The Only 2 Ingredients Bobby Flay Uses To Season His Burgers

A good burger should be effortlessly enjoyable to eat. And while it is predominantly all about the beef, the bun, and the garnishes, it can be easy to overcomplicate things, with complex patty blends or towering toppings. But often even top chefs prefer to keep things simple; it's one of the reasons why Anthony Bourdain had major beef with Kobe sliders.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay is no exception. With a portfolio of restaurants that includes the popular Bobby's Burgers, Flay knows a thing or two about what makes a good burger. And when it comes to seasoning his patties, it's all about just two ingredients: salt and pepper. 

While it may be tempting to add extra flavors such as garlic, mustard, or herbs to patties, or to try to boost the texture with ingredients such as diced onions, breadcrumbs, or egg, as you might when making a meatloaf, it's simply not necessary if you've got that most essential of all burger ingredients: good beef. For Flay, the ideal beef is 80/20 ground chuck – that's 80% lean and 20% fat. And all it needs is a little salt and pepper. That's it.

Bobby Flay uses salt and pepper for simple burger seasoning

Salt and pepper may be two of the most commonly used everyday ingredients when it comes to seasoning food, but their potency is undeniable. Salt is such a ubiquitous flavor enhancer for so many dishes because of its power to increase the savory, umami notes in food, which is ideal for rich beefy proteins such as steaks and burgers.

Salt readies the taste buds, and helps the flavors seem more concentrated, so the burger tastes more, well, like a burger. Pungent pepper, meanwhile, adds a flavor all of its own to burger meat. While there are different types of peppercorns, most recipes call for freshly ground black pepper. Its hot, aromatic notes pair well with savory meat, adding a punchy boldness that amplifies the flavors of the meat. And salt and pepper just complement each other perfectly when it comes to taste.

But while Bobby Flay advocates salt and pepper as the only seasoning a good burger requires, he's also careful about how to use them. The chef likes to season the outside of the burger patties when they are formed — but does not add seasoning to the meat mix before this point. Because it's not just about adding flavor — it's also important to season the meat at the right time and in the right way for juicier results.

How and when to season burgers for perfect patties

The best time to season meat is much-debated among chefs and home cooks alike. Some prefer to salt the protein ahead of time to add extra flavor — while others argue that it's better to add it just before the meat hits the heat. When it comes to burgers, since the meat is ground, there's also the option to add seasoning into the meat mix itself, before you form the patties, to add even more flavor. But this is not necessarily the best way, and it's mainly to do with the salt.

The reason is that salt works by changing the protein structures within the meat itself. It draws out water, resulting in more densely packed protein structures that stick together. And with a burger, what you really want is a more loosely formed texture, which is less likely to become rubbery once it's been cooked. Salting the patty right before it is cooked results in a juicier burger, with the seasoning adding extra flavor to the crust without making the texture overly dense.

So, like Bobby Flay, just keep things simple. Add plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to the outside of the formed patty just before it goes on the grill or pan, for a burger that's both tasty and tender.