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The Basic Burger

From the book How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition) by
Serves 4

Editor’s note: Check out Mark Bittman’s Amazon single for Kindle: What I Grill and Why.


Ground chuck — which generally corresponds to the “20 percent fat” ground meat sold in supermarkets — makes the best burgers; the fat acts to keep it moist. An overcooked but fatty burger will still be moist; a lean burger will be unappetizingly dry.


1 to 1⅓ lb. ground chuck or sirloin, not too lean
1 tsp. salt or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or steak sauce
¼ cup minced onion, shallot, or scallion (optional)


  1. Place the meat in a bowl and sprinkle with salt or sauce and the onions, if using. Lightly mold the meat into 4 patties.
  2. If you’re cooking the burgers on a grill, heat the grill to high; cook the burgers for about 3 minutes on each side for rare, a minute more per side for each increasing stage of doneness. If you’re cooking the burgers on the stovetop, preheat a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes; sprinkle coarse salt in the pan and cook the burgers for the same amount of time as on a grill.
  3. If you’re making cheeseburgers, add the slices of cheese to the burgers as soon as you flip them. Serve on warm buns, toast, or hard rolls, garnished with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, etc.


Given concerns about the safety of store-ground meat (E. coli, salmonella, and the like), you might want to try grinding your own meat for burgers. Buy a chuck roast, cut it into small cubes about an inch square, and pulse a small batch (about 1/2 pound) at a time in a food processor. Make sure you don’t pulverize the meat and it’ll be wonderful. Freeze what you don’t use immediately.

If you do buy pre-ground meat, most authorities recommend that you cook it to well done (160 degrees) to kill harmful bacteria. Do this once and you’re likely to begin grinding your own meat, since well-done hamburgers are often too dry to eat.

This content is from the book How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman.

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