How to make the perfect cheeseburger: A quick guide for your July Fourth cookout (2024)

Ah, the Fourth of July cookout.

Everyone is having fun and filling up on classic sides like potato salad, macaroni salad and baked beans. And it's your job to prepare the star of the show – the cheeseburger.

So prep your grill – or skillet – and read on to learn how to cook the perfect cheeseburger.

No grill? No problem. Burger scholar George Motz says the grill is actually one of the hardest ways to get it right, and recommends a flat top or cast-iron skillet for a perfect patty. If you need the cheeseburger right this minute (we understand) you can watch thiswell-done instructional video.

What characteristics of a cheeseburger are perfect?

"Simplicity, in hamburgers, is paramount" says Motz, a well-traveled, Emmy award-winning freelance filmmaker and cheeseburger expert.

"No. 1, you want to be able to taste the beef − we all know that. Whatever else is on that burger, whether it's the vehicle that's delivering the burger − the bread − or if it's a cheese, or some other kind of condiment, you want to make sure it's simple. And that it actually does enhance the beefy flavor."

He says onions unquestionably enhance the beefy flavor. And that salt works well to help the proteins in the beef pop with flavor. The right bun is crucial.And it needs to fit in your mouth.

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Motz says the bread has to be very simple. "It shouldn't be sweet. Brioche buns are the worst thing for burgers because they have too much sugar in them."

As for preparation? The meat (sprinkled with salt and smashed into the cast-iron with a spatula) is cooked for a minute or two on each side, topped with cheese, and placed on a toasted bun.

That's it.

George Motz's perfect cheeseburger

Keeping the condiment simple

Motz keeps it simple:"Just onion, maybe mustard and mayo, but beef grease is a condiment too."

You might smash some raw onions into the patty while it's cooking - a trick Motz picked up in Oklahoma.

He says that while mustard sounds as if it's strong, "the French had it all figured out a long time ago when they put mustard on steak and realized that it enhanced the taste."

He says the vinegar in the mustard breaks down the fat, helps you understand the flavors a little betterand makes it more palatable.

What are America's favorite burger toppings and condiments?

According to a recent poll by, Americans who say they enjoy burgers believe a burger is only as delicious as what's squished between the buns and the meat. Just 2% of those surveyed preferred to not put any toppings on their burgers.

OK, then forget foie gras. Are there burger faux pas?

Motz saysketchup is the worst thing you can put on a burger.

"Ketchup really does nothing more than just sweeten the burger, which doesn't really work well," he says."I think it goes really well on fries, not on a burger."

Mayo, however passes the test, he says:"It is really good on a burger. It has some complexity, and has its own animal fats that work well with beef fat."

But it depends where he is.

"Wisconsin burger joints put butter on their burgers," he says."There are regional specialties abound. To me, if people are eating it, especially if I am in a restaurant that's been there for 100 years, I am eating it that way as well. But when I am at home, I am keeping it simple. Just onionsand mustardand some mayo."

Keep you buns simple

Again, Motz recommends keeping it simple, with "a good old white, yeasty bun."

"Sometimes you have this really big homemade bun with a hard top on it and a soft inside, and when you go to bite the burger and it shoots out the back of the of the bun because it's just too hard. You can't actually take a bite. Your teeth have to be able to go through the thing!"

And the meat?

"The best burgers are the ones anybody can make." Motz says.

"Keep it simple − chuck only."

He recommends this cut of beef because chuck is a part of the animal that cooks well, and fast:"Chuck has the perfect marbling throughout. You could take an entire chuck, cut it up, throw it in a grinder, you have a perfect hamburger. So you can't go wrong."

In fact, he says, there is a risk intrying too hard and getting a bad result:"Honestly, it really shouldn't be about fancy blends, trying to figure out which blends work with each other, and what the actual grind number should be. It doesn't really matter."

Motz advocates a thin, smashburger style that requires cooking only a couple of minutes on each side, but if you insist on thicker patties, your burger will take a little longer:

The grill is optional

"People think the easiest way to make a hamburger is in their backyard on a grill, which is actually the hardest way," he says."The most difficult way to make a burger is to put it on an open flame."

Motz says this isbecause there are too many variables in play. From a fire that can range from 300 to 600 degrees, to the thickness of the patty, to the distance of the flame from the grill itself.

"You don't know what's going on there," he says."It's really hard to actually make magic in the backyard."

Motz says to stick with a flattop orcast-iron skillet. It's easier to control temperature and the flavor is unique.

"You're cooking it in its own fat, almost like burger confit," he says."When you grill a burger, a lot of the fat drips down to the fire and creates these carbonic compounds that give the burger a very different flavor.

"You're probably having a good time drinking with your friends, and you're not paying attention. One of the hardest things to do is cook burgers in your backyard on grill. If you can, you're already way ahead of the game."

Firing up the coals anyway? Here are some tips

Motz says you should avoid hand-forming patties, especially for larger cookouts, because you can never get the size right. "Measure. You want to make sure you actually portion the burger. You take some bulk meat, and make little balls, and weigh them."

He also uses a biscuit cutter on parchment paper to control patty size:"You have this perfectly formed round burger and you can't go wrong when cooking on the grill. Having very straight sides really helps the integrity of the burger."

And don't be afraid to try new things.

"Smoked burgers are fantastic," he says."It's not a flavor that everybody is used to, but I did find a method where you cook for 50 minutes over indirect coals, with some wood chips for flavoring. It's hard to beat that flavor."

Editor's note: While the author is a believer in the simple flattop burger, he has a sweet spot for diced onions in ketchup because they bring him back to childhood memories of going to McDonald's with his grandmother in New York. Sorry, George.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How to make the perfect cheeseburger: A quick guide for your July Fourth cookout (2024)
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