There are many ways to season a burger. Here are some of the best:
Ketchup. The fast food chains have popularized the idea that ketchup is what you eat with a burger. Ketchup, though, is not really a seasoning so much as a delivery system for salt and sugar; use it on your fries instead (see below).
Salt. The second most popular option is salt on the raw patty or just on the meat itself. Some people sprinkle it on both sides, others only on one side. Shake off excess before cooking.
Nam prik pao (Thai chili paste). To be honest I don’t know if this counts as a seasoning or if it’s just for flavor, but if you have any in the house it makes burgers taste better.
Salt and pepper. This is what I prefer. Pepper especially enhances the taste of beef and lamb, so I put it only on those meats (because of course you don’t salt pork). I like to grind my own black pepper because it tastes fresher; store-bought ground pepper tends to lose its flavor over time.
Hot sauce/Tabasco sauce/salsa/pepper-soaked onions/pickles/etc. These are mostly for
Seasoning your burger is a simple matter of science. The key is understanding the flavor profile of the patty.
There are two approaches to seasoning a burger, one of them wrong and the other one right. If you want to be bland, you can follow the directions on the package: add salt and pepper.
This is not always a bad idea; there are some burgers you don’t want to season much. But if you have a great-tasting patty and you add salt and pepper, all you’re going to get is a salty and peppery burger.
The second approach is: don’t settle for good enough. Don’t worry that your guests will laugh at you if they find out that your amazing new artisanal burgers are just seasoned with salt and pepper. Season with salt and pepper so well that even though your guests know what’s in them, they still think the taste comes from something else.
Add ingredients that aren’t just for flavor, but for texture as well—sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions. Make sure the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout the patty (the best way to achieve this is to mix the seasonings directly into the ground beef). Above all, don’t forget: when it comes to cooking beef, less is more.”
Burger seasoning is a basic skill that every cook should know. The following recipe is my own personal blend, but it is only a starting point. The key to burger seasoning is to match the flavor intensity to what you are cooking. If you are grilling, use your heaviest hand; if you are making an omelet, use the lightest hand of all.
You will notice that I insist on grinding my own spices for this recipe. It is not worth the trouble of grinding my own spices for most recipes, but it is absolutely worth the trouble for burger seasoning. It is hard to describe the difference fresh-ground spices makes; it’s like the difference between hearing a symphony orchestra perform live and listening to them on an old 78 RPM record (or whatever they used to play music back before digital). Freshly ground spices are so much more alive than pre-ground ones, and if you have ever had your life transformed by a bite of something that was made with freshly ground spice, then you know exactly what I mean.
Tastes vary of course, but in general I recommend using this mix 2 parts salt:1 part black pepper:1 part garlic powder:1 part onion powder:1 part red pepper flakes:2 parts paprika.
1. Choose your meat carefully. The first rule of burger-making is that you need a good patty. If you start with a bad ingredient, no matter what you add to it later it will still be bad. You can’t rescue low-quality meat by adding lots of fancy condiments. You can rescue a high-quality cut if you add strong enough flavors, but if the burger tastes great on its own, you don’t need to do that.
The perfect patty is something like a cross between a ribeye steak and a pork chop: flavorful but not too fatty. Outback Steakhouse, which does not offer an especially high-quality product in general, serves some of the best patties I have ever tasted, because they have wisely chosen to use top quality meat (and because they cook it on a griddle and don’t do anything else to it).
I was always taught to season the outside of the patty; this makes sense because that is where the flavor will concentrate as the juices drip out. But according to Cook’s Illustrated (which has tested all kinds of crazy things) patties that are seasoned both inside and outside come out juicier than ones that are just seasoned on the outside. Maybe this works
There are three kinds of seasonings: dry, moist, and wet. The dry ones are salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Don’t overdo them. A little salt brings out the flavor of the meat; pepper adds a spicy overtone; paprika is for color; and garlic powder is mostly just for color.
The moist seasonings are ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and just plain liquid. You can use as much of these as you want. If you’re using a lot of them (say, more than one) try to mix them together first so you get an even blend.
The wet seasonings are juice from fresh vegetables or fruit (like lemon juice), and oil. These can be used in combination with the other seasonings — for example, ketchup mixed with lemon juice makes good BBQ sauce — but they’re most useful when served on the side to dip your fries in.
The burger is a cornerstone of American culture: it is the fast-food restaurant, the high-end restaurant, the cookout, the sporting event concession stand. Burgers are sold at McDonald’s and at Tavern on the Green, at baseball stadiums and at high-end steakhouses. The burger comes in a hundred varieties.
To appreciate how good your hamburger is, it helps to understand how bad it could be. A hamburger can be as bad as you want it to be. But even with no effort at all, you can make it better than anyone deserves.
One reason that hamburgers are so popular is that they are delicious. Another reason is that they are easy to prepare badly but hard to prepare well. If you don’t know what you’re doing—if you cook them in a pan rather than on a grill; use meat that isn’t fresh or hasn’t been ground up just before cooking; put too much filler in the meat—a hamburger can be an unpleasant experience.