What makes a great burger
“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” (Wimpy/Popeye the Sailor)
A few years ago, I was hungry after a photo shoot. I went to have lunch at a popular neighborhood restaurant known for their ribs, steaks, and sandwiches. I order their signature burger, though it was pricey. It was ok. Not good or great, it was just shy of mediocre.
Sometime later, I ate a burger at a popular Rush Street steakhouse and bar. I took one bite and I was in burger heaven. It was a dollar cheaper than the previous one.
Last week, I had the five dollar burger special at a saloon. Again, I was in burger heaven. The burger tasted like beef. They could have even left off the lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Chicago is a hamburger and hot dog city. Both had an association with the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.
Vienna beef, founded that year, sold hot dogs at the World Fair. Ground beef patty sandwichs were sold to the workmen at the gate. They became popular and the hamburger took off. So local lore and food historians tell us.
The Chicago style hot dog, like the Italian beef sandwich, was rooted in the depression. It was a cheap meal on a bun that could sustain a person until dinner.
You can get decent to good hot dogs all over the city. The hamburger is a different story.
The hamburger evolved over the past 125 years from a simple sandwich to various architectural constructions, with ingredients piled high, like a Chicago skyscraper, making some virtually impossible to eat with hands.
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, arugula, micro greens, Pork belly, bacon, various cheeses, eggs, pulled pork, kimchi, various concoctions from the world of molecular gastronomy. Like the building of our great city, from a muddy trading swamp on the prairie to skyscrapers, the burgers get higher and higher.
So, the question is, what makes a good hamburger?
In its simplest form, a burger is a meat pattie on a bun. Add some lettuce and tomato, maybe thinly sliced onion, condiments, and there you have it. It is a sandwich, meant to be eaten with one’s hands.
A good burger starts with the ground beef. If the beef does not taste good, all the seasonings and toppings in the world will not save it from being mediocre to a lousy burger. Like a good steak, if quality beef is used and it is seasoned and cooked properly, you do not need anything else, except the bun.
Next, the bun. the bun should be sturdy enough to enable one to eat the sandwich with their hands, without having to deploy a fork and knife halfway through. If various toppings are added, the bun should be toasted to give it more strength. If wetter toppings are used, the bun should be made from a sturdier recipe.
No matter the toppings or condiments, the patty should have a beefy taste. Many places come up with concoctions to mask the flavor of using the mediocre meat for the patty. They want to wow you with their culinary skill of blending ingredients together, forgetting the most important thing. A hamburger is a hamburger, a beef pattie. It should taste like one. It is a sandwich.
It is meant to be eaten with the hands.