It’s the most ridiculous thing.

People act like it’s a nuclear launch code.

Others are holy proselytizers, initiating neophytes to their sacred practice and insisting on strict compliance.

Some do it the way dear ol’ dad did.

Some say mom had the secret.

And, as ridiculous as it may be, when you’ve got the knack, it’s mouth-wateringly worth it.

What’s all the fuss about?


Not the burger as a whole – that’s a whole other column – just the patties.

The patty is, of course, the core of the burger. Tomatoes, mustard, onions – those things are just supporting acts. The main attraction is the patty. If the patty ain’t right, we’ll, you’re just wasting propane, regardless of Aunt Emily’s homemade three pepper relish.

People are inordinately proud of their hamburgers.

Burger skills get mentioned in resumes. Yes, the candidate may be applying for a six month sojourn on the International Space Station, but his burger skills indicate he’s a well adjusted individual who, incidentally, happens to favour a blend of pork and bison when manning the grill.

But people are not just proud of their burger skills, they’re competitive.

I’ve heard men complain that they don’t want to go to so-and-so’s house for a barbecue because, “Don doesn’t know Thing One about burgers”.  The standard complaint is that some journeyman barbecuer will botch the burgers and everyone will have to secretly go to McDonald’s drive-thru on their way home.

The secrets of the self-anointed master are broad and far ranging. They include simple steps, like making a divot in the middle of each patty so as to allow the centre to cook at the same rate as the perimeter. I’m sure you’ve met the patty pro who winks as he deposits an ice cube in the middle of each patty. The premise is the same: to even out cooking time.  But these interventions are hardly secrets. The real magic happens long before the grill. 

There are a lot of considerations when fashioning a batch of patties. What’s it going to be? All beef? Custom ground or Costco special? Maybe your secret ingredient is the addition of a little Wagyu beef? Or perhaps your prowess resides within a proprietary blend of beef, lamb and pork? You certainly have to have a position on the fat to lean ratio. When all that’s decided, the next big question is what’s in the binding mix. Some recipes insist on crumbled Saltines. Maybe panko plays a role here?  Bread crumbs or their equivalent are usually part of any recipe.

Some recipes call for evaporated milk. There’s agreement on eggs; they’re indispensable. Minced onion is a matter of opinion. Seasoning is always a complex issue. Garlic, I’d wager, can’t be omitted. Black pepper and salt of any description are crucial and beyond that, you can run the gamut of your spice rack, including cinnamon, apparently.

This month’s Cook’s Illustrated magazine says forget all that. Their revolutionary recipe uses only mushrooms to bind everything together and the venerable publication states that if you follow their instructions, they ‘guarantee that it’s the most incredibly moist and tender burger you’ll ever eat”. It’s all based on the role of myosin in beef. When meat is vigorously ground and mixed, a gluey protein called myosin is dissolved and can cause patties to be tough. The food scientists at Cook’s Illustrated say the trick is to blend sautéed mushrooms into the ground beef, taking care to remove the mushroom’s excess moisture.  Briefly blitz the beef, sautéed mushrooms, and a little salt – that’s it! – in a food processor to maximize the development of myosin, then form the patties, and cook them as you would. The myosin forms a scaffold for the mushrooms and the net effect is a mouth-wateringly juicy patty. 

I’d thought I’d share this with you now so you can run some tests prior to Canada Day. 

Cue the ‘cue!

This week’s question for readers:


Register for The Plain Jane newsletter and stay up to date with upcoming contests.

Submissions to last week’s question:

Where do you draw the line? Is culture a justification for entertainment where animals are exploited?

Estimada Juana,

Tortura no es cultura.

Douglas Jameson 

Excellent vignette today in the Sun re the French version. Years ago, in Arles, I was curious to see what the non-fatal bull-show called Course Landaise was. Turned out it was just a bunch of game, well-toned, white-shirted jeunes hommes running around trying to avoid the horns coming at them. Lots of jumping into the stands at the last instant, crowd oohs and aahs, etc.

The bull, though physically unmolested, was clearly upset and I was soon in sympathy with him. He just wanted to go home. The whole thing was sad.

I love French culture, but there is much I do not understand.

Dennis E Bolen

You should be ashamed of yourself. Watching the first slaughter is one thing but to stay for the rest of the slaughter. Come on. I hope your kids are not permanently affected by this stupidity. 

In horror,

Matthew Garrey 

My first adult traveling adventure was three weeks in southern Spain in 1976. I had read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon  before I went so I could appreciate the art and history of a bull fight.  We managed to get tickets to a small “corrida de toros” near Tourremolinos for a late afternoon spectacle.  Even though I thought I was prepared, my friend and I both found the whole experience very distasteful. They cut off the ears of the bull that a rookie matador had slain as a trophy for him to keep. Needless to say, we left early. The upside was that we had the best paella ever in the little town around the corrida

Denise Howell

I had the same experience in France. I was stunned by what I saw but stayed  so I could speak with some authority on the subject. Pity the bull!  Bullfighting dates back to the third millennium BCE when the Indo-Aryan god, Mithras, is reported to have slaughtered a bull and that bull’s blood became the life-giver for the whole planet.  

There are ancient Mithraeum temples all over Europe that spread the cult of bull-killing  but just because something is ancient doesn’t mean we should give it a pass. 

Name withheld

We may not kill the dolphin but I’m pretty sure dolphins don’t really want to swim with humans who’ve paid so they can feel like they’re in a scene from Flipper.  Elephants are horribly abused so that they can be made to carry humans but riding one is still on lots of people’s bucket list.  Also think of the poor battery hens that supply our eggs while living horrible lives. All of us need to review the choices we make and vote with our wallets. Talk is cheap.

B. Hope

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