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It’s reported that the hamburger was invented at the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Since then, America’s favorite sandwich has been dished up in every conceivable variation–its gone way past just a burger patty plopped on a bun, as it was in the early 20th century. Building a good burger, like a good house, takes some consideration, though. There are several factors that lead to the success of a burger — or the failure, for that matter. Here’s a look at some things that help to make a burger taste great.

1) Meat is Paramount

Not all ground beef is created equal. In the new millennium, much attention gets paid to the kind of beef that gets used, at least by good burger joints. Ground chuck, which is cut from the shoulder of a steer, is a good place to start. As far as breeds go, Black Angus has been popular in recent years–due its richness of flavor. The freshness of the beef is truly an important factor, as well. Most large corporate restaurants serve pre-formed, frozen beef patties that are made from old cattle, many of which come from the dairy industry. Places like Mickey Yucks and Gag in the Bag wouldn’t sell many burgers if they truthfully disclosed the origin of their ground beef.

2) The Perfect Bun

Besides the beef, the bun is ultimately important to the success of a burger. If the bun is too soft (like one of those nasty un-toasted sesame seed buns), the texture of the burger patty is too similar to that of the bun–you definitely want some textural contrast. If the burger bun is too hard, you end up squeezing all the good stuff out the sides before it can make it into your mouth. A kaiser-style bun tends to work best because it has a crusty exterior (but not too crusty) and a soft center. It’s just right–because it gives a little once bitten.

3) To Cheese Or Not To Cheese

I doubt Shakespeare ever had to deal with this quandary, but whether to put cheese on a burger is an important decision for Americans. Some burger purists would never dream of melting cheese on a perfectly good burger patty, while others like their burgers gooey as all get out. Then there is the tough decision as to what kind of cheese to have on your burger. Some people prefer that orangey American cheese on their burgers, whereas others opt for higher quality queso such as Tillamook cheddar or imported Swiss cheese. Since cheese is such a subjective thing, it’s hard to say what cheese works best on a burger. But it’s safe to say that good cheeses like havarti and Gouda help to make a burger shine.

4) Hold the Mayo, Please

There’s a proper balance involved when it comes to the amount of condiments that get placed on a burger. Too much mayonnaise is a bad thing. And ketchup and mustard should be used sparingly–not to overwhelm the burger. (You want to be able to taste the beef!) You don’t want the burger to be dry, yet too many condiments can make for a goopy mess. A properly cooked burger (not one where the juices have been squished out of the patty by a heavy-handed burger cook with a metal spatula) doesn’t really need a lot of condiments–just enough to slightly lube the bun and offer extra flavor.

5) Eat Your Vegetables

Some burger purists believe that vegetables shouldn’t be anywhere near a burger. Why would someone muddle up the taste of beef and bun with lettuce, tomato, and onion? Let’s face it, whether to garnish your burger or not to garnish your burger is highly personal. Some people like their burgers with a simple slice of pickle. Others like grilled onions and mushrooms. Some freaks like grilled eggplant and hummus. Who’s to say they’re right or wrong? As long as you can still taste the beef, go ahead and put a tossed green salad on the frickin’ thing if you want.

6) Burger and Fries

Many people can’t fathom the idea of having a burger without a side of fries. (The same goes for a creamy milkshake.) But often fries served in American restaurants are processed frozen products that taste nothing like real spuds. It’s even worse when those processed “freedom” fries arrive at your table undercooked–resembling a plate full of wiggly, white worms. Establishments that aren’t lazy and apathetic actually hand-cut their own fries, which can make a great burger taste even better. Shame on all you half-asses for serving those highly seasoned curly fries.

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