Sign up for our Newsletter

The humble hamburger gets special treatment, with hand-ground beef, a homemade bun, coleslaw and roasted french fries. (Credit: John Ross)

The hamburger is a culinary icon in the United States. It is an American symbol of a fast-moving lifestyle where convenience is king.

Its origins are in the late 19th century as immigrants populated a rapidly industrializing America. Many immigrants came from northern Europe and crossed the ocean on Hamburg America Line ships. These ships served a seasoned minced beef along with bread. This may have inspired the name of the future American sandwich of ground beef served on a bun.

But it was the fast-food revolution that forever elevated the hamburger to cult status. The earliest pioneer was White Castle, founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kan., by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson. In 1954 and 1955, McDonald’s and Burger King, respectively, followed suit. Along with many others, they changed the way we eat and live our lives.

I have rarely eaten fast-food burgers. I don’t like the squishy texture, the greasy taste and the lousy feeling in the stomach after finishing one of them. But I do enjoy ground beef and the trimmings of a burger. For those of you who want to try the real deal, here are the recipes to replicate the American icon from scratch. You will be surprised.

The dill pickle: Begin the day before by purchasing one of those long English cucumbers. Peel it, cut into thin slices and place slices in a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Add to a saucepan 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed and 1/2 teaspoon dill seed. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove from the heat. Let it cool slightly and pour over the cucumber mixture. Refrigerate overnight.

The meat: Purchase a boneless chuck roast weighing about 2 1/2 pounds. Cut it into half-inch cubes, trimming away excess gristle and fat.

Grind the meat in a meat grinder, using the large holes once and finishing with the small holes. If you don’t have a meat grinder, pulse the meat in your food processor, being careful not to overprocess.

When the meat is ground, find the lid of a jar that is about 3 inches in diameter. Lay a piece of plastic film over the lid with lots of overlap. Fill the lid with ground beef and press it firmly with your hands. Lift it out with the plastic film and place on a foil-lined sheet pan. Repeat with all the meat. You should get 8 hamburger patties of about 4 ounces each.

Cover and refrigerate.

The buns: Let 2 tablespoons of butter come to room temperature.

Add 1 cup hot water to the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter to the water along with 1 beaten egg. Add 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 cups of whole-wheat flour. Add 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 package of instant yeast.

Place a dough hook on the mixer and mix at low speed until the ingredients are well combined. Gradually add 1/2 cup flour and increase the speed to medium. When the dough clings to the dough hook and cleans the bottom of the bowl, remove to a floured surface.

Roll the dough in flour and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour.

Punch the dough down, remove from the bowl and cut into 8 equal pieces. Dust these with flour and knead each into a smooth ball. Flatten each ball with your fist into a disk about 3 inches in diameter. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Heat an oven to 375 degrees, brush the rolls with melted butter and place them in the middle of the oven. Set the timer for 18 minutes. They should come out golden-brown and firm. Brush them with butter again and let cool on a rack.

The special sauce: Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1/4 cup sour cream. Stir in 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 tablespoon minced onion, 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and a few drops of Tabasco.

The french fries: Peel 4 large Idaho potatoes and cut them into wedges. Place the wedges in a bowl of hot tap water and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels. Toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon canola oil.

Add 1/4 cup canola oil to a sheet pan and spread it around with a pastry brush. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper evenly over the sheet pan.

Place the potato wedges cut side down on the oiled sheet pan. Cover with foil and place in a 475-degree oven for 5 minutes. Remove the foil and continue roasting for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and loosen the potatoes with a thin metal spatula. Turn them over with tongs and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined pan and serve.

(This excellent recipe was adapted from the “America’s Test Kitchen” cookbook.)

The coleslaw: Remove the outer leaves of 1 small head of cabbage and cut into quarters. Slice off the core and slice the cabbage as thin as you can. Cut these slices in half and place them in a large bowl.

Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Using your clean hands, toss this mixture thoroughly with the cabbage. Add shredded carrots, peppers and onion if desired.

The fixin’s: Wash and trim 4 leaves of romaine lettuce and cut into 8 pieces; cut 2 vine-ripened tomatoes into slices; cut 8 thin slices from a red onion; cook 8 strips of bacon until just beginning to crisp; and unwrap 8 slices of American cheese.

Cooking and assembly: Spray a grill plate with no-stick and heat to very hot on the stove. Cook the hamburger patties to desired doneness. Slice the rolls and place all of the garnishes on a tray.

Serves 8 very good burgers.

John Ross