How to Build the Perfect Cheeseburger from Scratch
A new book from comfort food master Dennis Prescott reveals how to make every part of an Instagram-worthy burger, right down to the ketchup.
Dennis Prescott remembers perfectly the best burger he ever had:
My father and I were driving down the I-95, on route to Nashville, Tennessee and stopped for lunch at a local, non-descript diner. The burger was flat-top cooked to perfection; perfect crust, delicious sauce, crisp in-season veggies, all stacked on a buttery brioche bun. So good! The everyday dishes that we oftentimes take for granted can be absolute heaven when cooked properly.
For Dennis—food photographer, longtime F&W contributor and author of the new cookbook Eat Delicious—this story taps into some fundamental truths about burgers. A burger isn’t just about how it tastes, but also the context in which you eat it. “They’re loaded with nostalgia,” says Dennis. “When you’re in need of a pick-me-up, a burger is sure to make you feel better. And when you’re feeling great, a burger will make you feel like a million bucks.”
The allure of the burger makes it an especially compelling subject for photography, and Dennis’ preoccupation is evident in his oeuvre. Just take a look at his Instagram and you’ll see what we mean. “Because burgers are stacked, they tend to appear larger than life when photographed head on,” says Dennis. “They truly are the superhero dish in the world of food photography.”
But Dennis doesn’t just take pictures of burgers. He cooks them, too, and his new book shows us how to make a picture-perfect burger in a multitude of ways. His instant classic cheeseburger—made entirely from scratch—might be our favorite.
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It comes as no surprise that Dennis has many pro tips to offer in the realm of burgers. To combat wimpy-patty syndrome, he says to “ensure that the patties are slightly larger than the width of the bun...Beef will shrink when cooked, and this helps to make sure that every bite is full of deliciousness.” To get that perfect crust, “a well-loved cast iron pan is your new best friend.”
“The better the beef, the cheese, the veggies, and the bun, the better the burger,” says Dennis—and these buns are excellent. Brioche can be a challenge, but you’ll be glad you went the extra mile with this buttery recipe.
For those who think homemade ketchup might be a waste of time, Dennis wants you to reconsider. “It’s well worth investing a little more up front,” he says. His recipe creates depth of flavor with a cabinetful of spices.
Even with something as innocuous as mayonnaise, starting from scratch is always best. “You’ll know exactly what’s in your food, and the taste is a total game changer,” says Dennis.