A love of burgers leads to the very best way of cooking them

  • Courtesy of Don MauerThe finished burger sits on one of Don's New and Improved Keto-Friendly Buns.

    Courtesy of Don MauerThe finished burger sits on one of Don's New and Improved Keto-Friendly Buns.

Posted6/24/2020 6:00 AM

Since I love hamburgers, my friends and family call me: Burger Boy.

I can't possibly calculate how many burgers I've made or eaten in my life. My favorite restaurant burger growing up was the one served on dark rye bread at Hackney's in Glenview.


Over the years, no matter where I lived, I sampled many burgers and too many to count. The good ones became the standard by which I judged my made-at-home burgers.

Outdoor grilling season began about a month ago, and you'd think that I'd be recommending a charcoal-grilled burger since, in 2005, I wrote: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grilling." Yes, grilled burgers have some positive virtues. However, in my opinion, a great burger isn't grilled; a skillet-cooked burger wins my personal blue-ribbon.

The best burger comes off a sizzling-hot restaurant flat top, which I don't own. For me, the next best method uses my well-aged, well-seasoned iron skillet.

I am not alone in this opinion. Rick Nelson, who writes for Minneapolis' Star Tribune, recently wrote: "It sounds heretical, ... but here goes: For a truly delicious burger, skip the grill, stay indoors and reach for a cast-iron skillet." Nelson wrote that he learned this from interviewing more than 100 Twin Cities chefs between 2013 and 2019.

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As Nelson suggests, the reason is that a grilled burger loses its juices to the flames where a skillet-cooked burger bastes in those juices, adding flavor.

Back in my early "Lean and lovin' it" days, I made burgers with the leanest possible meat, usually 93-percent lean. It was nearly impossible to produce anything but a very dry burger if cooked to the recommended safe temperature: 160 degrees. That safe temperature made my very lean burgers well-done, meaning dry and tough.

We now know that we should have been villainizing sugars and highly processed foods, not healthy fats (which ones are healthy is still open to debate).

Today I make the best burgers I've ever made and my guests second that opinion. Here's how.

I begin with single animal, grass-fed, grass-finished local ground beef. My ground beef needs to be high in fat, no less than 15-percent (as in 85/15), and prefer what is generally considered "ground beef" 73-percent lean. Higher fat content than that makes burgers float in melted fat and taste greasy.


I usually form one pound of ground beef into three patties and make every effort to form them gently. Once formed, I generously salt both sides and set them aside. This is what is considered a dry brine. You'll see a liquid form on the burgers and then disappear. This brining is less about flavor and more about tenderizing.

When ready, I heat my iron skillet and, when very hot, transfer the burgers to the skillet and set my timer for 3 to 4 minutes (more time if the meat's cold; less time if the meat's room temperature).

I never press my burgers. When my timer goes off, I flip my burgers. I reduce the cooking time slightly from the first setting since my burgers have warmed-up some already. I also grind black pepper on them. Using a digital thermometer, I wait for my burgers to reach 155-degrees (the temperature will rise 5 more degrees as they rest).

While my burgers cook, I slice some fresh tomatoes (I love low-acid, golden/yellow tomatoes) and thick slices of onion. I get out all my no-sugar-added condiments and lightly toast my sliced, homemade almond flour burns and then lay a slice of organic American cheese on the warm bun's bottom and slide my cooked burgers on top.

The higher fat content keeps my burgers from tightening up too much and bump-up their flavor. Sensational.

Cutting carbs? Here's an updated version of my lower carb, no-wheat buns.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@ theleanwizard.com.

Mauer's New and Improved Keto-Friendly Buns

½ cup sesame seeds (or poppy seeds)

3 egg yolks, whisked together

10 tablespoons (80 grams) ground psyllium husk (organic preferred)

2½ cups (300 grams) finely-ground almond flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons (20 grams) instant yeast

2 teaspoons sea salt

4 teaspoons organic distilled vinegar (or organic cider vinegar)

6 large egg whites (organic, free-range preferred)

4 cups boiling water (bottled spring water, preferred)

Place the oven rack in the lower-middle position and begin heating to 350-degrees.

Brush the bottom of a half sheet pan (12-by-18-inches) with olive oil and set aside. Add the sesame seeds to a small bowl and set aside. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium-small bowl and set aside.

While the oven heats and while bringing the water to a boil, whisk the almond flour, psyllium husk powder, baking powder, yeast, and salt in a large bowl until combined.

Add the vinegar and egg whites to the dry ingredients, and, using an electric hand mixer, combine well. While beating at low speed, carefully add the boiling water, mixing for about 1 minute, or until just combined, being careful not to overmix. (It's not a smooth or wet batter.)

Moisten hands with a little olive oil and shape dough into 12 separate rolls (about 4.4 ounces each). Dip the top of each roll into the egg yolks, then into sesame seeds, and then place on the prepared pan.

Bake for 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 rolls.

Nutrition values per roll: 219 calories (67 percent from fat), 16.4 g fat (1.3 g saturated fat), 12.1 g carbohydrates (4.2 net carbs), 0.9 g sugars, 7.9 g fiber, 8.1 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 476 mg sodium.

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