The cheeseburger is often held up as the paragon of American gluttony. It’s what we tell someone to eat when we deem them too skinny. It’s the butt of every joke about the American fast food industry, harbinger of obesity and depressed wages. That’s a shame, really, because when done correctly a simple cheeseburger is deeply satisfying and wonderfully comforting, particularly when you’ve had a shit day and all you want to do is eat something savory and lounge around in sweatpants. Let’s make some.
You will need:
- ¼ lb of ground beef per person
- Cheese (whatever you like, but softer cheeses melt better)
- Oil (not olive)
- Salt and pepper
- Your preferred toppings and condiments
For hardware, you don’t need much: Just the burger flipping implement of your choosing (no, goddammit, not your hands), and a skillet in which to cook them. Cast iron is lovely, and is something you probably have if you like to photograph artsy, rustic dishes for your food blog that nobody reads. Stainless steel will also do just fine. What won’t work is the aluminum nonstick skillet that came in the Baby’s First Cooking Set you have lying around. The teflon coating on nonstick pans will break down into noxious, carcinogenic chemicals over high heat.
Regarding beef, most people will tell you that fattier beef makes for better burgers. This isn’t entirely false, but although burgers will never be health food, there’s no need to make them needlessly unhealthy. At the store, look for ground chuck with the 85/15 designation, meaning 85% of its weight is cow while the remainder is fat. If you’re the type to demand grass-fed, organic, free-range gobbledygook, that’s great but I’m sorry to say that beef like that is usually very lean, and will turn into a hockey puck if cooked beyond medium rare.
Let’s cook. Step one is to make burger patties. Yes, this requires the use of your hands, and yes it will be gross. Portion out a ¼ lb hunk of ground beef per person. I use a scale to do this, but if you just want to use a knife to cut a 1 lb cake of chuck into four roughly even segments, that’s fine too. Working quickly, gather each portion into a ball, and then gently compress the balls into patties until they’re about as thick as your (sadly unadorned) ring finger. You don’t want to work the meat any more than necessary. And no, we’re not adding eggs or bread crumbs or whatever the fuck – this isn’t meatloaf.
Let them set on a plate loosely covered in the fridge while you wash the deceased cow remains off your hands for the next decade. Set your skillet over medium high heat with, eh, a tablespoon of a hearty oil, like canola or vegetable (olive oil will burn at high temps). Once it starts getting hot, get your burgers out and salt the ever-loving shit out of them, and crack some pepper on there. When the oil begins to shimmer and give off faint, barely-visible wisps of smoke, it’s time to get the burgers into the pan.
(Oh, about the smoke – there’s about to be a shit ton of it. Sorry. Turn on the fan over the stove, open a window, whatever.)
Don’t crowd your pan – if you only have room enough to cook one at a time, then that’s what you’ll have to do. Give each burger a good 35 seconds to sear on the first side. Then flip, give it another 35 seconds, then flip again, this time waiting a full minute. Flip once more, and apply cheese. Contrary to idiotic grilling culture, frequent flipping actually allows the burger to cook faster and more evenly. After the final minute has passed, get the burger out of the pan and onto a plate to rest.
As they rest, toast up some buns (I like potato rolls, but use whatever you like) and gather your toppings. When assembling your burgers, I would gently nudge you in the direction of putting them on the buns cheese side down, so as to avoid the juices soaking through and ruining the bottom bun. Your burger, when you bite into it, should have a wonderful, craggy-crusty exterior and be juuuuuussssssttt a little pink throughout.
Juicy, intensely beefy (thanks to the leaner beef) and not THAT bad for you, it’s exactly what you need when life goes to shit. Crack open your favorite fancy beer, and kick off those murderous heels the patriarchy demands that you wear – you deserve a break.