In honor of Top Chef Duels, airing tonight on Bravo at 10 ET., we’re taking on some food duels of our own.
With Labor Day weekend in the offing and cookouts on everyone’s minds we’re going to take on that age-old argument of which burger is the right burger: thick or thin. The great burger spectrum includes many shining examples of each, but there can be only one winner. And don’t give us any of that “it’s just personal preference” nonsense. There is a best style of burger and FWx’s Noah Kaufman and Justine Sterling must find it.
NK: It’s a mistake to think of thin burgers as basic. Yes, most of the extravagantly dressed burgers you see out there are meaty monsters. But there’s no reason your thin burger can’t be fancied up with bacon and avocado or whatever your dream toppings may be. And you can stack those toppings between multiple thin patties.
JS: One of the greatest things about a big, thick, juicy burger is not only how its meatiness will hold up to any toppings you throw at it—but also how you can stuff it with whatever your crazy mind comes up with. A thick burger is like a tasty drug mule. But instead of little baggies of cocaine, it can be stuffed with cheese (where are my Juicy Lucy fans?!), short ribs, lobster, bacon, foie gras, truffles, anything! Now that’s having it your way.
NK: The thin burger is one of those rare entrée dishes you can eat while simultaneously holding a beer. That alone should give it maximum points in this category. But in addition to being handheld, it is also a very clean eat as far as sandwiches go. Assuming you haven’t topped it with an entire shoulder of pulled pork you can easily fit the burger, from top to bottom, in your mouth, ensuring a perfect bite.
JS: It depends on what kind of thick burger we’re talking about. If we’re talking about your basic grilled burger, about an inch and a half thick, with a good, sturdy bun, then the thick burger is just as easy to eat at a cookout as anything coming off the grill. But if we’re talking three fingers of beef—then maybe it’s time for a plate and, possibly, a knife and fork. Now, calm down, a knife and fork is a perfectly fine way to eat a burger. It makes it easier to savor the perfect mound of meat.
NK: High heat and a couple minutes a side is all you need for a totally finished meal. If you’re in a particular hurry you can even have the patties prepped at the grocery store. The only thing easier to have at a cookout is a bag of potato chips.
JS: Why do you have to pay more attention to thick burgers than thin burgers? Because it actually matters how much time they spend on the grill. There’s a spectrum of doneness when it comes to thick burgers. But thin burgers—it’s well-done or it’s not done. Isn’t a little more effort worth getting your burger cooked the way you want?
NK: Do you know how many people die every year because of mistakenly undercooked hamburgers? 374. OK, I made that number up. But the point remains the same. There are serious dangers when cooking a thick burger. Health concerns are only one. It could fall apart while you’re trying to flip it. It could tip over because it’s been overtopped. It could squirt its (admittedly delicious) juices all over the white dress you’re wearing for the last time before it’s no longer allowed after Labor Day. Like a panic room or a strong set of arms, you can always feel safe with a thin burger around.
JS: It’s not the thickness of the burger that’s the danger, it’s the quality of the meat. If you are using good meat from a reputable source then you can usually cook it as bloody as you please and not blink an eye. If you’re buying bargain-basement meat from a big-box store then, yes, maybe thick isn’t the way for you. Cook up one of those gray hockey pucks instead and sleep soundly.
NK: The nice thing about a thin burger is that you aren’t overly burdened with meat flavor (yes, this can be a good thing sometimes). You can still get plenty of it though. Smashing a burger thin gives you crispy, caramelized patty with the perfect amount of beefy flavor. Because the burger, you see, is a complex sandwich with many different parts that deserve their place on your taste buds. You should be able to taste the perfect melding of beef with tomato, cheese, onion and even mayo if you’re a crazy Canadian.
JS: Meat! The primary focus of a burger is the meat. It should be the first thing you taste and the last thing you taste. If you want to taste tomatoes and lettuce, make a salad.
NK: Yes, there are some less than ideal champions of the thin burger: McDonald’s, Burger King, Krusty Burger. But where would any of us be without In-N-Out, without Five Guys, without Shake Shack? These are the artery-coating burgers we need as a nation and as a people. Not to mention, thick burgers have to contend with the embarrassment of whatever this is.
JS: Oh, let me think…Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro, Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys, April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig, Sang Yoon’s Father’s Office, Jose Garces’s Village Whiskey, Gabriel Rucker’s Le Pigeon, Peter Luger, Minetta Tavern—I think I’ve made my point.