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The Science Of Hamburger Buns

The hamburger bun deserves more attention than it gets. It serves multiple functions. Here is the job description for the Ultimate Hamburger Bun:

  • Freshly baked
  • Not so strong as to outshine or dull the flavor of the beef
  • Firm enough to hold together when wetness attacks it
  • Soft enough that you don’t squeeze out the juices when you bite
  • Large enough to overhang the edges of the patty, usually 4 1/2″
  • 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. 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. Let’s give props to Mickey D’s for popularizing the sesame seed bun with it’s interesting texture and flavor. The strangest bun I’ve seen, and frankly, just the thought of it turns my stomach, is the donut bun. You heard me, some goofballs have decided to place their beef between two glazed donuts. That is simply wrong, man.

One of the best buns 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 soaks the cut sides with clarified butter. Not a light coat, a lot. It then goes down on a medium hot griddle, and stays there until it is deeply toasted, and I mean deeply. The brown is well beyond the surface, perhaps 1/8″ thick. When you bite into this burger the bun makes an audible crunch.

My favorite storebought bun is one a local baker sells. It is eggy and brioche-like. 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 treatment is to melt two tablespoon of butter per bun, paint it on the cut sides 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.

Brian “Breadhead” Foreman is an active member of the Pitmaster Club and he created a wonderful Brioche Hamburger Bun recipe for us. Click here for the recipe.

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Published On: 8/13/2012 Last Modified: 3/23/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


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