What Makes A Burger A Burger?

What Makes A Burger A Burger?

I want to know what a burger means to you.

Photo: Niklas Rhöse (Unsplash), Graphic: Sam Woolley

A “burger” is a simple enough concept – put a ground beef patty on a bun with some vegetables, condiments, and perhaps cheese (just kidding, cheese is always involved), and you’ve got a burger. But, like pizza, people have very strong opinions on what makes a proper burger, and – more often – what doesn’t, and I want to hear yours.

As always, I have questions:

  • Does a burger have to be beef? I’m pretty lax about calling veggie burgers and turkey burgers “burgers” as long as they have a proper descriptor in front of the word. Like, don’t ask me if I want a burger, and then surprise me with a salmon burger – the word “salmon” better be there to let me know what’s coming.
  • What is your favourite “alt-meat” burger? It is lamb.
  • What was the best “stunt” burger you’ve ever eaten? The Ramen Burger is very, very good, as was a burger I made that had doughnuts for buns. (Doughnuts are underrated as buns.)
  • What toppings are acceptable? I don’t go to crazy. Lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles are about as far as I go, but I will add grilled onions from time to time.
  • What toppings are unacceptable? Though I love it on pizza (and in gin), you better keep pineapple off of my dang burger. I also don’t care for avocado on a burger, because it’s just too much fat and all I taste is avocado.
  • What’s the best cheese? American cheese (the bright yellow stuff like they have at McDonald’s) melts the best, provides the perfect amount of creamy goodness, and is mild enough that it doesn’t detract or distract. I also enjoy blue cheese from time to time (when I get a wild hair), but that’s a whole different animal, as it basically is the opposite of American.
  • Which condiments make it on your burger every time? Mayo is always on there, followed closely by tomato sauce and mustard. Please do not put BBQ sauce on my burger.
  • What’s your favourite fast food burger? Though I lived in the land of In-n-Out for many years, I have to admit that Shake Shack is better. I also love McDonald’s because I am a trash person made of trash.
  • What about buns? I adore a steamed, white squishy bun, and find that most grocery store buns – both sesame and plain white – are fine for my purposes. Pretzel buns can be fun if you have a thicc boi and want to get fancy, but I rarely do.
  • Do you like a thick or thin patty? How do you cook it? Thin is in.

Per the usual, feel free to answer all, none, or some of the above questions, or just leave your burger treatise in the comments below. If you wish to get real shouty about burgers, now is your chance.


  • What I don’t understand is the use of that plastic McDonalds type cheese on $15 gourmet burger. Is it too hard to use actual proper cheese at that price point?

    • I think it has to do with how the cheese melts. The crappy “American cheese“ melts just right.

  • I also have burger questions based around the one the headline asked but weren’t answered or even articulated in this article.
    What makes a burger a burger?
    – If there’s no patty (e.g. pulled pork burger) is it still a burger?
    – If there are no buns (e.g. the Japanese “cheese” burger) is it still a burger?
    – Presumably, it’s still a burger if there are no condiments or extras, just patty and bun, right?
    As with many other things in life, a burger is a concept with no clear, foolproof definition.

  • Objectively, a burger is a patty on a bun, subjectively its a far different (and personal) matter.

    For me, a burger needs a meat patty, and salad options, like lettuce, tomato, onion, and a sauce. Doesn’t need any of those, or all of those, and can have other options as well, like bacon, beetroot, cheese, and condiments. And usually does. But at its basic level, its a patty on a roll, with stuff.

    When I think of a burger, I think of the classic beef patty, grilled onion, tomato, lettuce, beetroot combo, with BBQ or tomato sauce. Nothing fancy. And vary it from there.

    And everyone will have a different view. Some demand cheese, some demand bacon, others beetroot, pineapple, or egg. Others refuse one or all those.

    Where I live (Wollongong) has a lot of good burger options, and none are the same as the others, so even with the basic combo in mind, its actually hard to find it..

  • Question from left field Claire,
    I stumbled on your immersion circulator face-off from 2016! & since you seem to be the only one in OZ to have posted a review on the Joule, I thought I’d try my luck in asking how you went using it on 240v mains power?…. and are you still using one these days (as you seemed to be leaning that way!) Happy tenderized tending (Ta) D.O

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