How To Make The Ultimate Burger

1 perfect patty, 3 variations to satisfy every burger lover

The smell of that burger sizzling on the grill? That's America, friends. Take a big whiff.

But before you even think about slapping a patty onto a toasted bun piled with all the fixings, listen up and step away from the preformed disks: Start with a blend made from scratch (see the recipe), shape and grill your patties, then build burger love with a trio of topping combos that hit every note.

You'll thank us for taking the extra step: "I prefer burgers that have a focus on the best meat possible with toppings that complement the meat," Angie Mar, executive chef of The Beatrice Inn in NYC, tells us.

Turns out chefs each have a secret formula for the perfect patty. Sandy Dee Hall, chef and co-owner of Black Tree in NYC, uses a blend of beef chuck and sirloin. "I want the fattiness of the chuck with the clean steak taste of sirloin," he explains.

"We use a blend of 50 percent each chuck and brisket," Brooks Reitz, co-owner of Little Jack's Tavern in Charleston, says. "Truth be told, I told John, the chef, about the style of burger I loved, and he put together a variety of blends; we tasted them and decided which we loved the most."

Mar is protective over her burger blend. "Our 45-day dry-aged blend is a secret," she tells us. "There are three people who know that recipe: myself, Pat LaFrieda and the guy who grinds the meat on Pat's day off. I will tell you that there is a healthy amount of rib eye in it!"

Ours is a majority of chuck, with lean brisket and fatty short ribs for an intense beef flavor that holds up well on a charcoal grill. But the patty is just the first step: Take cues from our hamburger aficionados to build layers of texture and flavor with creative topping combinations.

— Make It Savory —

When we first tried this burger from Mar at The Beatrice Inn, we were floored by its umami punch: Her sweet caramelized onions pick up the rich tannins from red wine. And they don't need much more than our patty and d'Affinois cheese, a double-cream blend with a pungency similar to a blue, on a white bun.

Red Wine Caramelized Onions

Recipe adapted from Angie Mar, The Beatrice Inn, New York, NY

Makes 1½ cups

2 tbsp olive oil + 1 lb (2 medium) yellow onions, thinly sliced + 1 c Cabernet Sauvignon, divided + 2 tbsp sugar, divided + kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and lightly caramelized, 20 minutes. Add half off the wine and half of the sugar, and cook until the wine has evaporated and the onions have caramelized even further, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the remaining wine and sugar, and repeat the process until the wine has evaporated and the onions have caramelized even further, 6 to 8 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

— Make It Sweet —

Normally, we'd layer on a beefsteak tomato to add a touch of sweetness, but they're not in season yet. Black Tree's Hall does the trick with house-made beet-chup. Roasted beets are blended with apple cider vinegar for a sauce that gives the same sweetness as your typical bottle of ketchup but with a bit more tang. The beet-chup sings when paired with our patty, cheddar cheese and good ol' crunchy lettuce on a soft seeded brioche roll.


Recipe adapted from Sandy Dee Hall, Black Tree, New York, NY

Makes 1½ cups

1 lb (2 medium) beets + 1 tbsp olive oil + kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper + 5 tbsp apple cider vinegar + 1½ tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 500º. Layer 2 large pieces of aluminum foil on a clean work surface and place the beets in the center. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Crimp the foil to seal and roast in the oven until tender, 1 hour. Let cool, then once cool enough to handle, peel and quarter. Transfer the roasted beets to a blender with the remaining ingredients and purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

— Make It Tangy —

We're no strangers to secret sauce, but we had never heard of mixing in pickled sunchokes before Reitz told us about Little Jack's burger, which he calls "dynamite." Turmeric-stained sunchokes add a bright tartness to this creamy sauce, already with a zing from hot sauce. Slather the pickled sunchoke sauce on a white bun that envelopes a patty topped with American cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Pickled Sunchoke Relish

Recipe adapted from John Amato, Little Jack's Tavern, New York, NY

Makes 1 cup

½ c apple cider vinegar + 1 tbsp sugar + ½ tbsp salt + ½ tsp coriander seeds + ¼ tsp celery seeds + ¼ tsp yellow mustard seeds + ¼ tsp ground turmeric + 8 oz (4 large) sunchokes, peeled and roughly grated

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients, except the sunchokes. Bring to a boil, then pour over the grated sunchokes. Let cool completely.

Pickled Sunchoke Burger Sauce

Recipe adapted from John Amato, Little Jack's Tavern, New York, NY

Makes 1¾ cup

1 c mayonnaise + ⅓ c ketchup + ⅓ c drained pickled sunchoke relish + 2 tsp hot sauce + 1 tsp kosher salt + 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce + 1 tsp lemon juice + 1 garlic clove, finely grated

In a medium bowl, stir all the ingredients together.

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