An American artform, the hamburger is considered by many to be a quintessential food of the USA... even though it is named after a small town in Germany. This brand of silliness is also considered by many to be an American trademark.

A hamburger (from Hamburg steak) is a patty of ground beef (sometimes mixed with spices), which is typically grilled, fried, or broiled. It is usually somewhat round, although some restaurants use square patties.

The traditional way of preparing a hamburger (or burger, for short) is to slice a round bun or roll in half lengthwise, then put the cooked patty between the two halves with one's choice of vegetable-based condiments such as:

Hamburgers are also often topped with a slice of cheese, typically Cheddar or "American cheese" (sic), which goes directly onto the hot patty so that it will melt into the surface of the burger. When topped with cheese, it becomes a cheeseburger.

Leave it to a vegetarian to node the obvious. :)

Hamburger is evil.

I can say this because I work in the meat department of a large grocery store, and this week we just happen to have it on sale (Lean Ground, $3.73/kg CND, I believe). This is all well and good, but I have a beef with customers, if you'll excuse the pun.

Exactly what hamburger is:

Extra Lean - Shipped in tubes to the outlet, tiny fat content.
Lean - Usually made from 'boneless beef' which is shipped frozen in large (27.3Kg/60lb) boxes.
Medium - Made from two parts boneless beef, to one part trim (technically boneless beef, but just think of it as fat).
Regular - Made from one part boneless beef to one part trim.

Boneless beef is 90% ungraded (that doesn't mean it's bad, it just wasn't inspected to see if it could be classified as another cut of beef) beef and 10% fat in the cases when chipped. Trim, on the other hand, is 60% beef and 40% fat when chipped.

Chipping is the process of taking the frozen boneless beef, or trim, and pitting it through a machine that is top loaded, and has many blades attached to an arm that slides back and forth under the frozen product to cut it into strips about 10cm by 5cm by 2cm in size; this makes for easy grinding.

Grinding is taking shipped beef, or any other small meat product, and throwing it into a machine with a large vat on the top, and an auger on the bottom. When activated, the auger spins, forcing the beef down a short shaft to the head. At the head, there is a blade attached to the auger that spins against a face plate with has many tiny holes in it; that's what makes the 'snake' streams of the burger.

Anyway, back to my problem. When we have sales, we try to chip our beef a few days ahead of time and leave it in the cooler to allow it to redden (from both the oxygen, and the defrosting). Sometimes it doesn't turn as red as we would like, but it's still as lean, or if not leaner for the type of beef that it is.

As I said before, we have lean ground beef on special, and I spent the whole day (all nine hours with only two 15 minute breaks as I'd skipped my break to supply impatient customers with their Ground Gold) grinding beef, straight boneless beef, read that again: STRAIGHT BONELESS BEEF, most of which was quite red, yet we still had a million customers comment on how fatty the beef looked.

Now, I don't have any money invested in the store, nor do i care how much they spend on boneless beef (usually $90 per 27Kg case, by the way), how much they use (approximately 150 cases this week), OR how much is wasted when chipping (about a case worth). I just don't care; I'm there to do my job for my puny $7.70 per hour, and I'm not about to take more time, and exert myself even more than I already do (it takes a lot out of you lifting tubs of chipped beef about five to five and one half feet into the air to be dumped into the grinder). If I made the beef fattier (i.e., adding trim), it would mean that I have to spend more time and more physical power to put the trim in; when customers are buying the packages faster than you can grind it, you just don't have the time to do it.

People, I'm not out to fuck you in the ass, nor are most other stores. Sure, you might find a 'fatty' package one in a while, but it was probably a mistake by the grinder, or by the person who wrapped it. Please also realize that if you do feel the need to comment on the beef, we've probably already heard it 3000 times before you got there.

Instructions for Making : The Super Terrific Commie Hating American Hamburger.

    Okay, Chillen, you've heard all about the contents and evils of hamburgers, but you have not yet been given good, clear instructions on how to make one. The good old fashioned American Hamburger is a staple in the free world, or at least, the gluttonous free world.    

    A quick note before we begin. There is no differentiation between a hamburger and a cheeseburger. That's like calling a hamburger with tomato on it a tomatoburger. Ludicrous, I say. Alright, now that we have that out of the way, on to the ingredients. What you'll need to make yerself a extremely palatable burger is the following:

  • 1/3 pound of lean (not extra lean, not regular) ground beef. Not turkey, BEEF.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of seasoned salt (salt and pepper if Lowry is unavailable)
  • 6 inch round sesame seed roll, cut in two.
  • 2 slices (one ounce) of American cheese. (Jack and Swiss are optional, American is mandatory)
  • 2-3 Thin slices of tomato
  • 2 teaspoons of Miracle Whip

    What you'll wanna do here is take the ground beef, and manhandle it into a single, glorious patty. Sprinkle the seasoned salt onto your patty on both sides. Turn your stove on medium heat, and fry that bi-otch with a tasty groove. No charbroiling, you want as much grease in the patty as possible (Consult your doctor before attempting this). 

    With your patty on the skillet, put a lid over it to keep moisture and heat in. Check every minute or so. Try to keep the patty in as much grease as possible, to marinate. When blood starts to rise out of the patty (8-9 minutes), it is time to flip it over. Let the other side of your patty cook in the same manner, in the grease, with a lid on. After 5-6 minutes, poke a fork into your patty and see if blood or grease oozes out. If you see any blood, keep cooking. However, when you see grease come out of the fork holes, it's time for the cheese. 

    Layer your cheese on top of the hamburger patty and place the lid over your skillet. In about 15-20 seconds, your cheese should be sufficiently melted. Turn off the heat, but leave the patty under the lid until your condiments are prepared.

    Take your sesame seed roll, and butter it. Then, place both buttered pieces on another skillet (or the same one, if you want the grease...Mmmmm). Fry the buttered side of the roll to your liking. While still warm, spread Miracle Whip on the roll generously. Now it is time for your patty and roll to meet in a sensuous dance of calorific plentitude.

    Take your patty, which is by now covered in hot melting cheese, and place it on your roll. On the top of the patty, place your tomato slices, so they mingle with the cheese. Now is the perfect time to add any condiments of your liking to the burger. However, Do Not Use Ketchup. Ketchup will destroy the cheese's flavor and eat away at your juicy tomatoes. If you've cooked your burger right, it will be so juicy itself that adding ketchup would be a travesty. Once finished with the condiment adding, place the top of your roll on the burger.

    Prepare your drink of choice (root beer, perhaps), and eat with extreme prejudice. Enjoy the cheese, the juicy tomatoes, the hot, dripping slab of cow. Thank your god for making such pleasure possible. Only use a napkin when you have completely demolished your hamburger. Now it is time to pass out on the couch, euphoric from a satiated bloodlust that can only come from: The Super Terrific Commie Hating American Hamburger.

The hamburger has risen in popularity in the United States since the development of the fast food industry in 1950’s, a decade which marks the rise of automation, drive-thru consumers, and systolic blood pressure. While the hamburger was always a staple of western diners, its firm hold on American popular culture was not easily attained. Yet within relatively few years of franchised “burger joints,” as they are referred to by the nation’s youth, billions have been served. The hamburger has been featured in media ranging from the comedic skit comedy of Saturday Night Live, with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi’sCheeseburger, Cheeseburger” routine, to the counter culture movie Pulp Fiction, which takes into account the mobility of the hamburger into other cultures. Few hamburger eaters today, however, are aware of the origins of this sandwich and exactly how it took America’s hungry by storm.

While historians cannot pinpoint the first time a ground beef patty was placed amongst the folds of a sliced bun it was undoubtedly a watershed discovery in food preparation. Many excavations have turned up ancient grills with the charred remnants of what may have been medieval whoppers throughout out the island of Great Britain. Studying pollens found within the gristle, scientists have placed the preparation of the first hamburger sometime within the rule of King Henry VIII. Evidence suggests the rather portly King of England grew tired of vigorously chewing the beef and mutton steaks prepared by his cooks. Henry VIII demanded that banquet meats be diced into small, chewy, yet appetizing platters. The court’s cooks, quick to please the King’s raging appetite rather than tempt another execution in Henry VIII’s already bloody empire, diced the choicest steaks into a consistency similar to that of today’s ground round. The chefs, however, found themselves quick to mistake the delicacy as food for the royal dogs. Fearing a disastrous mistake to be indubitably followed by as disastrous a death for the head chef, the meat was placed between two pieces of sliced bread along with servings of lettuce and tomato to create an unmistakable presentation. The hamburger stayed a part of British cuisine for centuries despite the best efforts of Queen Victoria to quash the meal, along with other, similar foods that stemmed from the burger such as the sloppy Joe, because it encouraged the use of bare hands as a utensil despite any formal setting. The flame for a grilled patty stayed strong in the hearts of common men and carried over to the Americas via the indentured servant institution established in British colonies.

The burger continued into the twentieth century with no more fanfare than grilled chicken and fried sturgeon. It wasn’t until the first McDonalds opened its doors in California that America focused it’s limelight on an all beef patty, special sauce, pickles, onions, and lettuce, on a sesame seed bun. The advent of revolutionary grilling machinery and the conversion of the common grease gun into a special sauce shooter were certainly the impetus of the burger’s raging popularity, but one set of underemployed teenagers flipping grease laden patties can only serve so many couples in two-tone Chevy’s. It was at this point that corporate America foresaw the hamburger’s potential to take America’s youth by storm; an edible hula-hoop, as it were. The McDonald’s name was purchased and wondrous world of franchised fast food was born. New stores opened across the US not unlike Starbucks inexorable spread in Manhattan. It wasn’t long before other entrepreneurs saw their chance to take a hold of the consumer market before every America identified McDonald’s as the only vendor of milk shakes, deep-fried chicken, and, most importantly, the focus of America’s binge, the Big Mac. In a desperate effort to distract America’s wide eyes and watery mouths, new franchises schemed up marketing magic to attract the fuzzy embrace of pop-culture. The most daring attempt was that of Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. Following what he believed to be the mantra of his target tubs, “it’s hip to be square,” he fashioned an unheard of square burger. Since the dawn of chopped meat, the burger had always been served in mounds or patties to fit the shape of its platter: the bun. This revolutionary design was in fact more efficient than the patty, but it never drew the attention that Dave Thomas had hoped for. McDonald’s golden arches still grace the king of the burger industry with hangers-on like Wendy’s and Burger King falling ever behind.

America’s youth may never understand the sweat and tears that went into its burgers in order to form the convenient mecca of drive-by windows and 60-second service that exist today, but that isn’t of any consequence to the corporations who bring them free smiles, the 99 cent menus, and triple bypass surgery. It seems however that the regime of the hamburger may be faltering to pop-culture’s movement towards health and well-being. And so the legacy of the hamburger lives on until soy burgers develop some semblance of taste.

The Perfect Hamburger

Yes, the perfect hamburger is attainable, and simplicity is the key. Of course nothing is perfect for everybody, but I've found this to be the closest way to perfection to cook a hamburger.

The meat should be somewhere between the regular fat-laden hamburger you can buy in bulk and the super-lean meat you can buy for twice as much. Too fat and your patty distorts and shrinks to nothing. Too lean, and it won't be cohesive enough to cook well, and will stick to the grill mercilessly. Ive found the 80%-90% range to work well. Make a patty about 3/4-inch / 2 centimeters thick and mold it into a circle slightly larger than the bun you will put it on. If you prepare your own meat you can cook it rare. If not, try to get just-ground meat so you can aim for a faint pink stripe as described below.

Nothing arcane - no rare herb, weirdly-named spices - just a light sprinkling of garlic powder and salt. Garlic has the magical quality of bringing out the best in beef. Too light and the effect is dulled, too heavy and you taste garlic and not the beef. One light pass is enough. The salt and garlic should go on just as you are about to put the patties on the grill.

A gas grill with lava rock is ideal - preferably one that has been in use many times so the ghosts of grilled food past contribute to the overall taste of the patties. Since each grill is different it's hard to actually quantify the temperature and timing here, but I will try. Start with the grill really hot. You may want to brush the grate with vegetable oil prior to heating to help with sticking.

Put the patties quickly on the hot grill. Wait just about a minute and flip them over - we're looking to sear both sides as quickly as possible. As soon as you flip them, turn the grill down to whatever your medium is. Wait another minute, then flip the burgers again, turning the patty 90 degrees to cross-hatch the grill lines. Wait about two minutes, flip again, wait two minutes more, then remove the patty. This should result in a nicely browned patty without charring, and the internal appearance should be juicy and brown, with about 1/3 of the width lightly to faintly pink. You may have to experiment a few times to adjust this to your particular grill temperature and meat - but it shouldn't be hard.

Assuring perfection
Here's where things get subjective. The perfect hamburger is the one with everything you like on it and nothing you don't. Great combinations for me may include sauteed mushrooms, muenster cheese, or even a fried egg with condiments on a lightly toasted homemade bun. Whatever your favorite additions are, add them here - then enjoy!

Blasphemers, all of you. I'm glad this node hasn't devolved into a condiment war though, for all I know, it did years ago and was quickly pruned.

There are as many ways to make a burger as their are stars in the sky, but my way, frankly, kicks those stars asses and leaves them begging for their mothers.

The primary mistake made in burger preparation is over-seasoning. It's surprisingly easy to do. To properly season a burger you'll need:

  • salt
  • pepper
..and that's it. If you make a burger and think it lacks something, it's not a seasoning problem. It's a meat problem, and it's fast food's fault. We've been lulled into thinking that burgers are made with leftover bits and pieces and are stopgaps to real food or are there to satisfy cravings. Hogwash, all of it.

To make burgers properly, you'll need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • potato rolls
  • salt
  • pepper
  • american cheese
All the other stuff, veggies and condiments and the like, are optional. If you're using cheese, use american or do without. There's something wonderful about how american cheese melts, probably due to the high plastic content, and cheddar, while tasty, is overpowering on good meat. A single slice of american cheese will do wonders for a burger, but isn't necessary. Some grilled or raw onion never hurt anybody either, but this lesson is all about the beef, so. Here's the plan:

Slowly heat a cast-iron pan. You want it to be hot but not burning, and iron pans (or at least, the imbued juices of a thousand meals that have slowly accumulated on their surfaces) tend to light if heated too quickly. Low-medium heat will do you fine. You need the time to make your burgers anyway.

Ideally, you'd be grinding your meat yourself, but I understand if that seems like too much work for the result. I mean, hell, I don't do it.

Beef fat tastes good and provides most of the heavy flavor of a burger, but using pure ground chuck will taste like nothing but fat. Similarly, using pure sirloin will leave you with a remarkably lean burger that doesn't really taste like anything. To that end, you're going to want to mix them.

Grab a small handful of chuck in one hand and a small handful of sirloin in the other. Mash 'em together, smoosh them around, get 'em nice and friendly and vaguely burger-sized. Don't worry about their shape yet, you should just worry about consistency and weight. Put it in a plastic sandwich bag. Don't bother with the closable ones, you'll be wasting your money. Repeat until you're out of beef. You should have around 4-6 small plastic bags with meat in 'em depending on how big you like them. The great thing about this way of preparing ground beef is that it makes them extremely easy to freeze, so feel free to double up on the quantities and keep some for later.

This is the fun part - using a meat hammer (The smooth side, mind) or your hands, squish the meat in the plastic bags down into the countertop. The plastic will constrain the size of your burgers while making them easier to make patties out of without the edges coming apart, as well as keeping the meat from sticking to your work surface. Once they've all been appropriately flattened, take however many you want to cook out of the bags and throw them in your pan. The rest can go in the freezer for later.

I'm not a fan of undercooked ground red meat, so these cooking directions are for thin burgers cooked mediumish. You want to let them cook until the bottoms are slightly charred - if you lift a corner with a spatula and the burger either crumbles or looks light brown instead of dark brown, you need a few more minutes. Flip them when they reach the right color and repeat, adding cheese if you'd like. The cheese is actually a nice measuring stick - once the cheese has melted to the point where the corners of the slice hit the bottom of the pan, your burgers are as done as they're ever going to be while still being edible.

Put the thing between two pieces of bread, add some salt and pepper and maybe the slightest hint of ketchup and you're done. If you'd like to make them even worse for you, cook up some homemade french fries. Go to it, and good luck.

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