How to Make a Restaurant-Quality Burger at Home

How to Make a Restaurant-Quality Burger at Home
Photo: marcin jucha, Shutterstock

I’m sure you already know how to make a passable burger, but with summer just around the corner, what you should really be asking yourself is whether you can make a restaurant-quality burger. You’ve got months of grilling ahead of you to perfect it, and it’s actually easier than you think — as long as you follow these tips.

A good burger requires fatty meat

It’s not a shock that the quality of your burger is going to hinge on the quality of meat you use. For a restaurant-like taste, you’re going to want to use ground beef that is at least 80% lean, 20% fat. Some chefs, like Gordon Ramsey, will even kick it up to a 70/30 ratio. The fattier beef you use, the more of a calorie-bomb it becomes, but you’re going to have to make peace with that now if you want your entree to taste restaurant-quality. (Plus, it’s a burger. You know what you’re getting into here.)

Toast the hamburger bun with shortening

Too often people toast their buns incorrectly. If you just throw them on the top shelf of your grill (or in the toaster) to hang for a few minutes, all you’re going to end up with is a dried-out, technically “toasted,” bun. To get your bun up to snuff, you need to add some shortening. This prevents the bun from becoming scratchy and hard, and will instead give it that rich taste you’re accustomed to from your favourite burger restaurants.

Use a cheese with a good melting point

Not all cheeses are created equal. When attempting to create a restaurant-level burger at home, your hard work will be for nothing if you choose the wrong cheese. The key factor here is finding a cheese with the right melting point. Typically Monterey Jack, Swiss, and cheddar are your best bets (though not too sharp of a cheddar — it will melt poorly and make your burger a greasy mess). Step your cheese game up, and you’ll be in decent shape. If you feel like going crazy, make yourself a Juicy Lucy.

Smash your burgers

Maybe you already know you should be pre-smashing your burgers, but here’s a refresher in case you’ve forgotten. As Lifehacker’s senior food editor Claire Lower advises, “Gently roll burger meat into four equal 113.40 g balls, and place one ball between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. Centre a heavy skillet over the ball, and press down with very firm, even pressure. The resulting patty should be 6-to-7 inches in diameter, and about a quarter of an inch thick.” Do this and you’ll get a great burger crust with maximum flavour. After all, thin burgers are better than thick ones.

Cook your burgers in cast iron

If you’re going to smash your burger to get that wonderful char we talked about, you’re going to need to cook it in a cast iron pan. If you want to try smashing your burger on a grill, go right ahead, just don’t come crying back to me when you’ve pushed your entire burger through the grill grates. The cast iron skillet allows for an even cook distributed across the entire surface area of the burger. Don’t be shy with the cast iron; after all, the best way to care for it is to actually use it.

Use enough salt

If you’re going to make a restaurant–quality burger, the importance of salt cannot be overstated. Before cooking, generously season the exposed side of your burger with salt, and do the same once you’ve flipped the cooked burger to the other side. It’s important you season your meat immediately before cooking so the salt doesn’t draw out moisture.

Don’t overload it with toppings

If you’re going to go through all this trouble to make your burger restaurant-quality, you don’t want to ruin it by overloading it with too many toppings. A good rule of thumb is to only include one topping from each of the following categories: savoury and rich (fried egg, bacon, cheese); creamy and cool (avocado, mayo, or aioli); and sharp (dill pickle, pickled onions).

As far as vegetables go, proceed at your own risk. I enjoy lettuce, tomato, and onion on the burger as much as the next guy, but if I’ve already loaded it with other goodies, I know that if I’m not careful it’s going to become a slippery mess that falls apart before I even get my first bite off. When I do onions on a burger, I make sure to dice them McDonald’s-style like a genius.

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