Potato Buns (almost) & Two Essential Burger Condiments


Last week, while scrolling through emails on my phone, I came across one subject heading that gave me pause: Never Grill a Burger Again.

And then a depressing image flashed through my head: me, hovering over a sauté pan (albeit my favorite one), flipping burgers in my 100-degree kitchen as my guests reveled outside.

Did I dare make this vision a reality? How could I not? I’ve always considered burgers one of the hardest things to get right, and this post offered a path to burger domination. I followed the tutorial to a T (almost, notes below), and Ben, completely unaware of the experiments I had been conducting, declared it the best burger he’s ever eaten.

A few points from the article that struck me:

1. Searing in a heavy-bottomed pan versus grilling, the argument being that fat is lost when burgers are cooked on a grill, which leads to “a dried-out patty with a charred exterior.” Cooking the patty in fat helps keep the patties juicy. Makes sense, right?

2. Searing cold meat versus room temperature meat. I always allow meat to sit at room temperature for about an hour before cooking, but TT says, “the meat should be chilled when it hits the hot pan,” which will help create a good sear. It did.

3. The mix of meat: sirloin, chuck and short rib. This is the only place I strayed. I buy grass-fed beef, which leaves me with limited choices. I like the Hardwick beef sold at the Niskayuna Co-Op.

4. The sauce, a mixture of pantry staples (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, minced bread and butter pickles, cayenne and cornichons), a combination that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

5. The onions, thinly sliced briefly macerated in vinegar. These are essential.

6. The explicit instructions every step of the way: shaping the patties (dimensions included), seasoning aggressively with salt and pepper, using a neutral flavored oil, specifying cook times, and assembling the final burger — it’s just a great, thorough tutorial.

To grill or not to grill? These are the questions we must ask on the arduous road to burger domination. Happy Fourth, Everyone.

red onion

red onion, macerating

the special sauce

Hardwick grass-fed beef

seasoned with salt and pepper

cooking the burger

burger, resting

halved potato bun

sauced buns


Notes: I know that sautéing burgers for a crowd is wholly impractical, and maybe this weekend is not the time to experiment, but if you are just having a quiet little gathering, I am a believer in the pan-cooked method. I also believe that simply having the secret sauce and macerated onions on hand will bring any burger — pan-cooked, grilled, broiled, whatever — to a new level.

Find the full burger recipe on Tasting Table. I find I have to cook my burgers for about 4 minutes a side for medium rare.

Secret Sauce
Source: Tasting Table

⅓ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles (didn’t have pickles; cornichons worked just fine)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon sweet paprika (I only had smoked; it was delicious)

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until blended. Put the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Macerated Onions
Source: Tasting Table

½ red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the onions and vinegar. Season with salt and allow the onions to macerate until they have softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

Potato Buns:

TT recommends Martin’s potato rolls, but I would love to be able to make a great, squishy, soft potato bun at home. I’ve been working with this recipe the past few days, but it’s not quite there. Any suggestions would be most welcomed. And, in the meantime, if you’re looking for a great burger bun, these light brioche buns are always a hit.


potato, cooked

dough, ready to rise

dough, risen

buns, rising

buns, risen

buns, risen

buns, baked

feather light potato rolls recipe


  1. Haley says

    Those buns look perfect! What isn’t working out with them? I would love a good squishy potato bun recipe too :)

    • says

      Haley, the buns are very very good — seriously, we’ve been gobbling them up — but they just don’t have that squishy texture I’m looking for. I’m wondering if it’s because the squishy ones have artificial crap in them that can’t be replicated at home? These taste more like the light brioche buns I’ve linked to. Happy Fourth!

  2. says

    Ohhhh man! I so admire your dedication to buying grassfed beef (checked Hardwick’s site, they commit to sustainability and animal welfare guidelines too!). As a new vegetarian, I’m still finding my sea legs — but vegetarian is the wrong thing to call myself since I am not opposed to occasionally eating meat that is thoughtfully and humanely raised such as Hardwick’s. Or my mom’s lambs. You know. [But no more Chinese-restaurant mystery meat, no more budget frozen chicken thighs (a former staple!) and NO soy protein isolate fake meats, either :)]

    The next time a burger-craving strikes I will buy some nice, happy beef and try this stove-top method! Our outdoor grill is so tiny anyway, we can probably fit more burgers on our cast iron hahaha! I am fascinated by the cold meat tip and of course not losing the fat through the grill grates (and causing flare-ups that make meat taste icky!) would make for a juicier burger! MOVE OVER Bobby Flay. I love this sauce, too. I wouldn’t have thought so since Thousand Island is not my jam but I trust you that it is greater than the sum of its parts! Just in time for the 4th. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • says

      Sophie, you are inspiring. Sometimes I think about being vegetarian — I definitely eat more meat because of Ben — but overall we’ve cut back a lot of our meat eating mostly because grass-fed/humanely raised options are limited. I like your approach. Also, isn’t it the truth — the worst part about learning about where your food comes from is the joy taken out of cheap, greasy, delicious eating. Alas, choices, right? The cold burger meat tip was a revelation. Love it. Happy Fourth!!

  3. Trish says

    Hi, Ali! That is so interesting about the temperature of the meat. I just saw a segment on the perfect burger where Geoffrey Zakarian said you must, must always start with cold meat. I was surprised because I, like you, always brought my meat to room temperature. Glad to know you have tested this with great success (as I will be making burgers for the fourth). The one thing I always do when making burgers is make your light brioche buns. So GOOD!! Thanks for sharing the tutorial! Happy 4th to you and yours!
    Oh, last night I made your nectarine, basil and balsamic reduction pizza and it was delicious!! The only difference was that I added a good quality Canadian Bacon. My husband and I ate the whole pizza down to the last crumb. Another great recipe, Ali.

    • says

      Wonderful to hear this, Trish! A friend just sent me this New York Times video: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/dining/how-to-make-a-great-burger.html?_r=0 and Sam Sifton says the same thing about using cold patties for burgers — something about the importance of the fat being cold. So happy you like those brioche buns. I will be making those too if these potato buns keep given me trouble :) I have two potatoes left to experiment with. And I am so so happy to hear about the pizza — that is so good this time of year. I’ve been dying to dry a plum-ricotta pizza in the same spirit. Happy Fourth, Trish!

      • Trish says

        Thank you for sharing the link for the video. It was an interesting article.
        And the plum-ricotta combo sounds delicious!
        Have a safe and happy holiday!

  4. says

    Ali! These burgers are to die for! It’s so funny how we end up doing similar things at the same time! We also recently re-discovered pan fried hamburgers as well! That’s a great tip about using chilled meat, too! We also learned that basting the burgers alongside some aromatics gives the meat great flavor. Throw some rosemary and thyme sprigs and a couple of smashed garlic cloves in the pan with the burgers and baste with the juices! Glad we’re not the only ones standing over a hot pan! Oh–one more thing, the last time we made them, we used the griddle side of a cast iron griddle/grill pan on top of the grill grates–that way you can still cook them outside and not heat up the house! Happy 4th of July!

    • says

      Tracey, you are brilliant! I love all of these ideas: the basting of the burgers with smashed garlic and thyme; using the griddle pan on top of the burger…seriously amazing. Thank you for sharing. Hope you had a great Fourth!

  5. Elle says

    Well, you don’t show a photo of the inside of the burger, and in my opinion, that’s where most people go wrong. Not with grilling vs. skillet cooking. Just overcooking, period. Leaving them on the grill or in the pan too long. Everything else is just fluff.

    • says

      I would agree — overcooking is where most people go wrong. That said, this method, from the cold meat to the pan cooking, really produced a superior burger to any I have made at home. I’ll snap a picture of the inside next time I make one.

  6. says

    This is the first year I have not had a grill in my life for eons. I have been debating about getting another, but so far I haven’t convinced myself. Here is another reason why I don’t really really need one. That was a great post. Thank you.

  7. Shruti Puri says

    Hi Alexandra, I am a big fan of your website and I’ve tried most of the recipes. I made the potato buns last night and they turned out to be marvelous. I did add another half teaspoon of salt and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for only two hours. After shaping the buns I let them rise at room temperature for a little more than one hour. I think without the extra salt the buns would have been too bland for our taste. I’m going to make burgers with port and stilton tonight (adapted from Umami in SF, but until now I couldn’t make the burger buns like theirs. But these potato buns are pretty close!)

    • says

      Shruti! This is awesome! Thank you so much for writing in with this. I have two potatoes on hand and have been meaning to experiment again but was feeling a little potato-bunned out. But more salt makes total sense and is such an easy fix! I felt like the recipe was close, and now I am so excited to try again. How did the burgers turn out? Port and stilton sounds amazing! Would love to know your process on the burger making. Thanks so much again, and sorry for the delay — I’ve been out of town for about a week.

      • Shruti Puri says

        Hi Alexandra,
        For the port and stilton burgers, I cook about a cup of ruby port over moderate heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan and reduce it to about two tablespoons. Then just 1 min before the meat is ready (which is already seasoned with salt and pepper) I sprinkle some garlic and onion powder, top it with stilton and let it soften a bit. Lastly, I drizzle it with the reduced port. I also drizzle just a little bit of port on the buns for the flavor. I’ve thought of buying some Umami powder which they use in the restaurant, but not sure if it’s really worth it.

        • says

          Shruti, this sounds too good. Oh my. I love reducing ruby port — it’s such a great way to get big flavor with little effort (aside from patience and vigilance). I have never heard of umami powder but it sounds interesting. Might be fun to try just once anyway? Thanks so much for sharing your method. I am totally going to try this!

  8. says

    Those little pillows of potato buns look perfect. I’m looking forward to trying the burger this way! We tried the NYT stovetop steak recently and it was excellent.

  9. Lynnette says

    Have you tried using your baking steel to cook hamburgers yet? I put my steel directly on my induction cooktop tonight to make flatbread and it was amazing. I’m going to try the burgers on my baking steel next, but heated outside on the barbecue grill in order to avoid the fumes.

    As for the rolls, I had great luck with this recipe for pull apart buns from King Arthur:
    I added an egg to the dough to increase the squishy factor.

    Next I’m going to try this Amish potato roll recipe, also from King Arthur:

    • says

      Lynnette, I have not, but have been dying too. I think BS has a griddle Steel with a groove to catch grease that I am dying to try out, but I might just have to try my regular Steel out first. Flatbread sounds like so much fun, and you are giving me a great idea for my next Baking Steel post. Did you top them with anything? That would be fun, too. And genius idea to move the Steel to the grill.

      THank you for the two links to the potato bun recipes. Will try those soon!

  10. GARY says

    One of my secrets is to season the meat with garlic salt rather than regular salt…shared with me decades ago by an old fry chef working at the best burger joint around.

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