Tastes of Summer 2002: Barbecue

  The Perfect Burger

The Chef
TODD ENGLISH of Todd English's Olives NY

Serves 6.

3 pounds twice-ground chuck (20 percent fat content)
1 and 1/2 sticks butter, melted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 hamburger buns, preferably brioche, halved (see note below)
Toppings (see recipes below)

Cooking Instructions
Divide the meat into six half-pound portions. With cold hands, form into patties about 1 inch thick and about 3 and 1/2 to 4 inches across. Do not overhandle the meat, as this will make the burgers dry and tough. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap or waxed paper, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. (This lets them set, so they don't break up on the grill.) If you are leaving them for more than 1/2 hour, cover tightly with plastic wrap (not foil).

Light a charcoal or gas grill. (Or use a very hot flat cast-iron pan, following the grilling directions below.) When the coals are hot, remove the burgers from the refrigerator and allow to sit, covered, at room temperature for a few minutes before cooking. Paint the patties with melted butter, and generously season both sides with salt and pepper.

Oil the rack of the heated grill, and, when the coals are glowing and covered with gray ash, cook the burgers for 3 to 4 minutes. Do not touch them during this cooking time. Turn the burgers and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare to medium, or until the internal temperature comes to 125 to 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. The cooking time will vary depending on the temperature of the fire, the type of coals used, and the thickness of the burger. Once the burgers are cooked, allow them to rest, off the heat, for 1 to 2 minutes. (Don't stack them, or they will steam.)

While the burgers are resting, brush the cut side of each bun with melted butter. Place on the grill and toast on both sides, taking care not to burn them.

Spread relish on the cut sides of the bun, and place the burger on one half, followed by a slice of tomato, caramelized onions, and shredded lettuce. Top with the remaining half of the bun. The burger may be wrapped in paper for easy handling.

Best With
For buns: Brioche hamburger buns (preferably Eli's); kaiser rolls; onion-flavored focaccia buns; Portuguese rolls; large English muffins.

Purists will want to stick with lettuce, onion, and tomato, but for variety, consider these.

Barbecued onions: Cut large onions into 1/2-inch-thick wedges or slices. Season with salt and pepper, coat with olive oil, and grill until slightly charred. Separate into layers or rings, and toss with barbecue sauce.

Mustard pickle: Combine 6 tablespoons diced pickles, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon finely diced shallot. (Note: Enough sugar should be added to the mix so that the mustard is no longer spicy; English also adds 1/2 cup ketchup and 1/2 cup mayonnaise.)

Avocado salsa: Peel 2 avocados and cut them into 1/4-inch dice. Toss with 1 tablespoon of lime juice to keep the flesh from turning brown, and add 1/2 a medium chopped red onion, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1/2 bunch finely chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, and 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced very fine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Other suggestions:

  • Boston and Romaine lettuce leaves in equal amounts, julienned

  • Sliced tomatoes, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Thinly sliced wedges of Bermuda or Vidalia onion

  • Crisp bacon cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces

  • Onions, caramelized by sautéing very slowly over low heat in olive oil

  • Slices of white Cheddar cheese

  • Mixture of equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup

  • And, of course, ketchup and mustard.

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