Gift Guide: For the Burger-Maker
Aspiring junior burger-maker in your midst? Or perhaps a hardcore amateur trying to up their game? Here are six essential items for any burger-maker-lover in your life—tried-and-true tools they'll use every time they fire up that grill or griddle—plus two ingredients to help make great burgers.
A Meat Grinder
If there's one thing you can do to take your burger to the next level, it's grinding your own meat. You'll get better flavor, better texture, it's safer, and you'll look totally badass while you do it. While it's possible to grind meat in a food processor, or even to chop it by hand, a dedicated meat grinder is your best option if you plan on grinding meat on a regular basis. If you own a stand mixer, all of the major brands have their own attachments, including Kitchenaid—available in plastic ($41.95) or in metal ($149.99)—and Cuisinart ($116.75).
For the true burger enthusiast, consider getting a standalone meat grinder like this one from Waring ($149), which offers more power, and a slid die-cast metal body that will grind you through your toughest jobs.
Plastic Squeeze Bottles
Maybe this sounds vulgar, but burgers are just begging to be squirted on. Whether it's mustard, ketchup (please don't), In-n-Out-style burger spread, or even a batch of homemade mayonnaise in two minutes or less, the squirting and storage process becomes much easier when you've got a few handy squeeze bottles (three for $6.99) hanging around. They can all be yours (or your favorite burger lover's) for a couple bucks apiece.
A Stiff Spatula
For something less expensive, there are a number of readily available online options, such as this Square End Commercial Spatula ($5.48). Key qualities to look for: a very stiff, firm head perfect for smashing your raw beef into the griddle to maximize contact and produce a perfectly browned crisp crust, along with a full tang—that is, the metal head should continue directly all the way to the top of the handle for optimal robustness.
Unicorn Magnum Pepper Mill
I've said it before and I'll say it again: A burger without pepper is like a bath without bubbles. And when I say pepper, I mean real, honest-to-goodness, freshly cracked from real-life whole peppercorns, not flavorless dust-from-a-can pre-ground stuff. Leave it on the shelves!
There are a lot of pepper mills on the market, some worth buying, some not. You want one with a large capacity, an adjustable grind size, and a 100 percent metal grinding mechanism for maximum lifespan. Peugeot may be the Cadillac of pepper mills, but the Unicorn Magnum ($36.90) is the Toyota Camry. It's not much to look at, but it works extremely well, rapidly pulverizing pepper and distributing it evenly over your food. I've had mine for over 5 years now in heavy use with not a single lapse in service. That's $40 well-spent in my book.
Commercial Salt Shaker
I sure love my salt cellar, and there's nothing like pinching salt between your fingers to feel exactly how much you're using, but when you're working rapidly, don't want to get meaty fingers into the salt cellar, or need to season a lot of things FAST, you'd be well off to have a nice high-volume salt shaker. These Commercial Stainless Salt Shakers ($6.75) are the same ones you see in diners and drive-throughs all over the country where cooks use them to rapidly and evenly coat foods with a dusting of salt. I keep one up by my stove at all times.
Cast Iron or Blue Steel Skillet or Crepe Pan
Cast iron or blue steel are the best surfaces for retaining high heat and getting a nice sear on your griddled patties. It's cheap, durable, and pretty good looking to boot. (See our guide to buying, seasoning, and caring for cast iron here.)
While the deep-walled cast iron skillet is the more common pan design, for burgers I actually prefer the shallow slope-sided crepe pans ($24), which give you a little more leverage when smashing and scraping up patties.
Pat LaFrieda's Short Rib Blend Burgers
Nobody knows burgers like Pat LaFrieda. You can order their amazingly awesomely tasty burger blends online for home delivery. My favorite is the rich short rib blend (starts at $44 for 3 pounds), though you can also get a brisket blend (starts at $40 for 3 pounds), or the original blend (starts at $40 for 3 pounds)—the one that made LaFrieda a household name and put New York on the burger map.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.