“To each your own for toppings, but I like grilled mushrooms. Porcinis are the best, thinly sliced and not too thick.” For some creativity and California flavor, Waxman loves putting guacamole on burgers. He also loves adding aioli, but not too much.
“To me, traditional burgers are made with chuck meat, either rump steak or shoulder meat from the front. You don’t want to make a hamburger from filet mignon. One, it’s a waste of meat, and two, it doesn’t really taste that good.” Waxman recommends a ratio of 75:25 or 80:20 explaining that 90:10 is too lean and less than 75 is too fatty.
Keep it simple. While people like to add a lot of things to the meat like diced onions, vegetables, cheese, eggs, etc., Waxman likes to stick to basics. For his burgers, he says to use sea salt, not kosher or table, but good quality, coarse salt, fresh pepper, and meat.
"I love toasting my bun, so it can soak up the sauce, but I don't like it soft." Waxman's trick? "Buttering the bun after I grill it, not too much, but just a little. People are always like, 'what's that flavor?"
There are a lot of good things about the griddle, but you don’t get the smoke, the char effect, or flavor from the grill. You could actually put a griddle on a BBQ, that’s kind of the Australian method. They cook over an open fire and put a griddle on top. It’s kind of cool because you can do both.
Make sure the grill is seasoned properly. Waxman recommends grilling up some bacon first so all the delicious flavor gets on the grill, then cooking the burger, and topping it with the cooked bacon. (Sounds like one of the greatest ideas we’ve heard in a long time.)
Griddle or grill, how do you know when it's hot enough? “Medium heat is ideal: Not too low, and not too high.” Waxman says that for all grilling mediums, it should be the same, but it's relative to the type of grill that you’re using. If the grill is open-style, which means that the heat goes vertically straight up, then the burger doesn’t get the residual heat.
“Everyone tries to cook too many burgers at the same time, so I tell them to chill out, have a beer or glass of wine, and then when the burgers ready, you’ll have a great burger.” That's why they call Waxman the Obi Wan Kenobi of the kitchen.
Undoubtedly one of the most frequently cooked items of the summer grilling season, burgers are certainly an all-American food. Of course, there is a wide range of burgers, from simple to complex, and 'perfect' arguably means a different type of burger for each person. There are thin, flat griddle ones and thick, charred burgers cooked on the grill. They can be topped with Maine lobster, dipped in French onion soup, or served straight up with just the basics (and maybe some gooey cheese on top).
Many chefs out there have mastered the art of the burger, whether it's Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch down in Atlanta or Minetta Tavern in New York City, relying on their superior skills or the unique mix of the high-quality meats. But since most of us don't grind our own beef or plan to mix short rib into our patties, how can home cooks create this perfect burger at home?
We're not talking about getting complicated, just the all-American basics to help you achieve that juicy, flavorful hunk of meat that satisfies like nothing else can. From finding the right ratio of lean to fat meat, mastering the technique of properly melting cheese (and avoiding the drip over into the grill), we've got tips and tricks from grill master Jonathan Waxman.
Celebrated chef and co-owner of Barbuto in New York City (and former Top Chef Masters cheftestant), Waxman shares his tips and advice on cooking the perfect burger so that any home cook can learn to master the art themselves.