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Boston Chefs Reveal What Makes a Burger Fail Completely

In honor of Burger Week, we've surveyed local chefs all about burgers, and we're sharing their responses throughout the week. Next up: What makes a burger fail completely?

Shutterstock/Vladimir Gjorgiev

Matt Jennings burger week portrait "A burger fails when it is taken too seriously, when it is over-thought, or too 'cheffy.' For example, it has black truffles on it. It is served with ‘homemade’ ketchup. No one wants that shit. Give me Heinz or give me death. It fails when it is on the wrong bun (don’t get me started on burgers on bread.) And it fails when it is too lean." —Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman

Robert Sisca"An overcooked burger and a dry, stale bun." —Robert Sisca, executive chef and partner at Bistro du Midi

Tiffani Faison burger week portrait"Soggy bread, and also the burger can't be allowed to rise into a hockey puck as it's cooking — one good smash as it's placed on the cooking surface and another smash when it's turned the first time will do it." —Tiffani Faison, chef/owner of Sweet Cheeks and the forthcoming Tiger Mama

David Verdo Burger Week portrait"If you put any kind of seasoning into the burger meat, it’s no longer a burger; it turns into glorified meatloaf between two buns." —David Verdo, executive chef at Chopps American Bar and Grill

Michael Schlow Burger Week portrait"How do you know if a burger is a failure? If you can say yes to any of the following: Dry, over cooked meat. Crappy, cheap-ass bun. Canned anything on top. Presence of seafood as garnish. Lukewarm, previously-frozen French fries." —Michael Schlow, chef/owner of Via Matta, Tico, and Alta Strada

Andy Husbands Burger Week portrait "Uneven shape, low fat, cooks who don’t care." —Andy Husbands, chef/owner of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel, author of Wicked Good Burgers

Ken Oringer burger week portrait "Meat that's too lean and overcooked." —Ken Oringer, co-owner of Toro, Coppa, and more

Michael Sutton burger week portrait"Overcooking it. I’ve had too many burgers that are just completely ruined by overcooking them. At that point it doesn’t matter if you did everything else right or not. Resting it properly is something that doesn’t get enough attention. When most burgers come out, I usually let them sit for a couple minutes. Too much stuff on it too can ruin it. I tried the famed Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern in NYC, but they loaded it with caramelized onions..I get the appeal, but it was way too sweet for me." —Michael Sutton, chef de cuisine at M.C. Spiedo

Miles McAlpin burger week portrait "Overcooking. It does not matter what kind of meat you used, how well you seasoned, or if you throw a $20 slice of vintage truffle cheddar on an overcooked burger; it is no good. This is regardless of the rarity preference you have — even a medium-well burger should have a slightly pink center and certainly some juice! Dry? Buh-bye." —Miles McAlpin, formerly marketing manager for Grillo's Pickles

Will Gilson burger week portrait "A burger fails when it's an afterthought. If you just assume that people will order and eat a burger because it's there, then everybody loses. A burger needs to be personal. You need to make it the way that you would want to eat it." —Will Gilson, chef/owner of Puritan & Co.

Tony Maws burger week portrait "Poor meat, no seasoning, poor temperature, awful bun." —Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

Kathy Sidell burger week portrait"Overcooking it and pressing the juice out of it while cooking it in an attempt to make it cook faster. Flip once and never touch!! I said never touch!!!!" —Kathy Sidell, owner of The Met Restaurant Group and the forthcoming Saltie Girl Restaurant

Tom Woods burger week portrait "When it fails my over/under rule. Never overcooked. Never under-seasoned." —Tom Woods, executive chef at Blue Dragon

Sean McDonald burger week portrait"A failed burger is basically pre-determined when you buy a pre-portioned, pre-packed, mass-produced burger patty, because the meat is overworked, packed in a high-pressure way, and when you cook it, the meat becomes chewy and rubbery." —Sean McDonald, corporate executive chef at Tony C's Sports Bar & Grill

Robert Tobin burger week portrait"Not having enough fat in the burger leaves it tasteless." —Robert Tobin, chef at The Seaport Hotel

Keith Pooler burger week portrait"A burger fails by being dry. The first word to come to mind when describing a good burger is juicy. It is about execution and consistency for me. The burger that sits on a grill too long is unappealing. It could be cooked to your liking, but it has too much char, and it takes away from that umami flavor. Move the burger around on the grill; it is not about set it, flip, and done. You need to give it more love." —Keith Pooler, chef/owner of Bergamot

Dan Bazzinotti burger week portrait"A burger fail for me is anything with soggy bread, i.e. too much sauce, low grade quality of meat, and a lack of seasoning." —Dan Bazzinotti, executive chef at BISq

Greg Weinstock burger week portrait"The biggest burger fail for me is it being overcooked. There is nothing worse than a dry, tasteless burger. A shitty bun can also make a burger fail; buns that don’t have the body to hold up to the burger and toppings and fall apart will ruin the burger-eating experience." —Greg Weinstock, executive chef of Salvatore's Restaurants

Caleb Graber-Smith burger week portrait"The meat. A lot of people focus too much on toppings and just buy any old ground meat pack that’s cheap. Our burgers are a custom grind from Kinnealey Meats, with a deliberately chosen meat-to-fat ratio and meat combo making up the grind. I don’t care if there are truffles and foie on it; bad meat is bad meat, and we won’t allow it." —Caleb Graber-Smith, head chef at The Gallows

Rodney Murillo burger week portrait"Flavorless beef patty. A burger that is too lean or too fatty. Also, the roll should always be served warm, toasted with butter. A soggy roll is no good." —Rodney Murillo, culinary director at Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse

Chris Coombs burger week portrait "A brioche bun makes a burger fail completely." —Chris Coombs, chef/owner of Boston Chops, Deuxave, and dbar

Bill Brodsky burger week portrait "Aside from the obvious lack of quality ingredients, the proper burger-to-bun ratio is essential. The best burgers are a 50/50 blend in my opinion. It allows that beefy flavor to ring through." —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 bun that falls apart the moment moisture from the burger hits it. A lower-quality bun that is highly processed cannot stand up to the fat content of a good burger. Let's say you design a burger that is highly fatty and you pair it with a lower quality bun — you end up with a bun that falls apart, and you wind up eating the burger with a fork." —Carey Dobies, sous chef at BOKX 109 American Prime

Brian Poe burger week portrait "Dry, grey, cheap, cardboard, $1-a-pound stuff that looks like a TV dinner/Salisbury steak stuff." —Brian Poe, chef/owner of Tip Tap Room, Estelle's, Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, and Bukowski Tavern

Patrick Gilmartin burger week portrait"The bun. The bun has to be able to stand up to all of the condiments that a customer may want to place on a burger. If I am served a burger with pickles, mayo, ketchup, and bacon, the bun better be able to reign all those things in." —Patrick Gilmartin, executive chef at River Bar

Matt Foley burger week portrait"I think the worst thing for me is stale bread, and then I will go with lack of balance." —Matt Foley, chef at The Merchant

PJ Crowley burger week portrait"Leaving out that care and consistency." —PJ Crowley, general manager at Battery Park

Paul Callahan burger week portrait"The quality of the meat and the way it's shaped." —Paul Callahan, executive chef at No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits

Tom Borgia burger week portrait"If the burger-to-bread ratio is too far one way or the other. Although, too much bread is probably worse than not enough." —Tom Borgia, executive chef at Russell House Tavern

Louis DiBiccari burger week portrait"The bun-to-meat ratio — it’s important. Also, you cannot cannot put lettuce on it." —Louis DiBicarri, chef/co-owner of Tavern Road

Beehive owners burger week portrait"If you start with a subpar product, don’t season it properly, and don’t give the burger the love it needs to cook, you’re going to end with something that will be a burger by name only." —Jack Bardy, Jennifer Epstein, Bertil Jean-Chronberg, and Bill Keravuori, owners of The Beehive and Beat Brasserie

Michelle boland burger week portrait"The burger itself weighing one pound and complicated toppings." —Michelle Boland, pastry chef at Davio's Chestnut Hill

Jay Murray burger week portrait"Many commercial grinds are chewy, and no one wants a chewy burger. The meat should break off as you gently bite it, and then melt in your mouth. And if you under-salt your burger, it’s just going to taste flabby. Sure, ketchup might save the day — but it shouldn’t have to." —Jay Murray, executive chef at Grill 23 & Bar

Eric Brennan burger week portrait"Poor-quality ingredients." —Eric Brennan, executive chef at Post 390

Stacy Cogswell burger week portrait"A burger fails when it has a hard bun, dry over-cooked meat, and poor-quality meat that has no flavor." —Stacy Cogswell, chef at Liquid Art House

Adam Resnick burger week portrait"The ingredients! Poor quality ingredients and/or poorly put together so it falls apart." —Adam Resnick, chef at Highball Lounge

Jason Bond burger week portrait"Structural insufficiencies are a big downfall for a burger. Usually poorly conceived flavor pairings come next. Flavors need to support each other rather than stand out." —Jason Bond, chef/owner of Bondir

Brendan Joy burger week portrait"Three things will make a burger fail completely: Being over-seasoned, poor quality of meat, or the wrong toppings that will not stay on the burger when you’re eating it." —Brendan Joy, chef de cuisine at Bondir Cambridge

Lola Sotomayor-Ellis burger week portrait"A failed burger was not properly cooked, pressed, and dried out." —Lola Sotomayor-Ellis, chef at Ester

Tim Wiechmann burger week portrait"Bad bread and bad meat (either too rare, too thin, overcooked, stale, etc.)" —Tim Wiechmann, chef/owner of Bronwyn and T.W. Food

Patrick Campbelle burger week portrait"Burgers fail when the beef used is not quality, doesn't have enough fat in it, or the grind isn't good. A lack of salt will also ruin any food for me, but especially a burger, and of course a proper temperature depending on style of burger." —Patrick Campbell, executive chef at Cafe ArtScience

Matt Mahoney burger week portrait"Consider the construction of your sandwich. It doesn’t matter how delicious and juicy it tastes; if your burger falls apart, it will be deemed a failure. Choose your bun wisely! It should be fairly soft, absorbent, and sturdy. Brioche will work, but my favorite is a potato roll." —Matt Mahoney, chef de cuisine at The Butcher Shop

Ben Weisberger burger week portrait"Over-cooked and under-seasoned." —Ben Weisberger, chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park

Jon Awerman burger week portrait"The one thing that causes any burger to epically fail is a lack of salt. From the most expensive and luxurious grind to the humble frozen flat patty, either one is capable of rising above or falling flat on its face without proper seasoning." —Jon Awerman, chef de cuisine at Drink

Donley Liburd burger week portrait"To me, a burger fails with improper cooking technique." —Donley Liburd, executive chef at Cask 'N Flagon

Jonathan Kopacz burger week portrait"Lack of seasoning or char. Bad buns are also a big bummer." —Jonathan Kopacz, executive chef at Brass Union

Mark Sapienza burger week portrait"Seasoning, fat content, and over-cooking by pressing too long. You wouldn’t believe how many places neglect seasoning with salt and pepper when cooking. You also want the right amount of fat so it is juicy but not greasy — I shoot for 75% lean with 25% fat." —Mark Sapienza, executive chef at The Langham, Boston

Jason Waddleton burger week portrait"Slices of bacon on the burger, American cheese (what's the point?), not toasted bun, stale bun, bad meat, grass-fed meat, too fancy flavor combos, wrong temperature." —Jason Waddleton, owner of The Haven

Matt Baker burger week portrait"In general I find that a burger fails when it is under-seasoned and improperly cooked or not cooked to your liking. If the basics of the burger don't taste good, it opens the doors to all the other choices, like bun and toppings, not being enjoyed." —Matt Baker, chef of Coda Bar & Kitchen

Eric Goodman burger week portrait"I feel in this day and age, it's places doing too much. Adding bacon, short ribs, multiple types of cheese, and sauce on one burger. Or now the trend is hot sauces on everything, but don’t get me wrong — I love hot sauce. With so much on the burger you can’t taste what you’re eating, so there’s no point. The simple things are always the best." —Eric Goodman, executive chef at Harvard Gardens

Avi Shemtov burger week portrait"Too dry or too big. If it can't fit in your mouth, it's a problem." —Avi Shemtov, chef/owner of The Chubby Chickpea

Jaime Suarez burger week portrait"Frozen beef and lack of love for what you are preparing." —Jaime Suarez, chef at Common Ground Arlington

"A few things can ruin a burger. Usually I attribute these fails to too much grease, poor choice of buns, and unseasoned beef. Grease is good, but too much grease can turn gross. The bun is often overlooked when making burgers." —Rafael Barbosa, director of operations at FiRE + iCE

Photos: Patrick Campbell by Wayne Chinnock; Patrick Gilmartin by Brian Samuels; 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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