There is perhaps no dish more quintessentially American than the hamburger. Like most other foods, its creator and origin are up for debate, yet the hamburger is, without a doubt, solidly stitched into the fabric of everything that is Americana.
Sure, there are bad burgers out there. And dare I say, they are still satisfying. Great burgers, though? They can be prophetic.
Truthfully, great burgers are hard to come by. And this is because, in my humble estimation, most of us are not making our burgers correctly.
When it comes to making the perfect burger, I subscribe to the “keep it simple, stupid” mentality. After all, to me, a meal is only as good as its ingredients. And for a hamburger, one must start by asking: “Where’s the beef?”
Aside from Ernest Hemingway’s marvelous concoction of hamburger ingredients, I believe in always sticking with fresh ground, 80/20 beef, and nothing else. I always form patties loosely by hand—and á la minute—and refrain from picking up anything that’s been already formed at the store. I season simply and liberally on both sides and around the perimeter with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Got it? Good. Time for the grill…well…
Sure, it’s hard to deny the smoky, primal flavor that one gets from grilling over charcoal. The problem is, as the burger cooks, the juices simply drip onto the coals. While this method is ideal for BBQ meats and other long, indirect cooking methods, for the burger, this scenario often results in a patty lacking in the fatty, juicy flavor we all crave. As a self-confessed Serial Griller, I will tell you—a grilled burger is grand, but it’s only half of the story.
So what’s the other half of the story, you might ask? It lies in the flattop method: griddling and cooking the burger on a flat surface, surrounded by its own juices. Yet, while fatty and juicy, this method lacks the smoky flavor and char beloved from grill.
But I believe you can have your cake (well, burger) and eat it too.
Now’s the time to break out that cast-iron skillet and put it right on the grates. After a quick preheat, you can throw that just-formed, loose patty on the grill. A well-seasoned charcoal grill will still impart plenty of flavor (despite any drippings), and the flat surface of the cast-iron pan will create a slew of conductive heat for the sear, while also holding on to those drippings for the perfect 1-2 punch.
In other words: Best. Burger. Ever.
Toast your buns, melt your cheese, and serve with whatever else you want as toppings. Done and done.
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 hamburger buns
- 4 slices melty cheese (preferably American)
- Yellow mustard
- 1/4 white onion (preferably Vidalia), finely chopped
- 3 to 4 small pickles (preferably sweet gherkins or cornichons), finely chopped
- Prepare a charcoal grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (a chimney starter can be helpful for this, but you don’t need one for sure). When your charcoal bricks are at least 50 percent gray and ashy, scatter over the charcoal grates and top with grilling grates. Close the grill and let heat for 10 minutes or so, or until 450°F. Open bottom and top dampeners half way, or to the correct setting to maintain an internal grill temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- By hand, loosely form ground beef into four 1/4-pound patties. Season both sides and the perimeter of the burgers with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
- Open grill, and place a cast iron skillet directly on the grates, over the fire. Close grill and preheat skillet for 2 minutes. Add butter, swirl in skillet (be careful with the handle!) and place patties into the skillet. Close grill and cook patties, undisturbed, 3 1/2 minutes.
- Flip patties and cook an additional 3 minutes, or until an internal temperature reads 135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-rare. For additional doneness, continue to cook to desired temperature, checking every 1-2 minutes.
- Remove patties from grill and place the buns, cut-side down, onto the grates until slightly charred.
- Prepare burgers by spreading a thin layer of mayo on the bottom bun and topping with onions. Add burger patty, followed by the cheese. Add mustard and pickles to the top bun and place on top of burger. Serve.
Have you ever grilled burgers this way before? Let us know in the comments.