By Evan Bleier / May 24, 2019

How to Not Screw Up Your Burger, According to a Hamburger Expert

George Motz shares nine ways to save your Memorial Day burger

Burgers on a grill. (Tesa Robbins from Pixabay)
Burgers on a grill. (Tesa Robbins from Pixabay)

George Motz, the author of four books and director of a documentary film about hamburgers, has some pretty serious burger bona fides.

Motz, who is currently developing a burger-related television show and working on opening a restaurant, estimates he’s eaten 15,000 burgers over the past 20 years. We’ll do the math for you: about two per day.

“I’ve had the great benefit of developing a huge legion of followers that really get what I do. They’re true fans. Actual hamburger fanatics,” Motz tells InsideHook. “So instead of having to seek out harrowed places by accident, I have what I call EBT’s, expert burger tasters, all over America that will go into a new place or an old-school restaurant and let me know if it’s still good, is a horrible place or worth a visit. So when I eat them now, pretty much every burger I eat is fantastic.”

George Motz. (George Motz)
George Motz. (George Motz)

To ensure every burger you eat is as fantastic as the ones Motz now ingests on a regular basis, we asked him about the patty pitfalls you should avoid over Memorial Day and beyond.

Here are nine of them.

Where’s the Beef? It Better Be on Your Burger.

“A great burger has to be made with fresh ground beef. Can’t be frozen. Also, it has to be beef. Some people get confused saying, ‘Oh, well I ate a tuna burger, George, it was so good’ and I’m like ‘That’s not a burger.’ To me, that’s like a tuna sandwich that has been cooked. To me, a burger is defined as chopped beef cooked and served on bread or some kind of toast. But the number one component for a great burger has to be fresh ground beef. It doesn’t need much to taste fantastic. With a turkey burger, you need to add breadcrumbs, eggs and spices. If you just put a ball of turkey on a flattop, it would become nothing more, like a hard piece of cardboard. It needs things to help it become moister. It needs an egg, and it needs all the cheese inside … it needs layers. That’s more of a science experiment or a baking project than it is an actual hamburger.”

Never Forget the KISS Principle. (Keep it Simple, Stupid.)

“For me, I like to keep things simple. If it’s too complicated, you start getting involved with truffle oils and all this kind of stuff. And it really becomes more of a vehicle for people just to put stuff on a burger. I’m a purist. I believe in the original hamburger, which only included chopped onions and mustard, and not even cheese. The hamburger actually predates cheese on a burger.”

Ketchup on a Burger Is Bad. Other Condiments Are OK.

“One mistake I love to talk about is ketchup. People think that you have to put ketchup on a burger and it’s the biggest no-no in the world as far as I’m concerned. Ketchup hides the flavor of beef. As long as you can still taste the beef, and know that you’re having a hamburger experience, then you can put whatever you want on there. Scientifically, things like mayonnaise, mustard, onions … those things all work towards helping enhance the flavor of the beef. Things that are sweeter like ketchup and other sweet sauces tend to take away from the beefy flavor.”

Sorry. Mac ‘n’ Cheese Is NOT a Condiment.

“There has been a trend lately to put mac ‘n’ cheese as a burger topping. And it’s just idiotic because the texture of mac ‘n’ cheese is not good for a burger at all. It was honestly done as a stunt and made for Instagram. So it has become a parcel of a bigger issue that’s happening in the restaurant world where restaurants are creating stunt burgers just to get people in the door. And one of the greatest examples is the mac ‘n’ cheese burger. When you look at a mac ‘n’ cheese burger, your brain says, ‘Oh, burger. Oh, mac ‘n cheese’ but you don’t put them together in your mouth. You would rather put them together as you see them. So it looks amazing, ya know, gooey cheese dripping over a greasy burger, but then you taste it. It’s totally wrong. Hot pasta does not belong in your mouth when you’re trying to enjoy a burger.”

Trust the Processed. Embrace American Cheese.

“I love American cheese. I’m the biggest fan and people are afraid of American cheese. It makes me crazy because they say it’s not really cheese, but it actually is still cheese. Literally, every single type of cheese is processed. So there’s no way around that. It’s not processed much more than anything else. Are there chemicals in it? Sure, but it’s nothing that you can’t eat. It makes me nuts. American cheese is just unaged cheddar. That’s all it really is. It’s been processed a certain way, where they have taken the moisture out of it so it can last longer.”

Don’t Poke the Bear. And Don’t Press the Burger.

“If you’re working on a flat top or cooking an open flame, don’t press the burger. If you press the burger from a ball into a flat patty on your griddle or flat top, never press it again. It was the way that all the original short-order cooks, from the beginning, the dawn of the hamburger would cook. They would just scoop portions of beef, throw them on a flat top and then whack them with the back of a spatula into the shape of the burger and just leave it alone so it actually could develop juices. Especially on a grill, people tend to flip a burger and then press it when they flip it. Don’t ever flip and press. That will kill your burger immediately, ruin it.”

Avocado on a Burgers Is Fine. Guacamole Is Not.

“Avocado is actually good. Not guacamole, no no no. Guacamole is weird on a burger and its very strange in a burger. Just pure avocado itself is actually a really healthy thing to put on a burger. It’s one of the only sorts of true healthy things, other than lettuce and tomato, that I would allow on a burger. I love tacos, so to me, it’s like having a taco burger. It’s brilliant. Guacamole is weird. I think it’s kind of a bizarre combination and it doesn’t sit well, I don’t think.”

Have Beers. But Have Them After Cooking Your Burgers.

“My advice is always put the beer down until you’ve got the burger right because the burger moment itself only takes a few minutes. Cooking burgers for a group, it probably takes ten minutes tops to actually be at that grill and making magic happen. I have made the biggest mistakes when I’ve been drinking and completely lost track of what I was doing, I overcook burgers, I undercook them. People say, ‘Yeah they’re good burgers’ but they’re not that great. So if you can really stay focused, just stay focused for those ten minutes and then start drinking.”

Don’t Treat Your Burger Like a Hot Dog. It’s a Sandwich.

“Yes, a hamburger is a sandwich. If you put stuff on bread and then put it in your mouth, I think it’s definitely a sandwich. With the exception of a hot dog. A hot dog is not a sandwich. A hot dog is a hot dog. It’s a very special thing and I say that because a hot dog started as something you eat on its own. It started as a sausage and then someone put it on bread to make it portable at a state fair probably somewhere in the United States, maybe not. I don’t know the hot dog’s history, but I do know that it definitely was designed to be portable food, a portable sausage. But unquestionably the hamburger is definitely a sandwich.”