Let’s face it, burgers bring people together. From backyard barbecues to drive-ins. Big cities to small rural towns. Burger joints and eating a great cheeseburger have been at the center of communities and families for dozens of years. Your dad and grandfather’s memories of a bygone era grabbing a cheeseburger, fry and either a Coke or a shake after Friday night football games (I know my dad did) while other memories may include grabbing one when on the road exploring your town or the rest of the country. Fast forwarding to today’s hipster burger shack’s, burgers will always be quintessentially American and awesome.
I’ve met many people from other countries that when they travel to the United States pretty much the only thing they feel they absolutely have to eat when stateside, is a great big American-style burger. It is honestly one thing that we do really well. From home cooks to gourmet chefs, the hamburger is one of the most simple yet surprisingly sophisticated meals in our world.
Where else does fat and acid, sweet and sour, cream and bread and that distinct umami taste all combine into one potential burst of flavor? We argue, the humble cheeseburger. And not much else.
A buddy (Philip Meech, level 2 sommelier and founder of Caffe Lusso, a luxury coffee roaster in the Seattle area) and I have decided to embark on a journey that we affectionately are calling “burger month, AKA The Great Burger Debate.” There have certainly been smarter people, wiser people, and certainly more skillful people who have debated this topic but none will be as funny or as exciting or as excellent or as committed to this task then he and I. We buckled down, expanded our belt loop, and committed to trying multiple burgers over a short amount of time. We decided to do it for us, for you, for science, and because well, why wouldn’t we?
The Great Burger Debate
Part 1 – How Should you Stack your Burger? Is there a right way?
Part 2 – What are the Best Toppings?
Part 3 – Sauce or no Sauce? A condiment debate
Part 4 – The five best burger joints in and around Seattle.
The end goal? Make the perfect burger, every time, at home.
Part 1 – How Should you Stack Your Burger?
This is a topic I bet most people haven’t put much thought into. In what order should you stack your burger? As a kid most of us probably have similar memories and it was most likely how we would have eaten the burger at McDonald’s. If I remember, McDonalds’ basic cheeseburger went a little bit like this: ketchup on top bun, mustard, cheese, pickle, and a little chopped onion (maybe there isn’t any mustard??).
As an adult I felt like I needed to add a larger onion, some lettuce and tomato (and liked it). But all in what order? Does it really matter? Well it turns out that it just might. So we set it out to a test.
Note: We used all the same ingredients for each of three burgers that we tested. We used potato rolls, grass fed beef, classic American cheese, thinly sliced tomato, pickled red onion, fresh bread and butter pickles, butter lettuce, and a special sauce/Aoli/mayo. Everything was made and cut in exactly the same way. The only difference was the order in which we stacked the toppings.
Version 1 – Toppings and Condiments – Top to Bottom
- Top potato roll (with special sauce)
- Bread & Butter Pickle
- Pickled onion
- Butter lettuce
- American Cheese
- Burger patty
- Bottom potato roll (also with special sauce)
Results: So, in my opinion (Mike) it looked “wrong.” Apparently I have been eating topping/condiment top down for my entire life, or more accurately top to bottom is how I picture a perfect burger in my head. When I discussed this idea with others, some said that top to bottom is the right way because it is “cooler” for the roof of your mouth versus this version of bottom up. Let me tell you something. I have probably been wrong my ENTIRE LIFE. Having the topping/condiment line-up bottom to top is quite possibly the single greatest thing ever to happen to my burger-eating life. It was shocking how different it tasted. There must be some science in there for taste buds (sour, sweet, fat, etc.), heat, or something but it was literally one of the best burgers I have EVER HAD. PS. This is how it is done at In-N-Out.
Version 3 – Toppings and condiments mixed together a la Dick’s (Seattle)
- Top potato roll (no sauce)
- American cheese
- Burger patty
- Chopped mixture of butter lettuce, bread and butter pickle and our special sauce)
- Bun (no sauce)
Results: First of all, if you look at the picture, the sheer size of the burger probably goes down by 40% or more. It is a little easier to eat, honestly, but let me tell you…it was AMAZING. Chopping and mixing the lettuce, pickle and special sauce into one thick(ish) spread was sublime. Not to short change the other versions but this one let the grass-fed beef really shine. My mouth is watering again reliving that afternoon. PS. This is how it is done at the Seattle-based Dick’s.
Three of us ate each of the three burgers and I believe we all came out with the same result (somewhat unexpected at least for me). Burger Version 2 (condiments bottom to top) was in a clear first place, followed by Burger Version 3 (chopped and combined), and then believe it or not, the classic burger (version 1 with toppings/condiments top down) came in third.
I am hungry now.
Next up we will work through the various ingredients (toppings) we all know and love. We will talk about the right tomato, lettuce, pickle, bun, and so on. We promise to do the heavy lifting for you. Stay tuned and stay hungry.