The Science of Hamburger Buns
"It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun." Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald's chain
The key is to choose something that:
(1) Won't dull the flavor of the beef,
(2) Is large enough to envelop the patty,
(3) Allows the patty to take center stage,
(4) Is firm enough to hold together when wetness attacks it,
(5) Is soft enough that you don't have to bite down too hard and squeeze out the juices, and
(6) Is squishy enough to form fit around its payload so things don't fall out.
A good grocery store hamburger bun will do if it is fresh, but you can set your burgers apart with something a little better.
Some of the best burgers I've eaten in restaurants are served on kaiser rolls (more flavor), onion rolls (nice toasted onion flavor), brioche rolls (buttery), challah rolls (eggy), French bread roll (crusty), ciabatta rolls (lots of air pockets to hold juice), and pretzel rolls (salty and sturdy). Let's give props to Mickey D's for popularizing the sesame seed bun with it's interesting texture and flavor.
Without a doubt the best bun I've ever had was at Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, MI. James Beard Award winning Chef Alex Young takes a house-made onion roll and loads the top half with clarified butter. Not a light coat, a lot. It then goes doen on a medium hot griddle, and stays there until it is deeply toasted, and I mean deeply. The crown is well beyond the surface, perhaps 1/8" thick. When you bite into this burger the bun makes an audible crunch.
What you don't want is a bread so hard or crusty that you have to tear it with your teeth, like ciabata or bagels. The strangest bun I've seen, and frankly, just the thought of it turns my stomach, is the donut bun. You heard me, some places have decided to appeal to heathens with a super sweet tooth by placing their beef between two glazed donuts. That is simply wrong, man.
One important step is to warm the buns, or better still, add texture to the sandwich by toasting them. Cold rolls right from the fridge are a turnoff. 20 secs in the microwave will make them warm and soft.
My favorite bun is one a local baker sells. It is eggy and at the same time brioche-like. My favorite treatment is to melt one tablespoon of butter per bun, paint it on the cut side all the way to the edges because the edges tend to burn, and then toast it so it is golden and crunchy. You can toast them in a pan or on a griddle before the meat goes in, on the grill grates, under the broiler, or in your toaster oven. Watch carefully because they can burn quickly. If you are afraid of vampires, mix a little garlic powder in the melted butter. I'm often warding off vampires.
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