Bun-and-patty lovers, the time has arrived: We’re living in a burger Golden Age. The American classic has come a long way from its roadside roots and yellow-paper wrapping. Franchises like In-N-Out and Shake Shack have spread the gospel far and wide with their improved “fast-food” concepts, adding brilliant flourishes like potato-roll buns and mustard-grilled double-decker patties (or “Animal Style,” to those in the know). Meanwhile, top chefs have eagerly entered the fray as well, inspired to build next-level, gourmet versions of their own. These kitchen heroes assess every single component of the burger, carefully weighing balance and flavor.

Five-time Burger Bash champion Josh Capon of NYC’s Burger & Barrel spreads a smoky bacon jam with caramelized onions to ensure each bite is packed with porky essence. In Atlanta, Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch believes two thin patties, as opposed to a single thick one, optimizes the crust-to-meat ratio. And while chefs continue to experiment and find new ways to trademark styles, some think a return to basics is the most effective way to reach burger glory. Husk’s Sean Brock loves the melt-factor of gooey American cheese; gastronomy wizard Wylie Dufresne insists that a store-bought Martin’s potato bun is peerless. Which goes to show: There’s no one, perfect burger—just many forms, and all equally deserving.

burger_wylieTHE BUN
Wylie Dufresne, chef at Alder (NYC)
“A Martin’s potato bun is quintessential. It’s soft, so toasting gives it a bit of crunchy texture. We brush one side with beef fat infused with garlic and thyme.”

burger_brockTHE CHEESE
Sean Brock, chef at Husk (Charleston, SC)
American cheese is basically a sheet of equal parts sauce and cheese acting as a blanket to secure everything on the burger. It’s also very gooey, which keeps the patty moist.”

burger_caponANIMAL STYLE
Josh Capon, chef at Burger & Barrel (NYC)

“Once the patty goes on the grill, smear the raw side with a nice dose of mustard before flipping it. The meat absorbs the flavor, which enhances every bite.”

burger_lintonTHE PATTY
Linton Hopkins, chef at Holeman & Finch (Atlanta, GA)

“I like the meat to develop a good sear and crisp edges. Two thin patties offer more surface area to caramelize than just a single, thicker patty. It’s all about balance.”

This story appeared in the April/May issue of Complex. Illustrations by Yulia Nidbalskaya.

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