Something as ordinary as a cheeseburger can present a surprising number of variables to consider. Seared or grilled? Stuffed? How big should the bun be? Sesame seeds or not? Toasted? With butter or with beef fat? And when you start thinking about the cheese and other accoutrements, the list of possibilities only grows.I prefer a burger cooked on the flattop to one cooked over charcoal. I love how the juices and fat that escape during the cooking process hang around, caramelizing and working their way back into the patty. I’ve done a lot of research into cheeseburgers, and my favorite method is the one used for the smash burger. The idea is pretty simple: You portion your meat into a ball, season the outside heavily with salt and pepper, and smash it hard with your spatula onto the hot griddle. The most important part of this technique, after the initial smash, is to leave the burger alone. Right at the beginning, the proteins in the meat make it stick to the flattop, and any attempt to move it would result in a sad mess. But as the patty cooks, the delicious beef fat within renders out, crisping up the bottom and sides of the patty until it releases from the griddle. Most of the time, I don’t add any additional fat to the griddle, but sometimes, depending on the fat content of the meat, I may add a touch of beef fat or butter to help the burger cook. After 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, you’ll just start to see the edges getting crispy and brown, and the aroma will be off the charts. The deep, almost crunchy crust you achieve by cooking a burger this way gives it an incredible flavor. Then flip the burger very carefully and cook it just long enough to soften the onions and melt the cheese that you’ve added on top, another minute or so.You can find more delicious recipes in Sean Brock's cookbook, South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations.
I always grind the meat for my burgers myself, using a mix of chuck and flank steak. The freshness really comes through. But if you don’t have a meat grinder, you can have the butcher do this—buy the meat the day you plan to make the burgers.