The anatomy of the perfect burger

By
Daniel Wilson
Added
11 November, 2015

Looking for your next weekend challenge? Why not have a crack at making your own cheeseburgers from scratch? Chef Daniel Wilson shares the secret recipe to recreating his famed Huxtaburger, from bun to patty and everything in between.

Burgers: who doesn't love them? Not many people in my mind! The idea of meat in a bun with fixings and condiments is nothing new, but the quality and type of ingredients can greatly affect the outcome. Here lies my secret to the perfect burger, plus all the recipes you'll need to create your own Huxtaburger at home – but if you want to tackle the whole kit and kaboodle, best set aside the next weekend.

Buns

BUNS

The burger bun is one of the most important parts of the burger. Its main purpose is to hold everything together and essentially provide the structure for the delicious ingredients inside. 

The bun should be able to envelop all the fillings and be easy to bite through, without sending the ingredients flying out of the sides! A bun that is too thick or too hard will greatly diminish your burger-eating experience.

I am a firm believer in brushing the inside of the bun with clarified butter or olive oil and then toasting the cut surfaces on a flat grill to create a crisp golden crust on the inside; this also steams the bread, to help it compress around the ingredients.

Toasting the buns dry under a grill can be counter-productive, as it can dry the bun out and make it too crispy and hard.

At Huxtaburger, our buns are soft and slightly sweet, and simple and quick to make (check out the recipe below). Also, they compress nicely to hold all of the ingredients in, so the whole burger experience is not too ‘bready’. 

Beef patty

PATTY

The beef patty is the star of the burger. If the patty isn’t good, then the whole burger is ruined! 

When cooked, the patty must be the same diameter as the bun, as there's nothing worse than a patty that only fills up half the bun. Meat has a natural tendency to shrink when it’s cooked, so it's important to take this into consideration when shaping the patties. I’d suggest that you shape the patties to be at least 20 per cent bigger than your buns.

In pursuit of the ultimate beef patty, let’s now consider the merits of the different types and cuts of beef.

Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef: When using regular beef, I prefer to use grass-fed as opposed to grain-fed – the main reason being that I think grass-fed is better for the cattle and the environment, as the cattle are free to roam and are not kept in feedlots. The meat also has the taste of where it comes from (terroir) and what the animal’s diet is, which can often be identified as having a mineral flavour. Many farmers may also top up the feed with hay and silage harvested from the property after an abundance of spring growth.

Beef from grain-fed cattle can all taste the same, as the animals are essentially eating the same type of feed. The upside to grain-fed is the consistency of the marbling and tenderness of the meat; grass-fed beef can be a lot more variable in tenderness and marbling, due to the fact that the cattle roam more.

Wagyu beef: Wagyu literally means ‘Japanese cow’. The special thing about these cattle is that they have a high amount of naturally occurring intramuscular marbling. This means that the fat is evenly dispersed inside the muscles, not just between them, creating deliciously juicy beef.

Composition of the patty: There are many schools of thought on the make-up of the patty. Some people swear it must have certain percentages of different cuts to make the perfect burger.

If you have a good relationship with your butcher, maybe you can ask them for specific muscles, although this may be tricky if you only want a small amount. If you have a mincer at home, you can get the cuts you want and grind the beef yourself.

When grinding your own meat, it is very important to keep the mincing equipment and the meat itself as cold as possible. If it warms up, the fat can start to melt, which will cause the meat to become dry, and crumble when cooked.

You really don’t want more than about 20 per cent fat in the meat, otherwise you’ll find that most of it just comes out during cooking. If you are cooking on a flat grill or pan, the meat will become crispy on the outside, yet greasy at the same time. If you use a flame-fired chargrill to cook the patties, it will flare up too much and give the patties an unappealing burnt-fat flavour. Personally I think 10–15 per cent fat is the sweet spot.

In our patties at Huxtaburger, we mainly use the muscles from the butt area – generally the silverside, topside and knuckle. These give a patty with good texture and mouth-feel, without too much sinew.

As you will see from the recipe below, we add only salt and pepper to our patties. It comes down to personal preference, but some people like to add fillers such as onion, tomato sauce, mustard, breadcrumbs, egg, etc – but I believe this detracts from the flavour of the beef itself, and can give the patties a pasty texture. Also in the case of tomato sauce, it can make the patties burn excessively during cooking.

Ketchup and mustard

KETCHUP & MUSTARD

Ketchup and mustard are as important to a burger as the meat or the bun, in terms of the punchy flavours they add.

At Huxtaburger we think of our burgers as old-school American-style burgers. We use Heinz ketchup and French’s American mustard in ours, as these are classic flavours associated with this type of burger. I guess this is in line with the old grammatically incorrect adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ It’s a reference point, and also has a comfort factor: when people recognise a certain flavour or food, it generally makes them happy and they feel good eating it.

It’s pretty simple to make your own ketchup and mustard. Find the recipes below.

Pickle

PICKLES

Pickles are an essential part of a burger, in my view, as they help to balance out the rich fattiness of the beef. Not only excellent sliced inside a burger, they are also fantastic served whole on the side. If you want to make your own pickles for your burger (see below), you’ll have to get started at least 24 hours in advance.

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