Considering sheer deliciousness, White Castle1 might be the best burger out there. It’s a steamed burger, sopped up with juices and grease: a homogenized bite of amazingness. It’s as pure as can be. I love In-N-Out and Shake Shack, don’t get me wrong. But White Castle is just greater than the sum of its parts.
My ideal burger is bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles—yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only. American cheese was invented for the hamburger. People talk about it being processed and artificial and not real cheese—you know what makes it real? When you put it on a hamburger.
Which brings me to this: one of the most boring things about hamburgers is talking about what hamburgers you like. How about we talk about what we don’t like about hamburgers? It’s a meatier topic. For example:
I do not like a burger with a bunch of shit on it. Why? Who wants all the flavors of a pizza and a burger at the same time? Or when people go fancy with their burger? Come on, man, save the truffles for a dish you can’t eat at a rest stop. Except for you, Daniel Boulud—the one fancy burger I like is the DB Burger.
I’m not a fan of salad on my hamburger. Don’t give me mesclun or any of that shit. It’s iceberg or bust. Honestly, what does the lettuce do? It adds texture, Dave. Texture? Really? Is it really going to hold up, crushed between the bun and the hot patty that steams it? I don’t think so. The only thing that’s going to hold up to any type of cooking process is iceberg lettuce.
And onions and tomatoes—what do they do? Seriously, why not eat it as a salad on the side? That, I would understand. If I saw a gentleman or a lady eating a hamburger and then tucking into a bite of salad, I would understand that. The whole idea of half-steamed veg on top of your burger is the dumbest fucking thing I could ever think of. And I will say this: if you enjoy it, you’re an idiot. You’re an idiot because you’ve never thought about your food. If someone said, “Would you jump off this bridge?” you’d be airborne before you even looked over the side.2
Another thing that’s a no-no on a hamburger is mustard. It’s too strong of a condiment. Ketchup is genius because it adds salty-sweetness that is perfect for it. Anything that’s bright and acidic, you want. Mustard is too spicy. Get that shit out of there.3
Furthermore: no pita bread or brioche as a bun. That’s just stupid. The only non-squishy buns I allow for are crumpets and English muffins. In college, I was living in London, and I used to microwave Boca burgers and eat them with hummus on a crumpet. A crumpet is a tremendous vehicle for a burger.
Grass-fed beef does not make burgers, in my opinion. It’s too lean and the fat content is not evenly distributed, so it can get a little mealy. But the dumbest burger in the world is the wagyu bullshit. It’s like 70 percent fat content—it’s disgusting. Would you eat a ground bacon burger? That’s what you’re doing with a wagyu burger. Or the idiots that have “kobe beef wagyu sliders with like a trio of ketchup” on their menu—that drives me insane. The inventor of the kobe beef slider is right next to the inventor of aluminum siding in the Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Seen Hall of Fame. And you know what’s even more stupid? The fucking customer that buys it because he’s like, Oooohh, kobe, and it’s like $21. God have mercy on their souls.
You know who fucks up burgers more than anyone else in the world? Australians. Australia has no idea what a burger is. They put a fried egg on their burger. They put canned beetroot on it, like a wedge of it. I am not joking you. This is how they eat their burger.4
There’s something else people have to understand: that a medium-rare burger made with really good meat that has been properly ground up is a very wonderful thing. People will say, Oh, you’re eating it raw. So what if I’m eating it raw? It’s the same meat that they would use for a steak that they’re just grinding up to be a burger. It’s delicious! They’re fools. The only time I’ll eat a well-done burger is when I’m pregnant.
We all have feelings about how we want our burgers. These are mine. In closing, let me paraphrase Coco Chanel: You don’t like my burger? I don’t care about you at all.5
1. No, I don’t love White Castle because of Harold and Kumar, and if you thought that, you’re a terrible person.
2. I will admit that there is a time and place for these things. If consumed right away, an Animal Style burger at In-N-Out is a beautiful thing; the toppings provide a lovely textural and temperature contrast. But please do not let it sit for more than five minutes.
3. The only time mustard is okay is if it is in a secret sauce and if that secret sauce is delicious.
4. There are a few notable exceptions to this, like Mary’s in Newtown. Australians: I love your country and I love your food, even if your burgers are mostly terrible.
5. Also: Do as I say, not as I do. When you catch me eating one of these kinds of burgers that I have spoken against, please know that I am the ultimate hypocrite and that I am probably enjoying the shit out of it. Hamburgers are pretty much all good.