Secret Sauce & Quick-Pickled Onions (+ How to Make A Great Burger)
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Last week, while scrolling through emails on my phone, I came across a subject heading from Tasting Table that gave me pause: Never Grill a Burger Again.
And then an unsettling image flashed through my head: me, hovering over a sauté pan, flipping burgers in my 100-degree kitchen as my guests reveled outside.
Did I dare make this vision a reality? How could I not? I’ve always considered burgers one of the hardest things to get right, and this post offered a path to burger domination. I followed the tutorial nearly to a T, and Ben, completely unaware of the experiments I had been conducting, declared it the best burger he’s ever eaten.
How to Make A Great Burger
- Sear burgers (as opposed to grill) in a heavy-bottomed pan to prevent fat from being lost, which leads to “a dried-out patty with a charred exterior.” Cooking the patty in fat helps keep the patties juicy.
- Use cold meat as opposed to room temperature to create a good sear.
- Tasting Table (and others) suggest using a mix of sirloin, chuck, and short rib. I can’t ever find the energy to go through this effort. I buy grass-fed beef and look for 20% fat.
- Make a sauce: the recipe included below is a mixture of pantry staples (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, minced pickles, cayenne and cornichons), a combination that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
- Quick pickle some onions: thinly slice onions and macerated them in vinegar. These, I find, to be essential. Recipe below.
- Season aggressively with salt and pepper, use a neutral flavored oil, don’t overcook — depending on the size and thickness of your patties, the timing will vary and may take some trial and error to get right. For patties about an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each, four minutes a side over medium-high heat has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers.
- Make brioche buns: This recipe is no-knead, foolproof, and delicious: The Best No-Knead Brioche Buns
Secret Sauce & Quick-Pickled Onions
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 1/2 cup
Source: Tasting Table
For the Secret Sauce:
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles or cornichons
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon sweet paprika or smoked
For the Quick-Pickled Onions
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- To make the secret sauce: In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until blended. Put the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the quick-pickled onions: In a small mixing bowl, combine the onions and vinegar. Season with salt and allow the onions to macerate until they have softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Condiment
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: secret sauce, burger, condiments
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
32 Comments on “Secret Sauce & Quick-Pickled Onions (+ How to Make A Great Burger)”
I love those buns!
*Drool!* this looks insanely delicious!
Yum!!The sauce sounds similar to the in n out sauce, no? Totally trying this this weekend!
A perfect potato burger bun is my idea of heaven! Can’t wait until you get your recipe just right. I like the sound of the secret sauce, too.
Alicia, me, too! I am going to keep at it 🙂
Those buns look perfect! What isn’t working out with them? I would love a good squishy potato bun recipe too 🙂
Haley, the buns are very very good — seriously, we’ve been gobbling them up — but they just don’t have that squishy texture I’m looking for. I’m wondering if it’s because the squishy ones have artificial crap in them that can’t be replicated at home? These taste more like the light brioche buns I’ve linked to. Happy Fourth!
Ohhhh man! I so admire your dedication to buying grassfed beef (checked Hardwick’s site, they commit to sustainability and animal welfare guidelines too!). As a new vegetarian, I’m still finding my sea legs — but vegetarian is the wrong thing to call myself since I am not opposed to occasionally eating meat that is thoughtfully and humanely raised such as Hardwick’s. Or my mom’s lambs. You know. [But no more Chinese-restaurant mystery meat, no more budget frozen chicken thighs (a former staple!) and NO soy protein isolate fake meats, either :)]
The next time a burger-craving strikes I will buy some nice, happy beef and try this stove-top method! Our outdoor grill is so tiny anyway, we can probably fit more burgers on our cast iron hahaha! I am fascinated by the cold meat tip and of course not losing the fat through the grill grates (and causing flare-ups that make meat taste icky!) would make for a juicier burger! MOVE OVER Bobby Flay. I love this sauce, too. I wouldn’t have thought so since Thousand Island is not my jam but I trust you that it is greater than the sum of its parts! Just in time for the 4th. Have a wonderful weekend!
Sophie, you are inspiring. Sometimes I think about being vegetarian — I definitely eat more meat because of Ben — but overall we’ve cut back a lot of our meat eating mostly because grass-fed/humanely raised options are limited. I like your approach. Also, isn’t it the truth — the worst part about learning about where your food comes from is the joy taken out of cheap, greasy, delicious eating. Alas, choices, right? The cold burger meat tip was a revelation. Love it. Happy Fourth!!
Hi, Ali! That is so interesting about the temperature of the meat. I just saw a segment on the perfect burger where Geoffrey Zakarian said you must, must always start with cold meat. I was surprised because I, like you, always brought my meat to room temperature. Glad to know you have tested this with great success (as I will be making burgers for the fourth). The one thing I always do when making burgers is make your light brioche buns. So GOOD!! Thanks for sharing the tutorial! Happy 4th to you and yours!
Oh, last night I made your nectarine, basil and balsamic reduction pizza and it was delicious!! The only difference was that I added a good quality Canadian Bacon. My husband and I ate the whole pizza down to the last crumb. Another great recipe, Ali.
Wonderful to hear this, Trish! A friend just sent me this New York Times video: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/dining/how-to-make-a-great-burger.html?_r=0 and Sam Sifton says the same thing about using cold patties for burgers — something about the importance of the fat being cold. So happy you like those brioche buns. I will be making those too if these potato buns keep given me trouble 🙂 I have two potatoes left to experiment with. And I am so so happy to hear about the pizza — that is so good this time of year. I’ve been dying to dry a plum-ricotta pizza in the same spirit. Happy Fourth, Trish!
Thank you for sharing the link for the video. It was an interesting article.
And the plum-ricotta combo sounds delicious!
Have a safe and happy holiday!
Ali! These burgers are to die for! It’s so funny how we end up doing similar things at the same time! We also recently re-discovered pan fried hamburgers as well! That’s a great tip about using chilled meat, too! We also learned that basting the burgers alongside some aromatics gives the meat great flavor. Throw some rosemary and thyme sprigs and a couple of smashed garlic cloves in the pan with the burgers and baste with the juices! Glad we’re not the only ones standing over a hot pan! Oh–one more thing, the last time we made them, we used the griddle side of a cast iron griddle/grill pan on top of the grill grates–that way you can still cook them outside and not heat up the house! Happy 4th of July!
Tracey, you are brilliant! I love all of these ideas: the basting of the burgers with smashed garlic and thyme; using the griddle pan on top of the burger…seriously amazing. Thank you for sharing. Hope you had a great Fourth!
I just found your blog via The Wednesday Chef and promptly subscribed. These are the buns I’m trying out tonight. https://thecookslife.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/homemade-hamburger-buns/.
Welcome, Constance! Wonderful to hear this. How did the buns turn out? I’m dying to make a great potato bun.
Well, you don’t show a photo of the inside of the burger, and in my opinion, that’s where most people go wrong. Not with grilling vs. skillet cooking. Just overcooking, period. Leaving them on the grill or in the pan too long. Everything else is just fluff.
I would agree — overcooking is where most people go wrong. That said, this method, from the cold meat to the pan cooking, really produced a superior burger to any I have made at home. I’ll snap a picture of the inside next time I make one.
This is the first year I have not had a grill in my life for eons. I have been debating about getting another, but so far I haven’t convinced myself. Here is another reason why I don’t really really need one. That was a great post. Thank you.
Hi Alexandra, I am a big fan of your website and I’ve tried most of the recipes. I made the potato buns last night and they turned out to be marvelous. I did add another half teaspoon of salt and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for only two hours. After shaping the buns I let them rise at room temperature for a little more than one hour. I think without the extra salt the buns would have been too bland for our taste. I’m going to make burgers with port and stilton tonight (adapted from Umami in SF, but until now I couldn’t make the burger buns like theirs. But these potato buns are pretty close!)
Shruti! This is awesome! Thank you so much for writing in with this. I have two potatoes on hand and have been meaning to experiment again but was feeling a little potato-bunned out. But more salt makes total sense and is such an easy fix! I felt like the recipe was close, and now I am so excited to try again. How did the burgers turn out? Port and stilton sounds amazing! Would love to know your process on the burger making. Thanks so much again, and sorry for the delay — I’ve been out of town for about a week.
For the port and stilton burgers, I cook about a cup of ruby port over moderate heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan and reduce it to about two tablespoons. Then just 1 min before the meat is ready (which is already seasoned with salt and pepper) I sprinkle some garlic and onion powder, top it with stilton and let it soften a bit. Lastly, I drizzle it with the reduced port. I also drizzle just a little bit of port on the buns for the flavor. I’ve thought of buying some Umami powder which they use in the restaurant, but not sure if it’s really worth it.
Shruti, this sounds too good. Oh my. I love reducing ruby port — it’s such a great way to get big flavor with little effort (aside from patience and vigilance). I have never heard of umami powder but it sounds interesting. Might be fun to try just once anyway? Thanks so much for sharing your method. I am totally going to try this!
Those little pillows of potato buns look perfect. I’m looking forward to trying the burger this way! We tried the NYT stovetop steak recently and it was excellent.
Ooooh, I’ll have to check out that stovetop steak. Thanks!
Have you tried using your baking steel to cook hamburgers yet? I put my steel directly on my induction cooktop tonight to make flatbread and it was amazing. I’m going to try the burgers on my baking steel next, but heated outside on the barbecue grill in order to avoid the fumes.
As for the rolls, I had great luck with this recipe for pull apart buns from King Arthur:
I added an egg to the dough to increase the squishy factor.
Next I’m going to try this Amish potato roll recipe, also from King Arthur:
Lynnette, I have not, but have been dying too. I think BS has a griddle Steel with a groove to catch grease that I am dying to try out, but I might just have to try my regular Steel out first. Flatbread sounds like so much fun, and you are giving me a great idea for my next Baking Steel post. Did you top them with anything? That would be fun, too. And genius idea to move the Steel to the grill.
THank you for the two links to the potato bun recipes. Will try those soon!
One of my secrets is to season the meat with garlic salt rather than regular salt…shared with me decades ago by an old fry chef working at the best burger joint around.
Love this! Thanks, Gary!
This looks yummy. The real essential to a good burger is quality freshly ground meat that is not cooked dry! Grill it or fry it. It doesn’t matter. IT WILL BE GOOD.
You are SO right Diana!!
thank you admin for sharing your knowledge with us !!! it is quite informative .. totally love it