There are so many great places in LA where you can get a gourmet burger made to order. Some of my favorites – The Counter, Houston’s, and numerous diners around the South Bay – are well worth the visit.
But these days, I’m finding it harder and harder to shell out $10 or more for a burger and fries at these places. I’m even thinking twice about the $5 #2 “animal style” at In-N-Out!
To get over my hamburger-centric economic angst, I decided to do gourmet burgers at home.
Under heavy influence from The Counter, I put together a plan to satisfy my gourmet burger craving in the comfort of my own home without spending too much cash. If you implement this at home, put your own spin on the selections and options based on what’s available to you. Part of the fun of making gourmet burgers at home is all about having choices. Just remember this: Bread, Meat, Cheese, Toppings:
Start With the Bread
Any good structure needs to start with a good foundation! In the case of a burger, that means the bread. Pick three or four distinctly different breads that are durable enough to hold a burger patty and some toppings without falling apart. For this meal, I chose a regular hamburger bun, English muffins, and a whole wheat cinnamon roll with raisins. All of these are great for hamburgers. In addition, they’re great for left-overs or to have with another meal…even breakfast!
[Side note: What I like about the cinnamon rolls (which, along with the other breads, I picked up at Trader Joe's), is that they were not covered in frosting. They were simply a nice, bready roll, flavored with cinnamon and seasoned with raisins. This made them perfect for serving as the foundation for a sandwich.]
Continue with the Meat
The meat is the focus of the burger, so don’t leave anyone asking “where’s the beef”?! Pick up some lean ground beef, some ground turkey, and maybe even some veggie burgers if you’re inclined. The cooking times and methods for each of these are similar so you won’t be too far off if you have more than one type of meat on your grill. In my case, I had to settle for only serving turkey burgers; folks in my household, bless their hearts, gave up beef for Lent.
A Choice of Cheeses
Having toppings to choose from is key to personalizing your burger. The cheese is no exception. The problem here, though, is that buying too many types of cheese can cause problems with the bottom line at the register or spoilage at home if the cheese is not used.
There are two ways to solve this problem. The first, buy sliced cheese from the deli. You can pick up a quarter pound each of four different types of cheese and get away with only paying for a pounds worth. In addition, the deli staff can slice the cheese thicker or thinner based on your preference.
The second option, buy a variety pack of pre-sliced cheese. Trader Joe’s has this covered with their “Crowd Cheeser” cheese pack. It has Colby jack, Swiss, mild cheddar, and pepper jack all sliced and ready to serve. Initially, you might think that the pack is intended to be served as an appetizer at a wine tasting or something. Who knew you’d be using it to make gourmet burgers!?
Everything Else In Between
With the basics covered, now is not the time to skimp on adding more options to flavor your burgers. Of course you’ll want the standards: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Most likely, you already have these in your fridge. If not, pick them up along with your other items. They’re staples in your kitchen so they won’t go bad if you use them regularly. Oh, you should also pick up some bacon, an essential topping for a bacon cheeseburger. Other toppings you might consider: fried eggs, avocado, grilled pineapples, mushrooms, jalapeños…whatever strikes your fancy.
Bringing it All Home, Restaurant Style
Now that you have all the ingredients to make a gourmet burger, you’re ready to create the atmosphere of your favorite burger place. Put on some Motown if you want to recreate a scene out of Ruby’s Diner. Cover the table in white linen and light candles if you want to go for the Houston’s look. Invite everyone in and take their orders.
For this, make a sheet that has space for a name and the breads, cheeses, meats, and toppings that are available. Give everyone a sheet and a pencil and let them create their own burger. Do this before you start cooking if you don’t want too many leftovers.
The individual sheet idea is great if you are making preparations in advance. But If you’re winging it like me, just get a scrap of paper, ask everyone what they want, and write their selections under their initial.
[Side note: I would make a terrible waiter; I got my own order wrong! Or maybe it was because I was in the kitchen I opted for something different. I ordered the pepper jack on and English muffin but ended up with three cheeses on a cinnamon roll. Oh Well!]
Back in the kitchen, put the burgers together along with any final touches and then serve the burgers as ordered.
Voila! Gourmet burgers at home!
Using this method, I put together four “gourmet” burgers and fries with plenty of left overs for about $25 including the breads, cheese, meats, drinks, and dessert; we had Neapolitan ice cream instead of milk shakes.
Yes, it’s a little pricey for a dinner at home compared to other meals, but it made eating at home feel like eating out…without the eating out price tag.