For the last few months, I've been working on being more conscious about my grocery and takeout spending. Something I wasn't too comfortable with was making a restaurant (or even fast food) quality burger at home. Especially during the colder months where we don't have our barbecue as an option. As a household, we need to stop grabbing so much takeout on busy days.
Cue research on how to make fast food burgers at home. I've compiled the complete guide on how to make a burger that beats any fast food joint - and one that's simple enough to want to put in the effort.
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Ingredients for Fast Food Burgers
The best thing about fast food burgers is how customizable they are to your taste. For each of the components, I'll include a few options to either maximize flavours, save time, or save money. For inspiration, I've looked towards Wendy's, In n Out and McDonald's primarily. Taking the best parts of each to create a quick take on fast food burgers at home.
Bread is good no matter what you choose. Personally, I gravitate towards brioche but a classic burger bun is good, too. The most important thing to consider is getting a delicious toast on the bun. Ideally, you want to either dry toast it on cast iron, or toast in in butter for a more rich bread.
If you want to go all out for an amazing quality burger, you can grind your own meat using something like this Kitchen Aid Meat Grinder Attachment. For beef, you want something with a really good fat content. An amazing trick is to grind and mix some beef chuck and bacon to get a really flavourful blend.
Alternatively, if you don't want to put in the effort to grind your meat, you can skip out on the oil and replace it with bacon fat to infuse flavour while grilling.
For a classic taste of fast food burgers, American cheese is usually what is used as a topper. However, if you prefer real cheese, an old cheddar will make a slightly more tangy addition. Mozzarella slices also makes a delicious addition to a burger.
Say what you want about McDonald's, there is nearly no better burger topping that Big Mac sauce. It can now be purchased from many grocery retailers, but I always recommend making your own. Below is a recipe for McDonald's Big Mac sauce that rivals any chain.
If you're more of a burger purist, ketchup and mustard are delicious on any burgers. For a creamier kick, throw on some mayonnaise to complete any fast food burger.
For a classic fast food burger, staple toppings include pickles, tomato, lettuce and onion. Any variety of these will work, but I gravitate towards raw white onion (soaked to remove the bite), dill pickles, beefsteak tomatoes and iceberg lettuce.
Of course, alternatives like red onion, Roma tomatoes, bread and butter pickles or romaine lettuce are all fine contenders, but they just aren't the typical "fast food burger" addition. With that being said, use what you have! If you have romaine but not iceberg, don't let it go to waste unless you have another dish you can use it for.
Technique: How to Make Fast Food Burgers
There really isn't much difficulty or even technique to making a good burger. I'll admit, though, that it's always something I've shied away from because my dad always handled the burgers in our family. He always cooked them on the barbecue year round because he had ours stored in our garage.
Barbecue burgers are delicious, but if you don't have access to one a cast iron pan will be more than sufficient. You can use stainless steel or non-stick, but a good brand of cast iron will really make a difference. I recommend finding a used one from family or a consignment store like Value Village. Otherwise, buy a reputable brand like Lodge. Another great option is Amazon Basics cast iron - their cookware including their dutch ovens has been really impressive.
Cooking the Burgers
A trick I've grown to love from In N Out is adding some mustard to one side of the raw burger before grilling. It gives a really nice caramelization to the burgers. Another tip is to only salt the patties, not to season the actual meat.
Something not enough people talk about is proper burger size. You want to make your patty larger in width than you think you need. Ideally, you want the diameter of the patty to be an inch wider than the bun to make sure that when it shrinks, it's still big enough.
Fast food burgers are thin to make cooking them quick and efficient. However, instead of doubling up on patties, I like to make mine quite thick at home. Ideally, you want about ¼lb or slightly under of raw meat per burger. Although not the most beautiful photo, here's an after shot of how thick I like my burgers. Aim for an inch and a half thick before cooking.
Make sure to check out some of our other copycat recipes if you enjoy making all your favourite recipes at home and if you want to nail another fast food favourite, try my Beer Battered Haddock to skip out on the to-go tab.
How to Make Fast Food Burgers at Home
- Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 lb ground beef
- 4 tsp mustard
- salt to taste
Big Mac Sauce
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 4 tbsp french dressing
- 3 tsp relish
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp onion minced
- 1 tsp white sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 4 brioche buns
- 1 beefsteak tomato
- ½ head iceberg lettuce
- ¼ white onion sliced
- 4 slices American cheese
- 12 slices dill pickles
Prep: Night Before
- Combine all ingredients for Big Mac sauce. Let sit in the frige for a few hours, up to overnight. While chilling, stir once every few hours.
Ingredient Prep and Mise en Place
- Remove lettuce and wash in ice cold water. Dry and set aside.
- Cut the tomato into ½ inch slices.
- Cut onion into thin slices. Place in an ice bath for 5-10 minutes to remove bite. Drain and set aside.
- In a dry cast iron pan, toast the buns cut side down. Set aside and keep under a plate to keep warm while cooking the burger buns.
- If grinding own meat, take ¾lb of beef chuck and ¼lb of bacon and grind together. Mix until combined and set aside. Form into patties about 1 inch wider than the diameter of burger buns and line with parchment paper. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- When ready to cook, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat with either oil or bacon fat. Season the patties with salt and cook for 4 minutes on the first side. Before flipping, add 1 tsp of mustard on the raw side, and then flip. Place a slice of cheese on the burger to melt while the second side cooks - for an additional 2-3 minutes or until an instant read thermemoter reads 160 degrees.
- Take the bottom of the burger bun and line with a spoonful of Big Mac Sauce. Next, place the lettuce, tomato, onions followed by the burger and cheese. Top with pickles. Top the upper bun with a bit more sauce and serve with sides of choice.