I decided to find out what truly makes the definitive perfect burger.
So, with the help of my recipe tester, Eshun Mott, and my editing assistant, Nancy Won, I have been slaving over the grill - experimenting with cooking times, fillings and the kinds of beef. After much trial and error, we have decided on our favourite: pure, unadulterated Wagyu beef.
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A few things to remember: You need fat content in hamburger meat to make it juicy and tasty. Some very expensive restaurants put foie gras in the burger's centre to add fat to leaner eats like ground sirloin or round. Tasty but not practical for the home cook.
Some people like to add flavourings to their burger mixture. We tried adding sautéed onions and garlic, wilted spinach, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Asian flavourings such as soy and ginger and our favourite herbs. We stuffed the middle of our burgers with cheese, sautéed mushrooms, even braised short ribs. Ultimately, while these all make very different and often tasty burgers, they do mask the flavour of good-quality beef. In the end, we decided that we would rather give people the option of garnishing their burgers with these additions after they're cooked.
In our experiments, we used three different kinds of beef: 1) Wagyu, a powerfully marbled, highly flavoured beef from Japan that is now bred in Canada too. Though high in fat, the beef contains good Omega 3 and 6 fats as well as a percentage of unsaturated fat.
2) A mixture of chuck and sirloin that we ground ourselves at home. We ground the meat coarsely for a juicier end result and did not trim the fat.
3) Store-bought ground chuck.
We tried adding egg, breadcrumbs, sautéed onions and garlic to one batch of pre-ground chuck, but it turned out like meatloaf on a bun - tasty, but not what were looking for. When we added barbecue sauce, salt and pepper to the chuck, we found the sauce overwhelmed the flavour of the meat.
The Wagyu was the hands-down winner. We loved this sensational burger. It had great mouth feel and shirt-staining juices even when cooked well done (although it was best medium rare). The big drawback is the price, which hovers at around $10 or more per pound.
A close second was the burger made with home-ground chuck and sirloin. It had excellent flavour and texture, and a delicious exterior crust.
The pre-ground chuck produced a basic hamburger that was distinctly underwhelming after the Wagyu.
Herewith, a few tips for the perfect grilled hamburger:
1) To make sure the hamburger does not fall apart, handle it very lightly.
2) If you are worried about bacteria, cook your burgers well done. Personally, I love my hamburgers a little pink in the centre, so I feel safer if I grind my own meat and use it right away.
3) Spread your hamburger meat into a rectangle, season with salt and pepper, and then mix it. It combines the seasonings more accurately. Grill burgers on high heat and only turn once.
See burger and side recipes below.