When I polled the Food52 staff on the best restaurant burgers they'd ever tasted, I was expecting off-beat answers. I wanted to hear about burgers topped with roasted peaches, basted in duck sauce, stuffed with guacamole (I'm so sorry I even thought of that).
Instead, I got a lot of onions. (Well, a lot of people said that the best burgers are really about the best-quality, best-cooked meat, but after that: a lot of onions.)
The burger at Lure Fish Bar is served with an onion ring on top; the "Bash Style" burger at Burger & Barrel comes with a bacon-onion jam, and the slider-sized patties at Mark Burger are "truly special" according to our Design & Home Editor Amanda Sims: "They fry onions right on the griddle and then press the burger into them."
Now that intrigued me. When I looked into the technique of cooking onions directly into a burger, I came across an article written by none other than J. Kenji López-Alt, the genius behind Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers, on Oklahoma-style onion burgers. This variety of burger is practically fifty percent sizzled onion (in Kenji's recipe, there's half an onion for every 2 1/2 ounces of meat).
It's a ratio that's controversial when you consider that Bon Appétit listed diluting high-quality meat with too many add-ins—like sautéed onions—among their six most common burger mistakes; according to Kenji, however, the onions "help the thin patties of beef cook up extra juicy and flavorful."
And, easy enough for us, the method is nearly the same as for Kenji's genius Smashed Cheeseburgers—only with the addition of many, many, many thinly sliced onions.
Here's how to do it:
- As with the Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburger, you'll want to preheat a large stainless steel sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Here, Kenji recommends also heating 1/4 teaspoon of canola oil until it's lightly smoking.
- Now place balls of beef in the pan and smash down with a stiff metal spatula, using a second spatula if needed to add pressure. Season with salt and pepper.
- Work fast to distribute the onions (half an onion per patty, very thinly sliced!) evenly over the burgers. Press down to set the onions into the meat and then don't press again! Let cook undisturbed into well browned, about 2 minutes.
- Now you'll want to use that stiff spatula from earlier to carefully flip the burgers (and any browned meat from the skillet), onions and all. Cook until onions begin to get soft (you'll see their fumes coming up from underneath the burger), about 1 minute.
- Top the burger with a slice of cheese (Kenji recommends American) and the two buns (place both with their insides are facing down—like two helmets) so that they can "steam in the onion vapors."
- Transfer the softened bottom bun to a plate, add any condiments you want, then lift the onions, burger, and top bun and complete the sandwich.
- 1 soft hamburger roll, buttered and toasted
- Condiments and toppings as desired, such as mayonnaise, mustard, shredded lettuce, onions, tomatoes, or pickles (or nothing—the burger's that good)
- 4 ounces good quality, freshly ground beef chuck, divided into two 2-ounce balls
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 slice good melting cheese, such as American
That's it! You've just bested the genius cheeseburger. Now go brush your teeth, onion breath.
What's your best burger upgrade, simple or complex? Share a tip (or an idea) in the comments below!