How to Build the Perfect Burger

How to Build the Perfect Burger
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How to Build the Perfect Burger

Govind Armstrong, executive chef and owner of 8 oz. Burger Bar and also executive chef at the critically acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Post & Beam, shares some helpful insight on building the perfect burger.

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The Beef on… Fat Ratios

It used to be that buying ground beef for a burger was pretty simple — all you had to do was decide on the percentage of fat. And that's still an important factor to consider. Govind Armstrong, executive chef and owner of the 8 oz. Burger Bar, says that a ratio of 85:15 of meat to fat is ideal for most burgers, although if you're looking for a richer, juicier burger, you may want to go with a ratio of 80:20.

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The Beef on… Blends

Nowadays, it's possible to ask for custom blends made from whole cuts of beef at the meat counter in the grocery store. But where do you begin the conversation with the person standing behind the glass case? If you've never talked to him or her before and are accustomed to simply grabbing the shrink-wrapped stuff just off to the side, it can be intimidating the first time. (Don't worry — they'll be delighted to be talking to someone for a change.) Armstrong offers a few conversation-starters here.

Chuck is a good place to begin. "Most blends will have 50 to 75 percent chuck," says Armstrong. It has great flavor and marbling for the price, and so it's the ideal candidate for a base. And then you can get creative from there. Looking for more marbling and a deeper flavor than chuck? Add some short rib or brisket to the blend. Looking for a patty with a good bite and flavor that's on the leaner side? Add some sirloin to the mix. But for his everyday burgers, Armstrong is perfectly happy with freshly ground 100 percent chuck because it lets him get creative with the seasonings.

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The Beef on… Seasonings

Here, it's important to consider what cuts went into the blend for the patties. If you've spent a good amount of money on a blend of short rib and chuck, for instance, you're probably just going to want to use good old salt and pepper, and maybe a little Worcestershire sauce or red wine, to really let the flavor of the meat shine. If you're just using basic chuck, on the other hand, seasoning meat with a blend of herbs, spices, or condiments may make a lot of sense. Armstrong, for instance, uses a blend of kosher salt, black and white pepper, ground coriander, dried oregano, thyme, and paprika. Whatever you do, it should be about enhancing the flavor of the meat, not drowning it out.

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The Beef on… Cheese

Whether you want cheese or not on your burger is certainly a matter of preference, but if, like us, you say "Yes please to cheese," then you may be wondering if there are some combinations that work better than others. Armstrong says, "It kind of depends where you're going with the burger." Blue cheese, for example, is great with richer blends like short rib with brisket because of its bold flavor and aroma — but whether you go with a spicy blue cheese like Roquefort or a sweeter blue cheese like Gorgonzola depends on the toppings you plan on using. On the other hand, leaner blends like chuck with sirloin tend to go well with mellower cheeses; one of Armstrong's favorites, for example, is Bel Paese, a semi-soft cow's milk cheese that melts beautifully on a patty.

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The Beef on… Buns

Armstrong's advice here is to match the burger to the bun. Making a rich, juicy short rib burger with bacon, dressing, and some serious toppings? Find something sturdy that will hold up to all those ingredients and soak up the juices without turning soggy — like focaccia, which has a flavor that won't clash with the meat and toppings. Or maybe your patty is made with lean sirloin, in which case it might be a good idea to dial up the richness factor with a brioche bun. And if you're making a homemade Big Mac, a sesame seed bun is a must.

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The Beef on… Toppings and Condiments

This is one area where people tend to overdo it, says Armstrong. "Three to four ingredients, generally one, maybe two sauces are more than enough. If you have too much going on in one burger, you sort of tend to miss out on the nuances that the meat possesses."

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The Beef on… Portioning

Armstrong says that he generally doesn't like making patties that weigh anything less than about 7- to 8-ounces, but this certainly depends on what you're making. A traditional patty melt, for instance, usually consists of a thinner patty and will require less meat. A thicker patty, on the other hand, will stay nice and juicy even with extended cooking and have enough space to hide a bit of butter or Brie in the middle, but there's a trade-off — you'll need to find a bun that will stand up to the added heft.

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The Beef on… Shaping

When it comes to forming burger patties, less really is more. "You don't really want to make a patty and manipulate it too much," says Armstrong. Overworking the meat will cause it to turn dense and tough when cooked. It's best to shape it loosely, just until it holds together.

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The Beef on… Cooking Techniques

There are many ways to cook a burger, and deciding which way is best — in a cast-iron skillet, on the grill, under a broiler, or even steaming it — is sure to elicit raucous debate. Instead, we offer advice on what is arguably the most discussed technique — grilling. Here, Armstrong likes to use gas for convenience, and mesquite or charcoal for additional flavor when he has a bit more time. He says the two most common mistakes he says home cooks make when grilling burgers are not letting the meat sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes — which results in the outer edges cooking before the interior — and overcooking them. To guard against this fatal error, he suggests getting a meat thermometer to help cut out all the guesswork. Also, in his humble opinion, "Going past medium with anything besides ground chuck is wasteful." There it is from the man himself.

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Now that you've got your burger-building techniques down, try them out on some of our favorite burger recipes. Check out these 10 fantastic burger recipes for summer.

Double Cheeseburgers, Los Angeles-Style

These burgers look like the American classic, but get an Asian twist with toasted sesame seeds in the mayo and fresh shiso leaves on top of the lettuce.

Get the recipe: Double Cheeseburgers, Los Angeles-Style

Bacon Avocado Burger

Have ripe and tasty avocados? Try them in this recipe along with peppercorn dry rub and thick cut bacon all on top of a juicy burger.

Get the recipe: Bacon Avocado Burger

Michelle's Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise

The patty in this delicious turkey burger is made with apples, celery and herbs and liberally topped with caramelized onions and lemon-mayonnaise.

Get the recipe: Michelle's Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise

Black Bean and Roasted Sweet Potato Burger

These flavor-packed burgers can be eaten on a bun or served as a croquette for an entrée with a salad for dinner. Top the burger with guacamole and salsa for even more deliciousness.

Get the recipe: Black Bean and Roasted Sweet Potato Burger

Beef Burgers with Sweet-n-Smoky Ketchup

To spiff up a big, juicy burger, try making this sweet, spicy ketchup, which gets its smoky flavor from dried pasilla chiles.

Get the recipe: Beef Burgers with Sweet-n-Smoky Ketchup

Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon Russian Dressing

Brush burgers with butter while they're on the grill. The natural sugars caramelize, making the meat extra-delicious.

Get the recipe: Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon Russian Dressing

Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers

These meat-free burgers are hearty enough to satisfy a serious hunger craving. For any carnivores out there who think they don’t like veggie burgers, this one will change your mind.

Get the recipe: Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Smoky Buffalo Burger

Here we flavor sweet, beefy buffalo (bison) with smoked cheese and smoky barbecue sauce. Instead of being melted on top, cheese is used here to season the meat—adding moisture and smoky flavor inside the burger.

Get the recipe: Smoky Buffalo Burger

The Classic Hickory Smoked Barbecue Burger

The secret to juicy burgers is not to handle the meat too much. You'll want to loosely pack the meat and just combine it with mustard-chili rub to get delicious results.

Get the recipe: The Classic Hickory Smoked Barbecue Burger

Veggie Burgers with Pomegranate Ketchup

What's this veggie burger's secret ingredient? Ground porcini mushrooms add a satisfying meaty flavor.

Get the recipe: Veggie Burgers with Pomegranate Ketchup


Let us consider the burger. It is the food that Americans crave when traveling abroad — "Oh, I would kill to have a burger right now." It is the backbone of just about every backyard grilling party — OK, maybe hot dogs are important, too. And it is an obsession and almost art form for those who seek to perfect it. So who to turn to for advice?

Learn How to Build the Perfect Burger Here

We tapped Govind Armstrong, executive chef and owner of 8 oz. Burger Bar and also executive chef at the critically acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Post & Beam, for some helpful insight. Armstrong makes a mean burger — his proprietary house blend results in a beef patty that's juicy, flavorful, and rich without going over the top. And the elements of each of his burgers — the seasonings, the cheese, and the toppings — work in perfect harmony. So we thought he was the perfect person to turn to for some tips and tricks.

Armstrong gave us the beef on just about everything you'd possibly want to consider when making a burger — from fat ratios and blends to buns and cooking techniques. He also points out where most homecooks go wrong. Whatever kind of burger you decide to make, though, it all comes back to one principle — namely, that everything has to work in harmony. Thinking about which cuts of meat to buy, which spices to use, and which toppings to add is not an exercise that should happen in a vacuum. Instead, you've got to make everything work together. And that's how the perfect burger is made.

Check out the slideshow above to discover how to make the perfect burger.

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