Building a Better Burger

March 14, 2014
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What makes a burger so very good?

Is it the meat? The way it’s cooked? How about the cheese or toppings we choose?

Hamburgers for most are an all-year staple, whether it’s that amazing taste of the first burger of the summer – or spring – right off the backyard grill or a big bite of a patty dressed in ketchup, a ring of onion and a ruffle of lettuce from their favorite restaurant.

Todd Sherman, owner of Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson, said eating burgers is “like going to Yankee Stadium. It’s an American pastime. People love having them. People crave them.”

Claudette Herring, one of the owners of Red Bank’s Via 45, loves a charbroiled burger topped with alfalfa sprouts, avocado, cheddar – and a fried egg and bacon.

“A great burger is the combination of ingredients,” she said. “It can be a no-frills burger off the backyard grill with cheese or a variety of different things on top.

“For me, when I smell that char as it cooks on the grill, I know I want it,” Herring said.

Mike DeSimone, owner of Jr.’s Burgers in West End, Long Branch, and Red Bank, eats a medium-rare bacon cheeseburger each week. “It gets me every time,” he said. Burgers ”are familiar flavors. There’s nostalgia in having a burger. They bring back memories.”

Two River area experts who cook dozens each day, include them on their menu or sell the ingredients for them offered their take on what makes a hamburger great.

All agreed that starting with fresh, high quality meat is an essential.

DeSimone likes to use what he calls a “medium blend” of burger meat that 80/20 or 85/15. “What’s important to us is that we get it ground fresh every day … And when it comes to the cooking process, I’m a strong advocate of a chargrilled burger. It’s a different flavor.”

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Chef Onofrio Moscato of Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, whose personal favorite is a bacon cheeseburger with pickles, lettuce and ketchup, also likes 80/20 meat, meaning 80 percent meat with 20 percent fat content. “We make a brisket burger … It’s a meaty burger that doesn’t leave a charred, greasy taste in your mouth,” he said.

The secret to a great burger?

“Quality ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the burger,” Moscato said.

Another hint to home cooks is “never squish a burger while cooking it.”

Chef Bob Belt at the Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, where burgers also are one of the hottest menu items, starts his gourmet burgers with top ingredients – from the all-natural, freshly ground beef to the King Hawaiian bun and everything in between. Salt Creek Grille is one of a handful of restaurants in New Jersey that uses a wood-fired grill that burns mesquite, creating an even, hot bed of coals while imparting a subtle flavor.

“All of my chefs start cooking on the grill, so we all know how to cook with wood,” Belt said. “But it’s not an even fuel, like gas. Hot spots are continually shifting as the wood burns, but all of us are very proficient at cooking over wood and can serve a burger to a customer’s temperature requests from rare to medium.”

For Sickles Market in Little Silver building a better burger is a cinch with its large selection of products and a knowledgeable staff who can advise customers.

Sickles assistant manager Andrew Rozanski said the best way to prepare a better burger is to start with the freshest, top-quality ingredients you can find. Sickles’ butchers grind burger meat from a single cut of meat several times a day ensuring the freshness.

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Once burger chefs selected the kind of meat they want, they will need to pair it with the best of accompaniments. That includes such items as gourmet ketchup, like Sir Kensington Ketchup or a chipotle mayonnaise or First Field Jersey Ketchup made from real Jersey tomatoes. Other additions that will make a burger better are artisan cheeses, fresh produce and great hamburger buns.

Rozanski advises when cooking: “Don’t be tempted to flip your burger over several times or flatten it down. Experience will help you know when to flip it over.”

Barnacle Bill’s, where customers can watch their burgers being cooked, uses a “groovy griddle.” The restaurant has its freshly ground meat delivered daily. “We don’t play with it. We don’t add anything to it. We grill it on a different kind of grill, it’s more of a groovy griddle. It sears the juices in, instead of burning them off. It’s not charbroiled; it’s seared. That gives it a different taste,” Sherman said.

The newest hamburger place in Red Bank is 30 Burgers at 38 W. Front St.

Robert Aiello, the front of house supervisor, said that in addition to quality ingredients, 30 Burgers specializes in bringing its customers a large selection of toppings.

Aiello, like many, see the appeal of a burger as a “very American quality.

“I know so many people who have great memories of having a burger,” he said.

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