Why publish a cookbook about burgers?
There are so many things you can do with a burger — it’s like a blank canvas. We wanted to elevate each element and inspire you with topping ideas and flavor combinations that complement the patty without overpowering it. Our goal with this book is to give you concrete recipes that work, but also push you to think outside of your usual expectations for what goes on a burger. Take mascarpone. Sounds weird, right? But it adds a creamy element (similar to mayonnaise) and a cheesy element at the same time. When you think of it that way, it makes sense. Ultimately (see what I did there), burgers should be fun, and we hope our recipes encourage you to play around a bit.
Walk me through The Ultimate Burger. What sets this book apart?
Before we delve into all of our over-the-top creations, we start out with the basics, including make-at-home toppings and grind-your-own burger blends. Then we get to the meat of it: beef burgers, as well as turkey, pork, lamb, and vegetarian/vegan patties. We even have a chapter on making your own buns. We finish it off with a sides and drinks chapter that includes fries and milkshakes. Name a more perfect trio than a burger, fries, and a milkshake — I’ll wait! (Oh, and we put booze in some of the milkshakes. No complaints here.)
Something unique about all of our books is that each recipe is accompanied by a “Why This Recipe Works” paragraph, where, instead of detailing our own personal connections to the dish, we talk about our testing process and make sure that you have all of the information you need to not only make a delicious meal but also understand why and how that dish came to be.
What is a day in the life of a test cook like?
The day starts out with me grabbing coffee, going over the recipes I am cooking for the day, and getting a game plan together. I then set up shop in the kitchen — I gather up my equipment from our massive equipment room, get food from my personal storage bins in the reach-in fridge and dry storage racks (stocked with the ingredients I requested from the test kitchen shopping team the day before), and then prep and lay out the ingredients to make the recipe. Then I cook it from start to finish, and once it’s ready I get it on a plate and call for a tasting over the office intercom. Depending on how the tasting goes, and whether I have enough ingredients left over, I’ll either tweak the recipe and make it again, or move on to another recipe altogether.
What was the testing process like?
Unsurprisingly, we did a ton of testing (we are America’s Test Kitchen, after all). Let’s use the Ultimate Beef Burger Blend as an example, which incorporates a few different cuts of beef that we grind at home using the food processor. We started development like we typically do at ATK, by making five distinct recipes for beef blends that we found in old cookbooks or online and tasting them all side-by-side. We then compared the flavor and consistency — this burger has a livery funk flavor to it, this one is chewy, things like that — and chose the best elements of each. Then we combined them to create a new recipe. We kept testing it, changing the recipe each time, until we were happy with the result. At that point we often send the recipe out to a large group of ATK fans that make it at home and give us feedback. Four out of five testers must want to make the recipe again for us to publish it. If not, we make changes based on the feedback or cut the recipe.
Tell me about the Loaded Nacho Burger on the cover. What were some of the challenges? Successes?
Inspiration originated from the idea of putting French fries on a burger. It’s a delicious move, but fries don’t add any texture. I’ve done chips before, which can be fantastic (looking at you, salt and vinegar). We wanted to take that one step further, and the idea came up to use tortilla chips and cheese as a nacho topping. The challenge was getting that nachos-with-all-the-fixings flavor (and height!) while still being able to fit it all on a burger that you can actually take a bite of. A light-bulb moment happened when we decided to make the nacho chip pile separate from the burger and treat it as one whole topping as opposed to many little ones. This ended up raising some more questions, as light-bulb moments often do in the test kitchen. How many layers of chips and cheese? Are three too many? Is one not enough? What else goes with the chips?
Can a burger have TOO many toppings?
YES! If you can’t eat it without everything falling off, if you can’t take a bite (even after squishing down on the bun), and if you can’t taste each of those toppings individually, you have too many. It drives me mad when I see burgers stacked a foot high with toppings and held together with a sword. Give me a burger I can hold in my hands and take a bite of. Don’t give me a project that ends up with me eating a crumbled beef salad. For this book, we spent a lot of time in our tastings deciding whether each ingredient was really necessary. What is it adding to the overall dish? If we didn’t have a good answer, we got rid of it.
What about simple burgers?
Absolutely! I worked on the intentionally over-the-top Let’s Go for Broke chapter, but that’s just one chapter in the book. We definitely cover a variety of less-complex, everyday burgers, while still maintaining our high standards for testing.
Which burger was the favorite among the test cooks?
Hands down, the French Onion Burger, with the Loaded Nacho and Donut Shop burgers close behind. These burgers always had a list of people interested in any leftovers from a tasting. The French Onion Burger has this caramelized onion jam on a toasted bun and a mouth-dropping three cups of gruyere. It’s a dead-simple burger (much like the soup) in that it doesn’t have a lot of components, but each one brings a ton of flavor and texture. After topping it off with a bit of frisée for freshness and crunch, there was talk of adding more toppings, but we settled on the less-is-more mentality.
The Donut Shop Burger was born more of curiosity than anything else, and it surprised us! It has this brilliant combination of salty and sweet flavors, with the deep umami of the beef burger and bacon and tang from the American cheese. The key is quality ingredients, especially with the donut. Don’t skimp on the good stuff!
How many burgers were made in the process of producing this book?
Several thousand, easily. And each one got eaten! After all that you’d think I wouldn’t want to touch a burger for the rest of my life, but I’m surprisingly not sick of them. I guess I know what’s on the menu for dinner…
LOADED NACHO BURGERS
Why This Recipe Works: We wanted to find a way to incorporate our favorite elements of nachos into a burger without resulting in a soggy mess. The burger part was easy — we opted for beef burgers that we seared in a skillet before finishing in the oven to a perfect medium-rare. Next, we set our sights on the nacho component. Nachos are all about layering, so we started by assembling four distinct piles of chips on a rimmed baking sheet, consisting of just a few chips each, and covered the chips with an abundant amount of cheese. After repeating this layering once more, we baked our nacho piles until the chips were super crunchy and the melted cheese bound the elements together. To finish, we slid the nacho piles onto the burgers and topped them with shredded lettuce, a dollop of sour cream, fresh salsa, and jalapeños.
small tomato, cored and chopped
tablespoon minced shallot
teaspoons minced jarred jalapeños, plus extra for serving
teaspoon table salt, divided
ounces tortilla chips
ounces Colby Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1¾ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
teaspoon vegetable oil
tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
teaspoon lime juice
cup sour cream
hamburger buns, toasted if desired
cup shredded iceberg lettuce
Combine tomato, shallot, jalapeños, and ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl. Transfer salsa to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Discard accumulate juices and return salsa to now-empty bowl; set aside for serving.
Divide half of tortilla chips into four equal mounds (about 4 inches in diameter) on rimmed baking sheet and top with 1 cup Colby Jack. Repeat layering with remaining chips and Colby Jack; set aside.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Divide beef into 4 lightly packed balls, then gently flatten into ¾-inch-thick patties. Using your fingertips, press center of each patty down until about ½ inch thick, creating slight divot.
Season patties with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Using spatula, transfer patties to skillet, divot side up, and cook until well browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Gently flip patties and continue to cook until well browned on second side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer patties to second rimmed baking sheet, divot side down, and bake until burgers register 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare) or 130 to 135 degrees (for medium), 3 to 8 minutes. Transfer burgers to platter and let rest while finishing nachos and salsa.
Bake nachos until cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. Stir cilantro and lime juice into salsa and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spread sour cream over bun tops. Serve burgers on buns, topped with nachos, lettuce, salsa, and extra jalapeños.
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America’s Test Kitchen
publishes award-winning cookbooks along with Cook’s Illustrated
and Cook’s Country
magazines and produces public television’s top-rated shows, America’s Test Kitchen
and Cook’s Country
. It is a very real 15,000-square-foot kitchen located in Boston’s Seaport district and is home to more than 60 test cooks, editors, and tasting and testing experts.
is a test cook and senior editor at America's Test Kitchen and worked with a team of seven other test cooks and editors to develop the mouthwatering recipes in The Ultimate Burger
. The Loaded Nacho Burger, the crunchy, cheesy, towering spectacle featured on the cover, was his creation and is one of over 130 recipes in the book.