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How to make the perfect burger

by Sarah Alcock

Giant beef patties? Brioche buns? Gherkins? What goes into making the perfect burger? Content editor Sarah went down to Shake Shack in Covent Garden to get the thoughts of it's culinary director Mark Rosati, and Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains (who created a one-off corker of a burger last week at Shake Shack called The Major Oak). With their help we've pieced together exactly what should go into the perfect burger...


Mark: We like to focus on the basics: beef and the bun. Everything else is secondary – if you add a sauce it should be just enough to take it to the next level but still able to taste that beef.
Sat: A good burger restaurant will source their meat like any restaurant would. Just because it's a burger, that doesn't mean it has to be cheap cuts. It doesn't change just because it's seen as fast food.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Use as little binding agent (egg) as possible to make the mince stick together. If you lightly salt the meat an hour before making your burger this will draw out the proteins and make them bind better. Good beef mince needs no more addition than salt and pepper. Don't make your burgers too thick or they'll burn before they're cooked through.


Sat: You definitely need fat for flavour. It shouldn't be super lean because you need fat to cook meat with. I'd say the ratio is 20+% fat.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Be sure to oil your burgers, not the surface you're frying them on, that way they're less likely to stick and leach precious juices.


(The team at Shake Shack Covent Garden)


Sat: Cooking time is dependent on the thickness of the burger, but you want that juice to just penetrate and start soaking into the bread so when you get it, it's really juicy. It should break in the mouth but still have some texture.
Mark: Our patties are a bit thinner than some so they're a lot easier to eat, plus you get a lot of caramelisation on top and bottom and that's where all the flavour is.

FOOD TEAM TIP: For home cooks, a frying pan is definitely best, and it should be as heavy as possible and smoking hot before adding the (oiled) burgers. Grill pans almost always stick! The only way to be sure that a burger is cooked through is a meat thermometer - they're well worth the investment!


Sat: I think potato bread is brilliant because it doesn't disintegrate in your hand. It's a good carrier of the burger but it's not all over your hands and in bits.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Brioche is great too because as well as being tasty it's also soft enough for you to squish a little when you eat the burger - so you can fit the whole thing in your mouth, but it does need generous toasting to give it a bit of crunch so it's not too soft.


Mark: Any cheese gives a layer of fat and creaminess, which you need in a burger.
Sat: You're going to lose some fat when the pattie is griddled, so cheese re-places that fattiness. Beauvale blue cheese is good; it's not as strong as Stilton but, because it's soft, it melts perfectly onto the meat and still holds its shape. It also has a nice salt content so you can taste it as a seasoning across the whole burger.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Anything melty will do brilliantly, a soft Gorgonzola if you like it blue, or a creamy French Beaufort, particularly if you're serving with caramelised onions.


Sat: Because you've got fat you need something to counteract it. Shallots are great as they're high in acidity and a bit sweet to balance flavours. Every mouthful should be perfectly balanced.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Keep it to a minimum so you can still taste the burger! We favour gherkins and onions. There's no point putting lettuce in a burger, it just goes soggy and limp - serve a salad on the side instead.


Mark: Fries are definitely the best friend of a burger because when people order a burger and fries the first thing they grab are the fries to dip in the sauce. As long as they are seasoned well they are great.
Sat: Everyone's into this health kick aren't they? But I think traditional fries are perfect. Especially with cheese on; they're incredible.

FOOD TEAM TIP: Simmer skin-on fries in well salted water very gently until really soft, then dry on a rack in the fridge until bone dry before a fast fry in very hot oil - beef dripping for preference, or rapeseed oil is ideal if you're going to be sharing your fries with a vegetarian!

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