Medium rare is best. I used to order my burgers medium but I was so wrong. A burger cooked medium rare makes it juicier, which in turn assists all of its toppings in melding together to create a great mouthfeel and better overall eating experience. A fact I guess I chose to turn a blind eye to, but no longer. I know better now.
The toppings are key. The veggies that I believe should always accompany a burger are lettuce, tomato, and onion with an optional addition of pickle and/or relish (pickles AND relish on the same burger I’ve found to be pretty fantastic). The sauce I believe should always come standard is mayo or one that is mayo based. Any thousand island, house sauce, house spread, or aioli is guaranteed to be mayo based usually. The sauce that I believe to be an optional addition, but I highly recommend, is mustard. It really just sets off all of the burger’s natural flavors fantastically.
Cheese is a must. A burger, in my opinion, just doesn’t taste like a burger without cheese. And not just any cheese. American. Yes. That melty, salty, orangey yellow colored, glorious cheese. I believe it to be the ultimate choice for a burger. Having said that, am I going to knock other cheese options? Of course not. If you go to any high end burger restaurant, you’ll find a plethora of pre-designed burger options, many of which do not include the almighty American. Should you be eating these? Yes. But in my opinion, when you go to a one-off burger stand and they say “would you like American, cheddar, provolone, pepper jack, or etc.” you should always be saying American. A greasy spoon griddle burger with American cheese was meant to be.
The musts: lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo based sauce, American cheese
The optional but recommended: pickle, relish, mustard
I have only come across one thing I believe SHOULD NOT come standard on a burger: ketchup. Unless it’s part of a gourmet option where their house ketchup is part of a grand scheme to create a specific flavor profile, I don’t believe it should be included. I reserve ketchup solely for the fries. This way I get two distinctly flavored dishes within the same meal. If you pour the restaurant-stocked tabletop Heinz all over your burger AND fries you’ve created a one note meal in my mind.
What qualifies as a “one-off” is a sliding scale. There are those glorious hole in the wall joints that specialize in burgers and little else, but many places like these that have the word “burger” in their restaurant name only have them accounting for about one fifth of their menu. Should these places be ignored because of this fact? Mmm, perhaps. But I’m starting to see that this can be more quickly forgiven at a one-off than a chain. Many of these family-run “burger” stands are worth it for the atmosphere just as much as the burger itself. And for that reason, I’m not discounting as many of them as I once was simply because their menu isn’t dominated by the burger. Although it does help.