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4 steps to making the perfect burger

A burger topped with Cheddar cheese and guacamole.

A burger topped with Cheddar cheese and guacamole. Credit: Marge Perry

Before the toppings, before the bun, and before the condiments, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your burger is the best it can be. Learn this once, and you will be anointed Burger Master.

1. Buy the right meat. Too lean, and your burger will be dry. On the other hand, many of us don’t want to go overboard on the fat. To keep it juicy and tasty, go for 80-85% lean. A more indulgent (and very tasty) burger is 70% lean.

2. Don’t overwork the meat when forming the patties. Bear in mind you are not compressing the meat to get it to hold together, you are simply forming it into a disk shape. It will hold together — I promise! — without mashing it tightly. When the meat is compressed and overworked, the result is a dry burger. No one, ever, has requested a dry burger.

3. Dimple your patty. When burgers cook, they shrink up — and the center puffs up higher than the edges. When you add condiments and the top of a roll on that now-domed burger, they won’t sit flat. Yes, worse things could happen to a burger, but a domed burger is a lot harder to eat. The fix is simple: after the burger is formed, use the back of a spoon or your thumb to form a dimple in the center of the top. As the burger cooks, the top will even out.

4. Season burgers after they are formed. When you season the meat before forming the burgers, you have to mix it a whole lot in order to distribute the seasonings evenly. Rather than overwork the meat (see #2 above), season the tops and bottoms of the patties. Every bite will still be well-seasoned.

Guacamole Cheeseburger

1 medium avocado, peeled and pitted

2 tablespoons finely diced red onion

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 1/2 pounds 85% lean ground beef

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 slices white Cheddar cheese

4 hamburger buns, lightly toasted

4 (1/4-inch thick) tomato slices

1. Mash the avocado in a small bowl with a fork until it is still slightly chunky. Stir in the onion, cilantro, lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt.

2. Divided the meat evenly into four equal portions. With wet hands, form four loosely packed patties of equal size, each about 3/4-inch thick. Use your thumb or the back of a spoon to make a shallow 1-inch wide dimple or indentation in the center of each patty. Season the patties on both sides with the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

3. Heat the grill, a grill pan, or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the patties and cook until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the patties and cook another 4 minutes. Top each with 1 slice of cheese and cover the pan. Cook until the cheese melts and the burgers are cooked to medium doneness, about 1 minute longer.

4. Place the bottom half of each bun on a plate. Top with a tomato slice, burger, and the avocado mixture. Top with the remaining bun halves and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.