Chef Peter Kelly’s Tips On How To Make A Hamburger Really, Really Good

How do you make Westchester’s best burger three years in a row? We asked Peter Kelly to share some tips on making the best burgers you can.

To get ready for Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Festival, we sat down with three-time Burger & Beer Blast champion Chef Peter Kelly to get his best tips on how to make a burger (the award-winning way) at home.

Q: What do you think are the secrets to making a really good burger?

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A: It’s all about proportion and heat source. I like to use a flat top and make a thinner burger, not a meatball-style burger. That way, you get a little char on the outside, but you can leave the center to your temperature preference. And obviously, the quality of ingredients you use is reflected in the flavor of the burger, so the better the beef you use, the better your burger.

Q: What type of beef would you recommend?

A: You want something that has a pretty good fat content. Short rib is good; chuck is good too. I like a 75-25 or 70-30, and if you have a leaner cut of beef, you can get some extra fat and cut it in.

Q: Have you seen where people grind bacon into the meat for extra fat? What do you think of that?

A: It’s okay. I’m not a huge fan of it. One of the burgers that I won with was an aged beef and foie gras burger. Foie gras adds its own juiciness and richness to the burger, so that’s a great addition.

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Q: If someone doesn’t want to use beef, what makes a good alternative?

A: Well, I’ve done that. This year, my burger will not have beef in it, and last year I won with tuna. Tuna is a good choice because it has the same kind of eating quality as beef. Salmon, which also has a high fish-fat content, also makes a good burger.

Q: Why do you prefer a flattop to a grill?

A: It’s more controllable and you don’t get as much flame up, especially with burgers that have a high fat content. On a grill you get a lot of charred bits. It’s not the best.

Q: Beyond the meat, what other things are important? How do you go about choosing a bun or cheese or condiments?

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A: It has to work with whatever the main ingredients are. So, if you’re doing beef, then the complimentary components should work with that. [For beef], I like a tomato and mustard seed compote. We use toasted mustard seeds and fresh tomato that’s braised with vinegar and a little bit of sugar. It’s pretty much the ingredients of ketchup, but it’s much more piquant and full-flavored than plain, old ketchup.

Q: What about something a little easier?

A: I think a good barbecue sauce can add another element to the burger, like Hoboken Eddies. Not a massed produced barbecue sauce that’s too sweet. I also like to add mayonnaise to a burger topping. We make a fresh mayonnaise rather than using jarred.

Q: I noticed from your past Burger & Beer Blast entries, that you often don’t put cheese on your burger.

A: If you make the right burger, you don’t need the cheese. I’m not opposed to it, but if the burger is rich enough, you don’t need to add it. Cheese hides the flavor and the quality of the meat you’re using.

Q: What about choosing the right bun?

A: I think it has to have tenderness to it. Again, proportion is very important. If it’s just some big, fluffy bun, then you’re getting all bread and no burger. And vice versa, if there isn’t enough bread to soak up the juices, then it’s too squishy. You want something that’s going to hold up.

Q: Do you think you’re going to win again this year?

A: I’m not there to win. I’m just there to make sure everybody is happy. For me, I’m happy that people voted for me and thought that my burgers were the best of the best, but I’m not there to win the competition. I’m there to support the event.

Looking for more kitchen inspiration? Catch a cooking demonstration by Peter Kelly and sample food and wine from the county’s top vendors at Saturday’s Grand Tasting Village. Tickets available here.

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