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Boston Chefs Define What Goes Into a Perfect Burger

In honor of Burger Week, we've surveyed local chefs all about burgers, and we'll share their responses throughout the week. Kicking things off: What makes a perfect burger?

Matt Jennings burger week portrait "Isn’t soft and mushy. It’s chewy and steaky. It has depth and beefiness. It oozes all over your fingers. It’s messy. It’s sexy. It’s a mouthful. It’s decadent, but not pretentious. It’s a dirty and deliberate mess. It’s flavor forward. It’s America." —Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman

Robert Sisca"There are three things that make a perfect burger for me: the flavor and texture of grass-fed black angus meat, a brioche bun, and cooking the meat to the preferred temperature of my guests, whether at home or at the restaurant." —Robert Sisca, executive chef and partner at Bistro du Midi

Tiffani Faison burger week portrait"A few things...good meat, good technique, and a balance of toppings/condiments. Also, really good bread. The bread can’t be so soft that is will become soggy, and it can’t be so tough that is cuts the roof of your mouth. Balance." —Tiffani Faison, chef/owner of Sweet Cheeks and the forthcoming Tiger Mama

David Verdo Burger Week portrait "I think the burger meat is what predominately makes a perfect burger. Of the many factors that go into preparation, using the correct cuts of beef with the correct ratio of fat in the meat can either make or break your burger." —David Verdo, executive chef at Chopps American Bar and Grill

Michael Schlow Burger Week portrait "There are a few things that go into a perfect burger, but most important is starting with great meat that has about an 80/20 mix of meat to fat, which will ensure moistness if cooked correctly. You also need a great bun, one that will stand up to a juicy burger and not fall apart. It's important to find one that is the same size (not bigger) as the burger. Bun-to-burger ratio is key to success; no one likes to have to take two bites before hitting the burger. Lastly, I want condiments that make sense. When we crave a burger, we know what we want....keep the condiments focused and sensible. Too many ingredients and you can't taste the burger." —Michael Schlow, chef/owner of Via Matta, Tico, and Alta Strada

Andy Husbands Burger Week portrait "Several factors make the perfect burger, but the type of meat and grind, shaping, and cooking method are my top three areas I look at. There’s the umami factor, which takes it over the top. We add a few additions to make ours incredible, plus the wood grill helps." —Andy Husbands, chef/owner of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel, author of Wicked Good Burgers

Ken Oringer burger week portrait "Fat, salt, and a good sear." —Ken Oringer, co-owner of Toro, Coppa, and more

Michael Sutton burger week portrait"A lot goes into making a perfect burger. Making a flavorful patty is just the beginning, which starts with a good mix of flavorful meats, grinding it fresh and forming it properly, cooking it to the proper temp, and resting it properly. A bun that will hold together through the whole time you’re eating it. A nice sharp cheese that will cut through the fattiness of the burger. We have a tomato jam that I like to put on our burger; it adds a slightly sweet contrast which works well with the savory veal patty. Sometimes that's all you need. Maybe some bacon too. I don’t like a burger with too much stuff on it." —Michael Sutton, chef de cuisine at M.C. Spiedo

Miles McAlpin burger week portrait "Bun and bun-to-patty ratio. Whether with a precisely toasted or grilled soft bun or (preferably) an inherently robust bun like a sourdough, structure is key to a perfect burger. Enjoying a juicy/cheesy/eggy/guacamole-y burger can be ruined by a feeble, soggy bun. Then ratio — substantial bun helps to avoid aforementioned sogginess, but too much bun can distract or even take away from the main burger ingredients and flavors therein!" —Miles McAlpin, formerly marketing manager for Grillo's Pickles

Will Gilson burger week portrait "What I think makes a perfect burger is the ratio of all the components. The bread/bun can’t be too thick or you lose the flavor. The patty needs to be cooked to a point where the juices stay in, but it's not raw. I personally need some sort of sauce component and a lot of melty cheese." —Will Gilson, chef/owner of Puritan & Co.

Tony Maws burger week portrait "Great quality meat that's not worked too much (not emulsified), well-seasoned, and cooked correctly. The bun holds the burger well and doesn't fall apart but has some give." —Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

John Delpha burger week portrait "For me a perfect burger is a thinner-style burger with a good seared crust on it." —John Delpha, chef/partner of Rosebud American Kitchen + Bar

Kathy Sidell burger week portrait"The perfect burger starts with perfect meat. That is the fat-to-beef ratio, the coarseness of the grind, and the flavor (what cut of beef is used and combined (brisket, shoulder, chuck, and/or wagyu), grass-fed, aged, prime, etc. and how the beef is finished — wet-aged or dry-aged — and what combination thereof!) Also the proportion of bun to burger and toppings to burger. Bun sturdiness is vital to the perfect eating experience." —Kathy Sidell, owner of The Met Restaurant Group and the forthcoming Saltie Girl Restaurant

Tom Woods burger week portrait "I'm pretty much a purest. Just give me nicely sized ground beef patty, blended with the right amount of fat (you gotta have some for flavor!) Serve it on a fresh toasted roll with lettuce, sliced red onion, tomato (only those in season), mayonnaise, and a little yellow mustard. Of course, a great set of fries has to be on the side. We take particular pride in those served here at Blue Dragon, perfected over months — vinegar brined, twice fried." —Tom Woods, executive chef at Blue Dragon

Sean McDonald burger week portrait"The burger meat itself is the most important aspect of the perfect burger. The meat needs to be fresh (very young kill date) — the younger the meat, the more moist it is. You don’t want to have meat that has been aged when talking about burgers. (Steaks are different.) The beef in burgers needs to be as fresh and as juicy as it can be. The grind of the meat is also extremely important because, depending on the machine used to grind it, it can easily get over-ground and becomes "worked" or macerated. I prefer a larger grind so the meat doesn’t get mealy.

At Tony C’s, we use 100% chuck beef and mold the patties by hand. We cook the burgers plancha-style, a Mexican term for cooking meat at a high temperature on a flat surface. Searing the meat from the outside on a hot, flat grill keeps the juices and flavors inside. I prefer making burgers plancha-style as opposed to charbroiling because it is a healthier approach — there are less carcinogens involved, and the grease is able to roll off the burger and run out without causing the coals used with a grill to flare up and create the burnt taste in the meat that you often find with a charbroiled burger.

The bun is a secondary, but also very important, key component in the perfect burger. A seeded bun gives off a nice nutty aroma when it is lightly toasted, which pairs well with many burgers. We prefer the sesame bun at Tony C’s for most of our burgers and top them with Vermont cheddar — a great product that allows us to continue to support local farmers." —Sean McDonald, corporate executive chef at Tony C's Sports Bar & Grill

Robert Tobin burger week portrait"For the best tasting burger, I’d say you need to use 80/20 ground chuck." —Robert Tobin, chef at The Seaport Hotel

Keith Pooler burger week portrait "What makes a perfect burger to me is a lot of different things. There has to be a good meat-to-fat ratio. The burger must be juicy. Cooked properly. The accompaniments need to suit the burger. What I mean by this is you should not have a flavor that distracts from the umami essence of the beef. The bread is just as important. You can go soft or with a little crunch, but it has to tie into what is going with the burger. I love a good burger, and I think that one style is not better than the other, just different. The cheese has to be melted or slightly melted, it cannot be cold and hard as a rock; it takes away from the bite. The meat needs to be grain-finished. It makes a less in-your-face flavor and really gives you that unctuous mouth feel. Grass-only beef and dry-aged beef give you too much of an iron overtone and stand out too much for a good burger. I think that you should not go too extreme with the addition of foie gras or anything elaborate, designed to make the burger more expensive or grandiose." —Keith Pooler, chef/owner of Bergamot

Dan Bazzinotti burger week portrait"I feel a perfect burger needs to be grilled and served on really lightly toasted bun. The perfect burger should be simple, not over-thought." —Dan Bazzinotti, executive chef at BISq

Greg Weinstock burger week portrait"The perfect burger has to have the perfect blend of lean meat to fat; too lean and it will be dry and flavorless, too fatty and it will be too greasy. In my opinion, it has be cooked medium rare — no more, no less. It has to be seasoned well, and it needs time to rest." —Greg Weinstock, executive chef of Salvatore's Restaurants

Caleb Graber-Smith burger week portrait"A perfect burger, like any other sandwich, is all about consistency. By this I mean every bite should have some of every component of the burger. There’s nothing I hate more than biting into a burger and only getting bun and sauce, or the tomato slipping out the other side. They need to be stacked with care. If you get down to the last bite and there is still a little bit of toasted bun left, that’s okay. Barely." —Caleb Graber-Smith, head chef at The Gallows

Rodney Murillo burger week portrait"Big rolls are great..the roll has to be in proportion with the beef. Every bite of the burger should have the same amount of meat as the bun." —Rodney Murillo, culinary director at Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse

Chris Coombs burger week portrait "The perfect burger is all about ratios. The ratio of the meat to the sauce to the bun is what it is all about." —Chris Coombs, chef/owner of Boston Chops, Deuxave, and dbar

Brian Rae burger week portrait"I think a great burger is made with great-tasting ingredients. Prefer grass-fed beef and soft bun. For toppings, I like cheese that melts well and gets runny — and crispy bacon, which provides both flavor and texture. House-made or high-quality mayo and cucumber pickles are must. At Centre Street we try to hit on all these elements to create the perfect burger. Grill over high heat, get a nice crust, then make sure to let it rest so the juices don't run out of the first bite. Bun from brioche. Warmed and toasted inside. Add pancetta, garlic herb aioli, lettuce, tomato, onion. Served with a side of fries." —Brian Rae, executive chef at Centre Street Cafe

Bill Brodsky burger week portrait "A great burger consists of a rich beefy flavor, a slight smoky char to the meat, and a bun that softens and almost melds with the burger." —Bill Brodsky, chief culinary officer of Boston Nightlife Ventures (The Tap Trailhouse, Wink & Nod, Griddler's Burgers and Dogs)

Carey Dobies burger week portrait"A well-buttered and slightly charred bun or really good brioche bread." —Carey Dobies, sous chef at BOKX 109 American Prime

Brian Poe burger week portrait "Deliciousness, meatiness, and 'moisture-ness.'" —Brian Poe, chef/owner of Tip Tap Room, Estelle's, Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, and Bukowski Tavern

Patrick Gilmartin burger week portrait"A burger needs to constantly remind me that it's beef. All the same wonderfulness of steak must be present in a burger. More important than the size and thickness of the patty, more important than the temp it's cooked at, it must be undeniably beefy with each bite." —Patrick Gilmartin, executive chef at River Bar

Richard Vellante burger week portrait "Here it is: an excellent bun-to-burger ratio, crisp char on the outside of the burger, meaty, beefy, juicy (which depends on the lean meat-to-fat ratio), texture, well-seasoned flavor. I prefer using an all chuck versus a mixture of meat cuts. It gets over-shadowed by our tuna burger, but our hamburger is great." —Richard Vellante, executive chef at Legal Sea Foods

Matt Foley burger week portrait "It’s difficult to say what makes a perfect burger, because there are many styles of burgers that rely on different things. But I will go with how well everything goes together." —Matt Foley, chef at The Merchant

PJ Crowley burger week portrait"It all comes down to care in its makeup, quality components and – of course – the desire to want to eat it yourself." —PJ Crowley, general manager at Battery Park

Paul Callahan burger week portrait"The quality of the meat, the seasoning, and the fat content. Plus, it’s important to have the right bun-to-meat ratio." —Paul Callahan, executive chef at No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits

Tom Borgia burger week portrait"Simplicity. It should be all about the burger. Crazy ingredients don’t enhance, they just get in the way. Like anything else, choose quality ingredients and use proper technique." —Tom Borgia, executive chef at Russell House Tavern

Louis DiBiccari burger week portrait"Creekstone Farms beef is the best. It all comes down to the meat — the ratio of lean to fat, and the cut. When it comes to cut, chuck is the best." —Louis DiBicarri, chef/co-owner of Tavern Road

Beehive owners burger week portrait"For us it starts with a great blend. At both The Beehive and Beat Brasserie we have a proprietary blend. Equally important is the seasoning. Some take a subtle approach with just salt, others use various spices, whatever you choose to do think about how it will impact the final product. And also give the burger time to cook. We’ve seen way too many smash and flips before that do nothing but degrade the end product." —Jack Bardy, Jennifer Epstein, Bertil Jean-Chronberg, and Bill Keravuori, owners of The Beehive and Beat Brasserie

Michelle boland burger week portrait"Any perfect burger, for me, must start with a nice thin beef patty, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a soft bun." —Michelle Boland, pastry chef at Davio's Chestnut Hill

Jay Murray burger week portrait"First, you need a good grind, which generally means you have to do it yourself. And you need the right cut of beef. I read on a famous website that the cut of beef didn’t matter: that beef simply tastes like beef. Not so, yo! Chuck tastes nothing like brisket, which tastes nothing like tenderloin. Personally I like a blend of chuck flap and outer skirt.

Next is the bun. It should disintegrate as you eat it — not so much that it falls apart completely, but enough that your fingers are almost poking through by the last bite. It should be messy.

Finally, salt. You have a nice cut of beef — you want it to shine." —Jay Murray, executive chef at Grill 23 & Bar

Eric Brennan burger week portrait"Quality of beef and enough fat content to keep it juicy; quality of the bun — airy and not too bready; meat-to-bun ratio — the burger can't be smaller than the bun!" —Eric Brennan, executive chef at Post 390

Stacy Cogswell burger week portrait"A perfect burger has to have several things: soft bun, good juicy meat (not overcooked), good seasoning, bacon!!!!, the right cheese." —Stacy Cogswell, chef at Liquid Art House

Adam Resnick burger week portrait"The perfect burger has a good balance of meat, bread, and accompaniments. Got to have a nicely toasted bun, crispy yet still soft; a meaty patty; quality cheese; and fresh, crisp toppings like lettuce and tomato." —Adam Resnick, chef at Highball Lounge

Jason Bond burger week portrait"First, you start with excellent meat formed right out of the grinder and not pre-packed. Then, it must be cooked properly with good caramelized sear on the crust and medium rare-medium inside. A perfect burger also needs to be served warm and not so big that it can't be finished before it gets cold. The bun should be tender and fluffy, but able to hold up to the burger. Garnishes need to give moisture (aioli), texture (lettuce), umami (cheese and caramelized onions), but should also all be in balance. It shouldn't taste like a bowl of ramen. I like to think we do a perfect burger at Bondir — our dining room is packed for the Monday Night Burger special." —Jason Bond, chef/owner of Bondir

Brendan Joy burger week portrait"When it comes to the perfect burger, it’s all about the bun. It has to be able to hold the burger all the way to the last bite. I love milk rolls, brioche, or challah. Also, the meat quality and fat ratio are really important. If the burger has too much fat it will just shrink and render out completely." —Brendan Joy, chef de cuisine at Bondir Cambridge

Lola Sotomayor-Ellis burger week portrait"A perfect burger starts with great quality beef. Nonetheless, all small details work to elevate the final product, like temperature, toppings, and condiments." —Lola Sotomayor-Ellis, chef at Ester

Tim Wiechmann burger week portrait"In its most basic form, it is the notion of cooked meat on bread. These two criteria need to be met first. Condiments later." —Tim Wiechmann, chef/owner of Bronwyn and T.W. Food

Patrick Campbelle burger week portrait"A perfect burger needs two things: a good bun-to-meat ratio and proper cooking time and method, depending on burger style." —Patrick Campbell, executive chef at Cafe ArtScience

Michael Scelfo burger week portrait"I think a great burger is the sum of its parts, each one executed perfectly. From the grind to the bun and each of the ingredients, every single aspect of a good burger needs love." —Michael Scelfo, chef/owner of Alden & Harlow

Matt Mahoney burger week portrait"The cut is crucial. I use prime chuck for its intense beefy flavor and excellent fat ratio. Don't waste your time or money having your butcher grind short rib or flank. A lot of people come into The Butcher Shop asking for a burger made with expensive cuts of meat, but it won’t make a tastier burger! Keep it simple and focus on cooking the burger properly instead." —Matt Mahoney, chef de cuisine at The Butcher Shop

Ben Weisberger burger week portrait"Properly seasoned beef that has good meat-to-fat ratio (I like 80:20), a tender bun, and crispy pickles." —Ben Weisberger, chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park

Jon Awerman burger week portrait"Like all great food, the perfect burger is about simplicity and balance. It’s best exemplified in your classic burger set up — the meat patty (with cheese) provides that unmistakable fatty, smoky, and savory taste, cut by acid from ketchup and pickles that balance out flavors; lettuce and tomato add a refreshing vegetal quality; and the bun is the perfect vehicle with which to present it all to your mouth!" —Jon Awerman, chef de cuisine at Drink

Donley Liburd burger week portrait"I think the type of meat blend you use creates the perfect outcome." —Donley Liburd, executive chef at Cask 'N Flagon

Jonathan Kopacz burger week portrait"Seasoning, char, and grind are the most important factors. The tastiest beef in the world can be turned into a pretty lame burger if all three of those things aren't done well." —Jonathan Kopacz, executive chef at Brass Union

Mark Sapienza burger week portrait"Quality of product and preparation. This is what we set out to do 10 years ago when we recreated the Café Fleuri burger menu and everyone was making funky burgers. We looked at making the best burger, not the most creative." —Mark Sapienza, executive chef at The Langham, Boston

Jason Waddleton burger week portrait"So many things go into the perfect burger. The look of it, taste, and ingredients are all important. Correct temperature. Quality of meat. Good seasoning. Great bun. Good toppings ratio. Music on at time of first bite. Server temperament. Temp: medium rare — this enables the right amount of the juices from the burger to drip onto the hand-cut chunky chips which already have the right amount of malt vinegar and salt on them, awaiting the burger juice topping.

Quality meat, like from a Kinnealey purveyor — it should have a great texture and taste. You should also never be scared of what might be in your burger meat. A grass-fed burger can be a little meh in taste — and grassy. Who likes to eat grass in a bun? Seasoning: Imperative to draw out the flavor of the meat and provide a substantial taste sensation. Bun: Local Fornax bun, delivered fresh every day, toasted on the inside with a one-third - two-third cut so as the bottom part holds the burger and can soak up enough juice without falling apart.

Toppings: A great cheese is a pre-requisite. A one-third - two-third ratio of English Stilton blue cheese (the King of Cheeses) to English cheddar provides the hint of pungency that mingles in with the taste to provide a great background flavor. Not to overpower, though. The cheese must be melted through. And no American or Swiss. American meat YES! American cheese....NO!!

A bacon onion marmalade. Again NOT a cheap sliced bacon thrown on top to provide an annoying cutting experience. The bacon flavor from a marmalade melds in with the burger, and each bite of the burger is consistent in taste and flavor. This also enables couples to eat burgers in comfort together and not have difficulty in eating the burger with needing to cut the bacon slices up to avoid sticking out of the side of their mouth when they are smiling at each other." —Jason Waddleton, owner of The Haven

Matt Baker burger week portrait"Making a burger perfect starts with proper seasoning. Simply adding salt and black pepper starts the product off right." —Matt Baker, chef of Coda Bar & Kitchen

Eric Goodman burger week portrait"Some say the meat is what matters; others say bread or what you’re putting on burger. For me it’s every part of the burger from beginning to end — what bread you choose, to the type of meat (nowadays there are so many choices), and finally what’s in the burger itself. The final thing is temp of the burger — medium rare or lower — and you must have flavor and juices from meat." —Eric Goodman, executive chef at Harvard Gardens

Avi Shemtov burger week portrait"Fat and filler. Straight beef or lean beef leaves no flavor and a dry burger." —Avi Shemtov, chef/owner of The Chubby Chickpea

Jaime Suarez burger week portrait"Proper preparation and cooking, followed by quality of meat and desired toppings." —Jaime Suarez, chef at Common Ground Arlington

"Burgers are like ice cream flavors...everyone has a different favorite, and everyone wants different toppings. For me the perfect burger has a fresh, delicious bun; a fatty, high-quality burger; and a sharp cheese." —Rafael Barbosa, director of operations at FiRE + iCE

Photos: Patrick Campbell by Wayne Chinnock; Patrick Gilmartin by Brian Samuels; Michael Scelfo by Kristin Teig; Tim Wiechmann by Eric Wolfinger; Stacy Cogswell by Chris Coe; Tony Maws, Keith Pooler, Chris Coombs, and Brian Poe by Rachel Leah Blumenthal.

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