Decoding: Hamburgers

Hamburgers – Where did it all begin?

Since the “hamburger” is commonly acknowledged as America’s signature dish (with an estimated consumption of over 14 million per year), they are quite keen to take the credit for its origin.  However, Europeans have been eating minced steak (steak tartare) since the days of Genghis Khan hacking his way around the continent in the 1300’s.  According to historians; Nineteenth century German immigrants used the ships of the Hamburg America line which began crossing in 1847.  The immigrants took their favourite recipes with them and their easily prepared fast food of minced meat and bread was soon in demand along all the busy ports of the East coast.  Incoming passengers on the Hamburg line, called their favourite snack of ground meat served in a round bun a “Brotchen” (“roll” in German), although these were called Hamburgers by the New Yorker’s; named after the travellers who were eating them.  Soon, food vendors along New York harbour were advertising ” steak cooked in the Hamburg style” to attract newly arrived German passengers and crew.

Hamburgers have become a culinary favourite of everyone from young to old.  So why is something that is so favoured  typically done so badly?  First lets look at the definition of a burger.

A hamburger (also called a hamburger sandwich, burger or hamburg) is a sandwich consisting of a cooked patty of ground meat (usually beef, but can occasionally be pork or a combination of meats) usually placed inside a sliced bread roll.  Hamburgers are often served with lettuce, bacon, tomato, onion, pickles cheese and condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup and relish.  The term “burger”, can also be applied to the meat patty on its own, especially in the UK where the term “patty” is rarely used. The term may be prefixed with the type of meat as in “beef burger”.

My god it sounds like McDonald’s have it technically correct!  And if the proof is in their sales; WTF have I been cooking all these years!


As with any recipe (and religion but we wont be going there in this blog) there is a lot that gets lost in translation or on each individuals interpretation.  So with a definition so broad, there is no wonder why we have millions of varieties of the common Hamburger flying around today.  Every cook wants to put his own spin on it and claim the rights of invention.  I guess I am no different; I have my version which I think is pretty great which I will share later on in the post.  The most important thing when creating your own version of such classics is to be the guest.  Too many chefs these days don’t even taste their own food prior to serving let alone sitting down in their restaurant and experiencing it from the other side of the kitchen pass.  Does all the flavours combined actually work?  Could you eat it in an elegant setting with a beautiful woman across the table?  Furthermore, could she eat it?  And if she could; can I have her number…So lets break it down into sections the 3 major sections and I will explain how I do it and why.

1) Bun- It should be a white soft roll with sesame seeds on top.  Split the bun in two horizontally and spread the cut sides with whole butter (softened butter, not melted!  It makes a big difference).  Place the buttered sides down on a flat griddle and cook until golden brown.  What is happening is that as the butter melts it separates into butter milk and fat.  The fat will give the bun the nice toasted colour and flavour while the butter milk with evaporate on the grill cause steam with will rise up and permeate through the bun heating it all the way through.  The bottom of the bun only should then be flipped over to toast its other side.  This will firm it up so that when you pick up your burger to take a bite, your thumbs don’t go into the burger making it fall apart.  Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on the base and mayonnaise on the top.

2) Meat patty – This should be made from only beef sirloin with a ratio of 80:20 meat to fat.  This is required to keep the burger patty nice and juicy.  If you mess with this ratio you will end up with either a very greasy burger or one that is too lean, dry, tasteless and inedible.  Seasoning should simply be salt and pepper done prior to cooking.  The meat should be freshly ground and done as close to serving as possible, not from 6 months ago and kept in the freezer.  A lot of people will use a panada (bread, breadcrumbs, egg) in their mixture to bulk it out then disguise it by adding onion, mustard herbs etc.  This is purely a cost saving measure and doesn’t necessarily create a great tasting burger.  If you start with a great quality piece of meat, then the rest is simple.  The weight of the meat patty should be 200gm and should fit the bun comfortably with a slight overhang.  One of my many pet hates is when the bun dwarfs the meat!

 3) Salad – Lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle; it’s that simple.  The ingredients MUST be fresh and of great quality.  I like to use iceberg lettuce, it has the best flavour and is always crisp and refreshing.  Has a natural “cup” shape which makes it stand up rather than the wilted looking lollo rosso lettuce that a lot of chefs use trying to be all gourmet.  The tomato should be “beefsteak”.  One good slice about a centimeter thick (two if you only have small tomatoes).  This is placed on the lettuce and then MUST be seasoned!  Anytime tomato is used in a sandwich or burger you must sprinkle it with salt.  Tomato seed contain a natural form of glutamate, so when salt is added you form sodium glutamate.  An all natural form of the flavour enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate), that we all know and hate from Chinese takeaways.  Next is the onion; an extreme thin slice (2mm) of a large Spanish (red) onion which is then topped with an equally thin slice of dill pickle (gherkins).  The salad is then placed on top of the meat patty; not vice versa as the heat from the grilled meat will cook and wilt the crisp salad.  No one likes to eat hot lettuce!

Below are various burgers which I have collected along my travels.  You decide which one suits your palate…….

Raffles Hotel, Siam Reap, Cambodia

Smoke House Deli, Mumbai, India

Indigo Deli, Mumbai, India

Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Woodside Inn, Mumbai, India

V8 American Diner, Bangkok, Thailand

Hard Rock Cafe, Mumbai, India

Landmark Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Hilton Millenium Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

The Beehive Tavern, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Ring Tavern, Black Friars, London

Alila Diwa, Goa, India


About chefcjcooper

A kiwi chef - food, wine and cigar aficionado; travelling the globe and sharing my tales of culinary discoveries.


  1. absolutely mind numbingly good looking burgers, my mouth is like a waterfall… *drools* ! I also like how you have put across the right way to construct a burger !

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