Hamburger steak has been around for centuries, originating in Europe, while American hamburgers as we know them today have been around only since the late 19th century. Seymour, Wisconsin, claims to be the home of the American hamburger -- that beloved blend of a ground-beef patty sandwiched inside a halved, bun and paired with an array of condiments.
Makeup of a Burger
All burgers contain a ground-meat patty, with beef being the most common choice. However, you also may use ground chicken, turkey, lamb or even salmon. The meat is seasoned and served inside a halved bun of any shape or flavor, such as brioche -- a sweet egg bun. The most common bread choice is a soft, round, white bun topped with sesame seeds. Standard toppings include mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise, along with sliced red tomato, chopped or sliced onion, pickle relish, hot peppers, bacon, sliced cheese and lettuce.
All About the Patty
Regardless of the type of meat you choose to make your burger with, overworking the mix leads to a tough, chewy, dense burger. To keep the patty flavorful but light, only gently mix the meat with seasonings, binding agents such as egg or breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper. A basic proportion of meat to fat is to have at least 15 to 20 percent fat for the meat blend to keep the burger juicy and bursting with flavor. Too little fat leads to a dry, tasteless burger. If you are up for it, you can grind your own meat at home to create the perfect blend of fat and leaner, more flavorful cuts.
Seasoning and Customization
If you keep the patty simple in terms of flavorings, up the ante with a variety of toppings. While purists may say a perfectly seasoned and cooked burger is best served plain or almost plain, for most folks, choosing your own condiments is half the fun of eating a burger. Mix in fresh herbs for lean, light burgers such as chicken or turkey burgers, using minced parsley or cilantro to add color and flavor. For a heartier burger, pair barbecue sauce with spicy pepper cheese. Basing seasonings, condiments and toppings on your favorite ethnic cuisine is another way to customize your burger. If you have a craving for teriyaki, add a smear of teriyaki sauce to a salmon patty, topping with spinach, mayonnaise and pickled onions for a twist on a classic fish burger.
Cooking and Doneness
Burgers most commonly are pan-fried or grilled, although you can steam or broil burgers for a lighter-tasting patty. To pan-fry, preheat a pan on high, adding a thin layer of oil. When the oil is shimmering, sprinkle the patty with salt and pepper before adding it to the smoking hot pan. Use a minimal amount of oil as a dry pan helps a burger develop a crust, while keeping the interior moist. Cook for approximately three to five minutes for a 3/4-inch-thick beef patty, flipping only once when the bottom side has developed a nice brown crust. Cook until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit with a quick-read thermometer. The meat turns brown and the juices running from the burger are clear, although these visual cues are not accurate indicators of correct doneness. Let the burger rest for five minutes before serving.
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- serious eats: The Burger Lab -- Mastering the Art of Burger Blending With Eight Different Cuts of Beef
- Eating Well: 6 Expert Tricks for Packing Your Burger With Flavor
- D'Artagnan: Five Ways to Cook a Burger
- Bon Appetit: 6 Common Burger Cooking Mistakes
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Color of Cooked Ground as It Relates to Doneness
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