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Best burgers in town all start with the beef

When it comes to crave-able foods, a good burger always ranks high on my list. But what goes into crafting the perfect burger? Local chefs had a few words of wisdom.

Chefs agree, it all starts with the patty.

Wisconsinburger head chef Tim Ahern and his team grind their beef fresh every day, removing the tendons and other undesirables.

“That really makes a difference,” he said. “The only thing that we have to put on it is salt and pepper; that’s literally all we do to it.”

Almost all of the cheeses used at Wisconsinburger are sourced from – you guessed it – Wisconsin. But their sauces are made in-house.

“We’ve got everything from … a fry sauce to a spicy barbecue sauce,” he said.

Other favorites are their Russian dressing and beer mustard.

“Besides the ranch, everything we do we make ourselves,” Ahern said. “And I even make that occasionally.”

Whether you’re looking for a classic, like The Wisconsin – fresh ground beef, sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, and bacon – or something a little more adventurous, like the PB&J sliders – fresh ground beef, peanut butter, housemade strawberry jam and grilled red onions – Wisconsinburger has the meat eaters covered.

Ahern’s burger of choice is usually the weekly special.

“The better selling ones really are the more simple ones,” he said. But if he’s ordering, it’s always going to be the week’s special. Last week, it was the “Roma Fade,” a house-ground Angus patty with fried eggplant, roasted Roma tomatoes and a housemade bechamel sauce. The week before, he ran a burger topped with pineapple and a habanero glaze that found its way to almost every table.

For Ahern, there aren’t any stand-out faux pas or “don’ts” when it comes to making a burger. As long as you start with quality ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong.

“Anything can be good with a burger, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Like pizza – it’s super versatile.

“You’ve got your bun, you’ve got your protein and anything else that you can think of, you can make work … just stay away from cheap beef.”

Hangry’s owner Nathan Rouse agreed.

“Making the best beef patty is one of the most important parts,” he said. If it’s too lean, the patty tends towards dry and bland. So “using a high-quality beef cut also is critical.”

Then it’s all about the seasonings. For Rouse, that means a blend of about 10 different spices mixed in to create “one tasty burger.”

So tasty in fact, that Rouse often hears guests order them plain, no toppings.

With the meat and seasonings squared away, it’s time to think about cooking methods.

“I’m a big fan of searing the burger patty on each side on a flat top, rather then a charbroiler,” he said. “The flat top locks in the flavor and juices.”

When you go to cook it, don’t get careless.

“You never want to play with it and flip it more than once,” he said. “Let it sear on one side, flip it and leave it alone while the cheese melts.”

For the meat lovers among us, Huckleberry’s 9th Street Bistro offers the Carnivore Burger, featuring a 100% bison patty, black forest ham, peppered bacon, over medium egg, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on a ciabatta bun with dijon aioli. If you’re looking for something to put you straight into a delicious food coma, look no further.

“That is the best burger ever – I take it home every night,” bistro second manager Lori Alfred said. As the ingredients suggest, the burger is “huge,” so Alfred recommends sharing.

And on the nonmeat side, there’s always the vegan black bean burger, with housemade bean patty, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a vegan pub bun with roasted vegan tomato aioli.

At Durkin’s, chef Jarrott Moonitz takes the “fresh ingredient” theme a step further. Using “a secret method,” Moonitz and his team make their own American cheese, as well as their own mayonnaise and pickles.

The Durkin’s Double features two 4-ounce ground chuck patties, Durkin’s American cheese, shaved pickles, red onion, and dill mayo on a house bun served with housemade fries and aioli. Durkin’s sources their buns from next door at Madeleine’s Cafe & Patisserie.

“When it all comes together, it’s really quite simple,” he said. But, “I think it’s kind of our job to showcase good ingredients and treat them with respect. So, that’s what we tried to do.”