Burger review criteria

Food gives you a sense of place. Whilst biting into a  greasy doner kebab might transport you straight to the gutter, munching on crab and  watermelon cubes can spirit me away to a garden bathed in sunshine in  Perth, Australia.

Burgers should evoke Americana and the best brand of American optimism – not the sneering apathy of old Europe – we’ve got classic French cooking for that, which we love; nor damp hopelessness of dark, wintery Britain – we’ve got roast dinners for that. And great they are, too.
The burger can be high concept or humble – doesn’t matter. As Alan Richman, who compiled GQs list of ’20 burgers you must eat before you die‘, says: “A great burger, regardless of regional differences, instills a sense of optimism and fulfillment, that all is right at the table or the counter or the woodgrain, screwed-to-the-floor, fast-food booth.”

I’d love to have any of your burger stories, news and particularly reviews to help people in the UK find the best burgers we have to offer, and to avoid the tasteless morass that serves as our standard.

Size

Burgers can start at 2oz, and can go up to any size you can fit on a grill. However, somewhere between 8-12oz is typically ideal. The cricket ball sized, ‘Botham burger’ promoted by the likes of Jamie Oliver partially represents  everything that’s wrong with burgers in this country. Over-large, over-English takes on an American classic. Less is more, folks. You gotta save room for fries, shakes,  and/or beer.

 

The bun should enclose the burger and any other ingredients. Half a ciabatta loaf perched atop a  wobbly tower of unevenly chopped tomato, onion, gherkin, relish does not a good burger make. If there’s a tomato slice, it should be cover the burger. Same goes for the onion. Cheese can melt over the side of the patty, but not flop around forlornly outside the roll.

 

You should be able to pick it up in your hand. If you need a knife and fork to eat the burger, it just ain’t a burger.

Roll
Sadly, it’s rare to get a good burger roll. Particularly in Britain.Yet it’s crucial. The bun is what seperates a hamburger from steak haché. It’s what enables you to eat it with your hands.
The single most important factor is freshness. A fresh bun is a happy bun.
It should be soft like brioche, yielding easily to the touch, but not as sweet. There should be some sweetness, however, and some flavour, albeit subtle.
Toasted or grilled doesn’t matter – as long as the top yields, and the inside doesn’t sog from any liquid ingredients like sauce.
As  mentioned elsewhere, size is important. It should envelop the patty but not overwhelm the star of the show – the meat.
Aside from fast food joints, pubs/gastropubs are the main places where you eat burgers. Yet these places so often serve rolls that need to be sawed through by steak knife. By the time your teeth get to the meat,  they’re encased in dough, and your jaws are tired. These places should be named and shamed into getting it right.
Meat
The star attraction of any burger is the meat.
A bit of a purist, I think hamburgers should use, uh, beef. However, if you want to submit a review chicken, fish, buffalo, venison, ostrich, eagle or gerbil, be my guest. But I can’t guarantee I’ll feature it.
When it comes to meat, I don’t think cut matters – sirloin or ribeye, porterhouse or fillet, brisket or chuck all produce good results. Same thing for breed – kobe and wagyu may command the highest prices – and publicity seekers like Harrods add foie gras to bost the price and ad a sense of luxury – but there’s absolutely no reasong why a £2.50 burger can’t beat a £250 one. Indeed, in San Francisco’s Burger Joint, my $8 (around £5) burger was one of the best I ever  tasted.
What does matter is that the cooked meat can be safely served medium (or rare), and is juicy and succulent. To achieve this, patties should be hand-moulded from coarsely ground aged beef, and seasoned judiciously. Flavour is all-important – extras such as sauce, relish, ketchup shouldn’t need to be added – only if they can possibly add to what is already a beautifully tasting piece of meat.
Forget the frying pan, chefs, make sure you serve us grilled or bbq’d beef. We’re looking for a smokiness, at least a nice char. So the outside should be slightly hard, the inside beautifully moist (so the meat should have enough fat that can render) and soft.
Fries

Fries are the only crucial accompaniment. Chunky fries don’t go well with this dish. If I wanted a quartered baked potato I’d go to Spud-U-Like. Steak frites are ok, but ‘steak cut’ chips are a bit big – something in between and handcut, possibly skin-on, is good.
But it doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s served with good tasting fries. Whether they’re straight up, garlicky, cheesy, spicy or herby – they’re a crucial accompaniment.
Accompaniments and condiments
If your burger comes filled with a sauce, relish or jam (e.g. red onion marmalade), it might indicate that the beef is too dry without a sauce.
Which is a bad sign.
That said, you should fill it with what you want. And restaurants should give you that choice. And if you see a pickle throw a tantrum – those things should only be used in a traditional Russian vodka ritual, and have no place in the burger line-up.
Over to you

And that’s about all for now. Hope that the above serves as a useful guide for tasting and critiquing any burgers that you eat and review. If you have any views on the above or advice for reviewers, let me know.

 

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