Laurent Tourondel, who was named one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs in 1998, was born in France. But his U.S. empire—including BLT Steak, BLT Prime and BLT Fish—is focused on food that's all-American. He recently opened BLT Burger in New York City, with eight different kinds of burgers, including lamb merguez, salmon and vegetarian options. His favorite burger, however, is an all-beef version topped with classic American fixings. "Even when I was in Paris, I loved burgers the way they're done in America," he says. Here, his five tips for burger perfection.
1. Buy the proper meat
"For the best flavor in burgers, I like the ground meat to have 20 to 25 percent fat, and I combine different cuts of beef to get the ideal lean-to-fat ratio. I use sirloin, chuck, short ribs and brisket. I grind them on a medium setting—too fine and the burger will be too dense; too coarse and the burger will be too crumbly. Since most people don't have meat grinders, I tell them to have a butcher do it for them so the meat is fresh. The preground meat in the supermarket is usually packed too densely."
2. Form the patty
"I think a seven-ounce patty is the perfect size for one person, and it fits on the bread nicely. You want to make a patty that's compact enough that it won't fall apart. There's nothing worse than biting into a burger that falls all over the place. But don't pack the meat too much, because then the fat won't melt the way you want it to and the burger won't cook properly. And don't forget to season! I season the patties with salt and pepper right before I cook them."
3. Grill vs. griddle
"I prefer cooking burgers on a flat-top griddle—on a grill, the fat from the burger drips off, and I like when the burger cooks in that fat. This way, the exterior gets nice and crisp. If people really want to grill their burgers, I tell them to not cook over heat so high that the outside chars completely."
4. Cook to perfection
"People might think it's crazy, but I brush burgers with butter before I fry them. [Don't use butter if you're grilling.] It has better flavor than oil and a natural sweetness that caramelizes on the griddle. I cook burgers over moderately high heat to just medium-rare. To me, that makes the juiciest burger."
5. Choose the best fixings
"I am French, but to me, American cheese belongs on a burger. Roquefort doesn't belong on a burger. I also like sweet pickle relish, mayonnaise, ketchup, red onion, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. Iceberg is best because of the crunch. You need that nice crunch on a burger. For bread, my favorite is Arnold Select buns with sesame seeds. Soft bread like that is best because it doesn't fall apart. I just toast the buns for a few seconds on the griddle before serving."