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How do you build the perfect cheeseburger? We asked 3 burger-obsessed Dallas folks

We’re big fans of the double-double. Condiments are up for intense debate.

Lettuce, tomato and onion don’t make a cheeseburger better. There, I said it.

I wasn’t willing to admit that I like a veggie-free burger like my 5-year-old daughter eats, but y’all nailed me on Twitter. I was enjoying my first P. Terry’s fast-food burger on a road trip back from Austin when a few of you took offense to the architecture.

The cheeseburger from P. Terry's, a fast-food chain in and around Austin and San Antonio, is...
The cheeseburger from P. Terry's, a fast-food chain in and around Austin and San Antonio, is made with a beef patty, a slice of classic American cheese and special sauce. Controversially, food writer Sarah Blaskovich cut the lettuce and tomato.

“Did you really get that without any veggies? No onions, pickles? No lettuce or tomatoes??” somebody asked.

I really did.

And I loved it.

But, see, I’m just the scribe, not the chef. So I spent all week thinking about what makes the perfect cheeseburger. Some things that plagued me: Does anyone really like shredded lettuce, that watery excuse for greens that lands in your lap with every bite? If we’re allowing onions, can’t we agree that caramelized ones offer so much more depth and personality than raw onions do? And it’s true that a double-double — that’s double meat, double cheese — is the ultimate burger build, right?

I turned to three Dallas experts to guide us toward the perfect burger.

Former Top Chef contestant Danyele McPherson, who runs the culinary program for HG Sply Co., Standard Service, Hero and Leela’s Wine Bar, likes a simple flat-top burger. She goes for thin patties, double-stacked.

So far, so good.

McPherson is the perfect person to opine on the construction of the perfect burger, because she’s studied the correct placement of each item for years. Put the tomato in the wrong spot and it shoots out the back with the first bite. Smear the sauce in an unfortunate place, and the burger landslides.

Executive chef Danyele McPherson is one of our best burger brains in Dallas. The...
Executive chef Danyele McPherson is one of our best burger brains in Dallas. The double-double is the perfect construction, she says, a "double threat."(Andy Jacobsohn / Staff Photographer)

McPherson says the meat needs to be 80/20 or Wagyu, finely ground to create a “melt in your mouth consistency.” She likes beef from 44 Farms, and she seasons it with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

On to cheese: “There is only one cheese for burgers and it is American,” she says.

Yes, chef!

“It’s not about the flavor, it’s about the melt. The flavor should be coming from the beef,” she notes. That’s a smokin’ hot tip.

“The bread is just as important as the burger patty itself,” she continues.

“You want something squishy-soft but with enough heft to withstand all the meat juices and condiments without eroding it into oblivion. Toasting the bun in an obnoxious amount of salted butter is a must. I prefer to put the butter directly on the flat top and griddle the bun in the melted pool until it is golden brown, edge to edge. From there, the bun should sit on a rack to cool for a couple minutes before topping with a burger. This gives it a chance to achieve maximum crunch. I love a good potato or brioche bun.”

Do you feel that?

You feel it, right? We’re empowered. And now we’re making burgers tonight.

Read on.

Chef Danyele McPherson’s perfect burger

Starting from the bottom:

  • A salted-butter griddled potato bun from Signature Baking
  • Two 44 Farms beef patties, cooked medium. Each patty gets topped with American cheese “and stacked into a double threat,” she says.
  • Paper-thin shaved sweet onions — not chopped. They fall off if they’re chopped.
  • Dill pickles from Hunn’s (they’ve got ‘em at Sam’s, or at any of McPherson’s restaurants)
  • Swipe of mayo-ketchup blend on the top bun. Or, a “giant pool of ketchup” on the side, she says.

Why the ketchup on the side?

“I always feel like the spread interferes with the toasted bread crunch, so I have a pool of ketchup on the side and dip before each bite,” McPherson says.

And more about that sauce on the underside of the top burger bun: Our chef says it helps keep the burger together: “The toppings tend to stick to the cheese, which keeps them from falling into your lap.”

Before you graduate from this Burger 101 class, take some advice from two other burger meisters.

Landon Amis, director of operations for all Rodeo Goat restaurants, has been experimenting with burgers for 10 years. He hits us with the truth real quick:

“The perfect burger is a myth. Let’s be honest here, it’s not an attainable thing. Wrapping your hands around the perfect burger is about as far-fetched an idea as listening to the perfect song. Even if you found something close to perfection, its awesomeness would fade with time, like any hit song that’s gotten overplayed on the radio,” he says.

But we asked the question, and he gave a righteous answer.

“The pursuit of perfection is worth the effort.”

Here we go.

Landon Amis’ almost-perfect burger

These are tips, not a bottom-to-top construction.

The Big Tex Burger at Rodeo Goat is serious: It's a 44 Farms beef patty, topped with a...
The Big Tex Burger at Rodeo Goat is serious: It's a 44 Farms beef patty, topped with a chicken-fried mashed potato cake, bacon, a fried onion ring and chorizo gravy. It's available for a limited time during the State Fair of Texas.(Landon Amis)
  1. Go fresh: Fresh cut veggies. Made-from-scratch spreads. And the freshest, highest-quality ground beef you can get your hands on. If able to grind your own, even better.
  2. Elevate those spreads. Mustard fan? How about a beer-infused, whole-grain? Mayo your thing? It’s got to be garlic and herb aioli. Little sweet, little heat? Treat yourself to a jalapeño and pickle chutney.
  3. Season both sides of the patty right before cooking it. Kosher salt and coarse black pepper do wonders. Don’t skimp.
  4. Use a flat griddle. Respect that beef and don’t overcook it. It needs a touch of pink.
  5. Butter those buns and toast them up real good. That crunch needs to hold up against any spread.
  6. If cheese and/or bacon is your thing, use them. Try a whiskey cheddar or a candied bacon.
  7. Build it artfully. Make it Instagram-worthy. Don’t let all the effort put in prior to this point be for nothing!
  8. Bring napkins. If you fear it might fall apart if you put it down, then you did it right. It should be so good, you wouldn’t want to put it down anyway!

OK, don’t get cooking just yet. Our final tips come from Brian Luscher, whose burger at the Grape (may it rest in peace) was named one of the best in Texas. That burger was a wonder, boasting horseradish pickles, Vermont white cheddar and slabs of bacon. Luscher now works at 33 Restaurant Group, which includes Suburban Yacht Club in Plano, Cadillac Pizza Pub in McKinney and more.

There’s one burger rule for Luscher: “Don’t get cute,” he says.

Chef Brian Luscher’s best burger

His quick tips:

Here's one of chef Brian Luscher's burgers at a former restaurant. The Uncle Herky Burger...
Here's one of chef Brian Luscher's burgers at a former restaurant. The Uncle Herky Burger was made with two Wagyu beef patties, American cheese, mayo, mustard and grilled onions. (David Woo / Staff Photographer)
  • Season it with a “light snow” of kosher salt and plenty of fresh, fine-ground black pepper.
  • Grill or sear it on high heat. Luscher prefers a medium-rare/medium burger.
  • Use salted butter to toast the bun. A kaiser bun is his pref.
  • Squeeze on “plenty” of yellow mustard, with “maybe a swipe of mayo.”
  • “Don’t get cheap or guilty with the amount of American cheese,” he notes.
  • And he doesn’t give a preference on extras, like pickles, lettuce, tomato, onions or bacon. Do it, don’t do it, that’s up to you.
  • A final word: “Did I already say don’t get cute?”

So: How do you build the perfect burger?

Tell us on Twitter or Facebook.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

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