It’s safe to say that in the course of my food writing career the number of burgers I’ve chowed down on has easily passed quadruple digits at this point. South of the border inspired creations with guacamole and chipotle, through spicy sriracha and hoisin sweetened masterpieces. Foie gras through fennel through fried pickles. Of course, all of these have their time and place, no one burger will probably be your forever burger.
Still, I routinely keep coming back to a single simple recipe, one that always has me leaving the table with a contented sigh. That’s what this piece is about, a relatively traditional set of ingredients for an undeniable winning experience. If you’re looking for something fuss free, and regular ingredients you can grab anywhere, this is it. You could craft this burger from any major US grocery store.
I’m leaving the patty choice to you. You might be a carnivore, you might be vegan – heck you might switch between the two like I do; while your patty choice is of course important, how you finish building your burger is critical in my book.
The Perfect Burger Toppings
Despite the myriad concoctions I’ve crafted down the years, I come back to three simple toppings that always leave me satiated, Ill start with what we call burger sauce in my house. Wait, burger sauce, what? Don’t worry there’s no crazy secret here, it’s just what I call this assortment of condiments that really elevate most patties; it goes by various other names such as fry sauce, thousand island, Big Mac sauce. Each slightly nuanced and different.
My version is a simple mix of mayo, ketchup, relish and sriracha. You can of course leave the latter our if spicy isn’t for you. I like to create the sauce using roughly equal amounts of each of the four ingredients before whisking the final product into a smooth pink sauce.
I don’t think these four toppings will make you fall of your chair in surprise and shock, but go ahead and try mixing them together rather than splashing them on separately. I generally apply the finished article to the insides of both burger buns liberally. Speaking of which.
Without question you probably have access to a local bakery that makes great burger buns, where possible always shop local of course. Something relatively sturdy is in order in my opinion, a potato bun is a great example. But don’t go too far down the path of being obsessed with a bun that won’t fall apart. If you go too weighty, like a pretzel bun for example, that will dominate the experience. Likewise overly enriched buns as as brioche all too often collapse as well, try to avoid those. If you’re relying on an average US grocery store, my pick is the Franz brand.
Whatever you go with, toasting is essential. I’ve toasted them every which way possible: on the grill, in the pan with butter and/or oil, in the oven and in the toaster. Frankly, the toaster does a plenty fine job for me. The toasting gives the final product an undeniable X factor in the texture department and also helps keeps things sturdy.
Romaine through butter through frisee and beyond, Ive enjoyed them all. While each variety of lettuce has its certain charms, frankly nothing works quite so well as good old Iceberg. This sturdy green adds mainly crisp and crunch to proceedings. It also helps cut through a little of the grease too with freshness – limp lettuce need not apply. Iceberg doesn’t interfere with too much flavor like some of it’s stronger or bitter relatives too.
If tomatoes are in season, by all means, load two or three slices of garden fresh tomatoes on there. If it’s not peak tomato season I typically don’t bother, its just extra frippery that will like add nothing but slipperiness and unwanted moisture.
The last key ingredient for me are onions – and caramelized ones at that. I love onion rings, but sometimes they just overpower with crunch. I love raw onion slices and raw onion sprinkles – but sometimes, they’re just too assertive. The rich sweetness of a slowly cooked onion though, well that can’t be beaten in my book. This one does take a little time to create of course.
Chop a large onion into thin slices, then cut the whole thing again, so you have lots of thin onion slices. Add to a pan with two tablespoons of neutral oil like canola plus a sprinkle of salt and sugar. Cook over a medium high heat to get things going, then turn to low for 30-45 minutes. The result is worth the wait, there’s just nothing like the decadently rich rewards of a slow roasted onion.
And That’s It
Wait, what about cheese, what about avocado, what about a fried egg? All good choices, but all superfluous in my opinion. Heresy for some I am sure. By all means go ahead and add your favorite slice of cheese to finish things off. In my book though, the more you start to add at this point, the more things start to unravel. Remember, simple is always better with a good burger.
This is my messy finished creation using a MorningStar Farms patty, one of my favorite meat free patties. If you’re looking to reduce the meat in your diet, I’d whole heartedly recommend giving this brand a try with the ingredients above!
Hi I’m Stuart, amateur home cook and professional food writer. You can find my writing at places like The Salt Lake Tribune and Gastronomic SLC, which I founded more than a decade ago. As well as writing extensively about restaurants, I’m endlessly curious about that product on the shelf. Is it any good I wonder? If you’re like me, wonder no more.