In recent months, our family cooking experiments have been plant-based or gluten-free meals. Besides our wanting to eat less processed food, this strategy has helped us to finish off our garden produce using creative combinations of vegetables, grains, herbs and fruit.

Photo courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen.

But when my son Henry laid eyes on “The Ultimate Burger,” an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook promising the burgers, as well as “DIY condiments, sides and boozy milkshakes,” he suddenly remembered what he’d been missing! No question, there is something very satisfying about a meaty, juicy burger sandwiched inside a warm, squishy bun.

“The Ultimate Burger” begins by advising home cooks how to choose ground beef, or consider turkey, fish, even vegetables, to make burgers. The Burger Basics chapter also offers directions on how to grind beef at home, while the final chapter offers nutritional information on the burgers. (But do you really want to know?)

The recipes cover a range of burgers from traditional, such as Classic Beef Burgers, to alternatives such as Jucy Lucy Burgers and Brie Turkey Burgers – both are stuffed with, rather than topped with, cheese. Readers will also find recipes for grilled, griddled and steamed burgers, and for such regional variations as Oklahoma Fried Onion Burgers, Wisconsin Better Burgers, and Tex-Mex Queso Fundido Burgers.

We found that the homemade condiments, sauces, relishes and sides – such as onion rings and cole slaw – along with recipes for various types of buns (brioche buns, kaiser rolls, etc. ) were what make each burger recipe unique.

Several recipes in “The Ultimate Burger” are inspired by famous sandwiches. There’s a “banh mi” burger, for instance, and a reuben burger, which is the one we decided to test. Before we could start, the recipe required two sub-recipes: a grind-your-own beef burger blend and an easy sauce.

Yet more choices: The cookbook offers four recipes for homemade burger blends. We used the sirloin burger blend recipe. The sirloin tips made for a strong beefy flavor and denser texture than store-bought ground beef. Henry loved the burgers, but another family member found them a tad dry. If I made the recipe again, I’d add more butter or oil when grinding the beef or perhaps increase the sauerkraut mixture and melted cheese as a way to moisten the burgers further.

Like many of the recipes in this book, the reuben burger instructs the cook to make a divot on one side of the patty, where the garnishes will eventually go. This is a terrific idea, especially when there are multiple toppings, as it helps them stay put.

Reuben Burgers

Serves 4

1 recipe Grind-Your-Own Beef Burger Blend (see recipe)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus extra as needed

6 ounces thinly sliced deli pastrami

1 ½ cups sauerkraut, drained and pressed

1 teaspoon caraway seeds toasted

4 slices deli Swiss cheese

4 hamburger buns toasted

½ cup Classic Burger Sauce (see recipe)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Divide burger blend into 4 lightly packed balls, then gently flatten into ¾-inch thick patties. Using your fingertips, press center of each patty down until about ½-inch thick, creating a slight divot.

Season patties with salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet over high heat, and place patties in skillet divot side up, cook until browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes, flip and cook on second side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer patties to baking sheet, divot side down, and bake until burgers register 120 to 125 degrees for medium rare or 130 to 135 degrees for medium, 3 to 8 minutes. Transfer burgers to platter and let rest while making topping.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet (or if necessary, add extra oil as needed to equal 1 tablespoon). Add pastrami and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir in sauerkraut and caraway seeds and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Turn off heat and separate mixture into 4 portions in skillet and top each portion with Swiss cheese. Cover and let sit until cheese has melted, about 3 minutes. Serve burgers on buns, topped with pastrami mixture and burger sauce.

Sirloin Burger Blend:

2 pounds sirloin steak tips cut into half-inch pieces

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Arrange beef in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm and starting to harden around the edges, 35 to 45 minutes. Pulse partially frozen beef in a food processor until finely ground and spread on baking sheet. Drizzle with melted butter and gently toss with fork to combine.

Classic Burger Sauce:

I used apple cider vinegar in place of the white vinegar called for here, and it worked perfectly well.

Makes about 1 cup

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup ketchup

2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.