For his first book, Hamburger America, George Motz crisscrossed Ameria on an epic odyssey to find the 150 best roadside stands, diners, mom 'n pop establishments, and college favorites (indie burger joints!). Having explored the countless ways America’s most popular sandwich can be cooked, topped and presented, the next logical step was a cookbook. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to get our hands on George's second book, The Great American Burger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home, full of tips and recipes for the nation's well known and the obscure-but-totally-delicious regional burgers. Having already dog-eared our copy, we're happy to share with you, George's seven secrets to building the great American burger at home, no matter what style your region claims.
1. NOW YOU’RE COOKING!
“When you cook a burger on a flat-top griddle or in a cast-iron skillet, it cooks in its own juices – you can almost consider it hamburger confit – and the juice becomes the burger's own condiment. Your job, then, is to elevate that moment. You get these super beefy flavors happening and then the question is, ‘Where do you go from there?’ The simple answer is: salt.”
2. EARN YOUR SALT.
“Season the burgers after dropping them on the grill, to help the physical process of cooking. Bourbon smoked salt is packed with a lot of smoky flavor, but use it sparingly, because the crystals are huge! Salting too early will bind the muscle fibers together and make your burger tough (yuck).”
3. FLIP IT GOOD.
“Flipping is the key to success, and also the part people screw up most often. Don’t be a hero and try to figure this out on your own – there is science going on here! Liquid inside the patties is trying to get away from the heat source, so it bubbles up through the beef. When the top of the patty begins to glisten with red juices, it’s time to flip and ‘seal’ the other side of the burger to keep those flavorful juices inside.”
4. OPTIONAL: SAY CHEESE.
“As soon as you flip, slide a slice of Plymouth’s Hunter Cheddar on top of the patty. The aged Cheddar is excellent – its funky, sharp quality complements beef grease well. Cheddar doesn’t melt as well as something like American, though, so you may need to cover the burgers briefly for ultimate gooeyness.”
5. GET TOASTED.
“I usually go for a potato bun, but bigger burgers should be on a big, sturdy, seeded roll. And stay away from the toaster! Use my pan-toasting method instead: Spread a thin, even layer of butter on both bun halves, place them buttered-side-down in a hot skillet and crisp to a tasty golden brown. My biggest tip here: Get someone else to deal with the buns while you focus on the burgers – gotta have a Bun Man. A Bun Woman…A Bun Person.”
5. DOPE UP.
“You have to dope the bun – that’s what it’s called when you prep it! Grab the bottom bun and layer the pickles on that to create a ‘barrier’ between the juicy burger and the bread. Spread a thin swipe of mustard on the top bun. Place the patty on top of the pickles, then add a spoonful of onion confit, Onions are as crucial as salt, in my opinion. Then finish with the top bun.”
6. FROM HAND TO MOUTH.
“If you’ve followed the ‘hamburger architecture’ closely, the first bite should be about every element, with an even taste of everything. The goal is to build a solid burger that you don’t want to put down. The best burgers I’ve ever had? They don’t ever make it back down to the plate.”
7. DON’T TAKE SIDES.
“I’d rather have a second burger than fries! Fries are just extra calories.”
Follow those seven rules and be sure to pick up George's Great American Burger Kit, which, along with his inaugural cookbook, includes four indie basics that guarantee a great American hamburger, every time: bourbon-smoked sea salt for patty perfection; french onion confit to rival even the most caramelized grilled onions; traditional dill pickle slices; and of course, classic grain mustard.
Why "of course"? George is very clear on this every time we talk burgers: “Ketchup does not come in.”