Burger Meister

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | march 2017

As a chef, I'm passionate about food. It's why I'm a chef. There are, however, certain foods that rank higher in my food chain than others. A beautifully marbled rib eye grilled medium rare with a blue cheese crust and pan-seared halibut cheeks with drawn butter ride high in the ranking, but I would be hard pressed to come up with a dish that I would rather eat than a masterfully prepared, cast iron seared, chin drippin' ground beef burger on a semmel roll.

Its simplicity is its beauty, and its beauty is to behold. Although you can call any ground meat on a bun a burger, to truly master it, and to become a Burger Meister, we need to dive a little deeper. Five important factors come into play when creating your masterpiece: The grind, the blend, the ratio, the cooking process and the bun. Let's get at it.

The Grind

If you have a grinder, great! Use a medium blade and grind it twice. If you don't have a grinder, ask the butcher to do this for you when you buy the blend at the meat counter. Too large of a grind will yield tougher bits in your bites and if it's too small, you're nearing meatloaf territory.

The Blend

You don't have to blend two or three different cuts of meat, but it's fun to experiment with how each cut affects flavor and texture. If you stick to one type of meat as your grind, go with chuck steak or round steak. Both have great flavor and webs of fat throughout which make it juicy and flavorful. If you want to add other cuts, do so by keeping chuck or round as your highest ratio (start with 70 percent chuck or round), then divide up the other 30 percent with a meaty brisket for an extremely "beefy" flavor, and maybe a fattier cut like short rib for a rich, buttery mouthfeel.

The Ratio

This simply means lean meat to fat ratio. How you like your burger cooked is how you should decide on your ratio. For the most part, 75 percent lean meat to 25 percent fat is a good ratio for most temperatures. I personally prefer 70/30 as the higher fat content yields a juicier and more flavorful burger. If you like your burger rare, I suggest a leaner ratio like 85/15 or even 90/10. A rare burger may have an off-putting texture with a high ratio of un-rendered fat. If you like your burger well done, choose a higher fat content like 70/30 to keep it juicy as it cooks through.

The Cooking Process

There's nothing like the feeling of throwing a few burgers on the grill on a sunny day, but there's nothing like the flavor a burger seared in a cast iron skillet. Grills have grates and the savory fat nectar ends up flavoring the charcoal as it drips down from the meat to the heat. A cast iron skillet sears the meat so the juice stays inside, where it belongs until you release the hounds and enjoy the sweetest chin music ever played.

The Bun

This one gets personal, and it should. If you like the true beef flavor without all the fuss, keep it simple with a plain hamburger bun that doesn't compete with the meat. Are you an "add-on" person who likes avocado, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, etc? Have fun with the bun and experiment with the many great choices on the market today. My choice: the simple semmel. It holds up, doesn't get gummy with the juice and has just enough chew to compliment the meat.

It's important to know how to make the proper patty or all the blending and grinding will be for naught. DON"T over work the patty. It's not a snowball. Be gentle and use only enough force to form a slightly tight ball then gently press it into shape — once. Don't shape and reshape the patty to make a perfect circle. You want tiny pockets of air inside the patty to house the juice. Last, but not least, use your thumb to press the center of the patty to make a dent. Picture placing a golf ball on top of the patty and pressing down a bit. This prevents the burger form bulging in the center looking more like a giant meatball than a burger. You now have the knowledge to be a pro — Go get 'em, Burger Meister!


Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club "Galley 57" in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.

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