Just as you’d expect from a man with a burger empire (three food trucks, bricks-and-mortar Bernie’s Burger Bus in Bellaire and two more in the works), Justin Turner has a multitude of tips on making a restaurant version of America’s favorite sandwich. “You can create the exact same experience [at home] as you’d get at Bernie’s.” (Minus the giant yellow school bus parked inside, we’re guessing.)
Turner prefers a cast-iron skillet for better conductivity, and high heat to provide optimal browning. “You look for a great crust, and don’t play with it,” he says. “Flip it twice, three times at most”—and that third time should only be if you flipped it too early the first time around. In addition, he recommends liberally salting and peppering both sides of the patty, adding a final dash of kosher salt at the end, just before sliding it out of the skillet and onto a plate to rest.
But wait, you’re not done yet, not until you’ve toasted your buns in the post-burger skillet. “You soak up all that great fat that leaked out.” He likes to toast both sides of each bun for maximum flavor and texture, and recommends spreading a thin layer of mayo on the bottom bun, which will prevent it from getting grease-logged, while the top should get a layer of acidic condiments like mustard and/or ketchup to contrast with the cheese. Finally, Turner crowns his burgers with julienned romaine lettuce, slow-roasted tomatoes and house-made pickles. “Everyone should make their own pickles,” Turner reveals, smiling but serious. A terrific burger is always greater than the sum of its parts, of course, but that doesn’t mean each part shouldn’t be awesome.
The Perfect, Basic Burger
Yield: one beautiful burger
- 6-ounce ground beef patty (see Tips)
- 1 challah bun (like those at Slow Dough Baking Co.)
- salt and pepper
- condiments and fixings
Heat cast-iron skillet over high flame for one minute. Place burger patty into center of heated skillet and press down lightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook two minutes per side, seasoning other side once flipped, or until desired doneness. (Note: ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees to be safe.) Remove patty and allow to rest. Turn off stove, but leave skillet on burner. Toast buns in skillet until browned. Dress toasted buns with condiments and fixings to taste, as described above. Add patty. Eat.
Where to Shop
Turner considers Whole Foods Market a one-stop-shop for all things Bernie’s: ground-to-order beef, Slow Dough challah buns and bottles of Turner’s own homemade ketchup.
Tips and Tricks
Get your beef ground to order. “Most places like Whole Foods, Central Market and Pete’s Fine Meats will grind certain cuts for you,” Turner says, recommending a blend of 50 percent brisket, 30 percent chuck and 20 percent short rib.
Fat equals flavor. If you’re not getting it ground to order, supermarket ground beef for burgers should be “no less than 80/20,” although 70/30 is best, says Turner.
Fight back. After you press the patty into the skillet, make a small divot in the center with your thumb. This will prevent it from puffing up in the center and cooking unevenly.
Bite back. If you like the flavor of raw onions but not the bite (or the breath), Turner says to give your slices a quick, 30-second bath in white vinegar to remove the allium heat.
As promised, Justin Turner's recipes for a few of his other burger staples: chipotle aioli, slow-roasted tomatoes, house-made pickles and double-fried french fries.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 c. olive or canola oil
- 1 1/2 T. white vinegar
- 1 1/2 T. lemon juice
- 2 T. chipotle in adobo
- 1 t. dry mustard
- 1 T. honey
- salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients except oil together. Whip at high speed (with blender or by hand) for 90 seconds. Add oil. Blend well until combined. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- 1 large heirloom tomato, sliced
- 1 T. olive or canola oil
- salt to taste
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange tomato slices on lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Roast for four hours. Remove and allow to cool. Will keep in the refrigerator for two to three days.
Turner prefers the classic 3-2-1 ratio of water, vinegar and sugar for his pickled cucumbers.
- 3 c. boiling water (Turner recommends a good mineral water like Evian or Fiji)
- 2 c. white vinegar
- 1 c. white sugar
- 6 small cucumbers, peeled, rinsed and sliced into coins
- seasonings to taste (this should include at least one liberal pinch of kosher salt, and can also include whole cloves, whole juniper berries, whole bay leaves, whole toasted cardamom pods, whole peppercorns and pinches of turmeric)
In a large mixing bowl, combine boiling water, vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add remaining seasonings. Pour pickling liquid over cucumber slices in large mason jar. Seal jar tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Pickles will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Twice-fried French Fries
Finding the perfect potato is essential for making the perfect fries, says Turner. Look for Burbank, Russet Norkotah or Kennebec potatoes at the grocery store. If the type of potato isn't listed on the sign, Turner says, just ask; the produce manager will guide you to the best potatoes for fries.
- 2 pounds potatoes
- 2 q. peanut oil
- salt to taste (Turner prefers a blend of kosher salt and Maldon sea salt flakes)
Wash the outside of each potato thoroughly and dry. Cut each potato into 3/8-inch fries; Turner says each potato should yield about 14 fries. Meanwhile, heat peanut oil to 250 degrees in a deep pot. Immerse fries directly into oil and cook for 12 to 17 minutes. Remove and allow to rest while you heat the peanut oil to 350 degrees for the second fry. Immerse fries in oil once more after the temperature reaches 350 degrees. Cook for no more than 3 1/2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Salt to taste. Serve hot.