about nutrition, you shouldn’t be eating a burger in the first place. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Pick ground chuck, and it should be have a 73 meat to 23 fat ratio. 80/20 is acceptable, but the more fat, the juicier and tastier the burger. 

(6) Just salt and pepper. Season your meat always, but just use salt and pepper. No need to complicate a burger with a whole bunch of other seasonings. Granted, if you’re making a “gourmet” interpretation of the burger, then that is OK…but for a simple burger…salt and pepper will do. And only season the surface of the burgers, not all of the meat. Seasoning the outside of the burger, will create texture and seasoning on the outside, while preserving that pure beef taste on the inside. 

(7) A nod to my third point, if you use ingredients to compliment the burger, please let it be fresh ingredients. How many times have you had wilted lettuce or a bad tomatoes on a burger? Please…let it be fresh. Crisp cold lettuce, should compliment the soft, hot burger. The acidity, liquidity and freshness of a tomato brightens up the flavor of a burger. Again…if all done properly, and if all the ingredients are fresh. 

I will probably have more opinions on this issue. As they come up, I will list more of them. In the meantime, let me give you some of my favorite burger joints. 

(1) Rare Bar and Grill in New York City
To me…the best burger I ever had. There is no place as good as this place at creating a burger. They are a bit gourmet, but still…utterly f*cking fantastic burgers. http://www.rarebarandgrill.com

(2) Five Guys
Yes…they don’t fire grill their burgers, but their burgers are pretty decent. http://www.fiveguys.com 

(3) Ruby Tuesdays/National Chain
Yes…I said it. It’s a chain, and I don’t give a damn what any of you all say. Their Triple Prime Burger is pretty good. http://www.rubytuesdays.com

(4) Big Buns in Arlington, Virginia
Some of the best burgers I have had in a long time. Burgers so good, that my fiance’ was upset that she couldn’t eat there, because we couldn’t find a parking space. That has to be a good burger. http://www.eatbigbuns.com

(5) Foster’s Grille/Regional Chain
I recently ate there. Very good. They have a backyard bbq burger kind of flavor. I like them alot. Luckily there is one about a 1/4 mile from my apartment. http://www.fostersgrille.com

(6) Central Michel Richard in Washington, D.C.
Chef Richard’s gourmet interpretation of the burger is one of the best culinary creations…PERIOD…I have ever had. Try it. http://www.centralmichelrichard.com

(7) Bullfeathers of Capitol Hill
Surprisingly a pretty decent burger. Needs to work on the bun, but they have a good, tasty, affordable burger. http://www.bullfeatherscapitolhill.com

(8) Clydes DC Chain
Very good, consistent burger. http://www.clydes.com

(9) Urban Burger
The guys at Urban BBQ had a great burger on their menu, and extended it to create another restaurant dedicated to the burger. Fantastic…Fantastic…Fantastic. http://www.urbanburgerco.com


Check out ChefMBJ’s Website http://www.myspace.com/cloakroomcatering

4 Responses to “A Burger…What It Should Be?”

  1. 1 ...with a Bullet!

    Love the burger obsession! …and fact that you aren’t afraid to confess the guilty pleasures of chain restaurant delicacies!
    Grill marks look great on everything except the palms of your hands.

    One question: Are you a Charcoal or Gas man?

    I will definitely tour the DC burger joints the next time I am East.

    Great Info… keep it coming!

  2. Thanks for the positive response. To answer your question…I am a combo man, when it comes to the grill. My father has a combo grill, in which he has charcoal in it, but the flame is constantly sustained by gas. I think that is the most effective way to grill. Honestly, straight charcoal can overwhelm the taste of the meat, and it is a pain in the ass sometimes to stay ignited. I know some people are really passionate about charcoal, but for me at the end of the day…I could care less. As long as it tastes good.

    Being that I wrote this blog entry a few months ago, I need to add one more burger joint to my list of favorites. Spike Mendelson, who was on “Top Chef” this season just opened a burger joint right on Capitol Hill, called “Good Stuff Eatery”. It opened two weeks ago, I have been there twice, and the food was really, really good. The second time I was there, Spike was there, and working just as hard as everybody else…no bullshit celebrity chef stuff. He cooked, he cleaned up tables, spoke to everybody. That being said…the food was great. Here is the website: http://www.goodstuffeatery.com

    Again, thanks for the positive response.

  3. I love it! 1) Welcome to Food Whores! I hope this is only the first of many posts! and 2) I have always loved good burgers since I was a child. I think my grandfather must’ve served them at least three nights a week. I think it is one of the unsung heroes of the food world just because fast food made it so globalized. In reality, the fact that it is a fast food staple should really just reiterate what a perfect and enjoyable treat it really is.

  4. Hi. Thanks for this article. And please keep us posted on any new eats! I LOVE Top Chef and thought Spike was fun to watch… although I was cheering for our local girl Antonia (Foxtail restaurant).

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