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You Got Buns Hun

May 3, 2017

Jon in Albany raised a good point yesterday. He said, “A big burger works on a good hard roll, the smaller burger is lost in a roll like that.” Let’s put aside the matter of burgers big versus burgers small. I’m of the mind that any place can take a small burger and make it bigger. It’s simply a matter of adding more patties.

Actually, I’m hoping to reiterate my longstanding belief about why a double cheeseburger is better than a single larger cheeseburger before Saturday’s tour. But that won’t matter at all if we’ve neglected to talk about buns.

Do you know that there’s a burger place where I enjoy the bun more than the actual burger?

Five Guys used to have one of my favorite quick service burgers. But then the chain expanded, and with that expansion came the need for more meat. I’m absolutely convinced that the quality of their ground beef deteriorated in this period of intense growth. And it makes sense. With greater demands for mass quantities of beef, one cannot be as choosy with the available supply.

Back in the day, the lingering beefiness of those burgers was one of the things I loved most about them. And that faded. Plus I almost always seem to find hard bits mixed into the grind. But what can I tell you, I’m a careful chewer. Still, that was never a problem when I first fell in love with the place.

But that bun though? Man, I love that bun. It’s like a soft rich brioche. It’s sweet, and it’s tender, and I cannot quit it.

So on the strength of the bun, I’m more than happy to forgo the beef patty entirely and make a sandwich of grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, and a whole heap of veggies, mayonnaise, and hot sauce.

Go ahead and judge me. I don’t care. I get the bun, and that’s all that matters.

On the flip side, as much as I enjoy the juicy fattiness of the burgers at Burger 21, the buns are just a bit too stiff and bready for my taste. And while I still enjoy those burgers, they would be so much better with a different bun.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that one bun rules the roost. But what I am saying is that the right bun can make the burger. And as Jon alluded to yesterday, it’s all about balance.

The bun needs to be able to contain the burger, support it structurally, and not overwhelm what lies within its borders. But the bun is also a chance to add some flavor to the burger. It can be buttered, toasted, or grilled. It can be seeded, enriched, or given an egg wash. It can be dense, airy, or soft.

Theoretically, the bun could even be a donut.

Cheap white supermarket burger buns work well for the sliders from Jack’s Drive In. But how those buns are served matters. Could you get a less than impeccably fresh bun? That would be regrettable, but it’s not unimaginable. I’m not sure if Jack’s steams its buns or just lets them steam in their bags as they warm near the griddle. Surely we’ll find out on Saturday.

I’m a fan of the custom made rolls that Slidin’ Dirty has made for their mini burgers. They have a density that really supports all the toppings that go on those little masterpieces.

Crave has a well-considered bun that’s as gorgeous as it is delicious. Although it can be a challenge to eat their housemade veggie burgers on that stiffer bun, since the veggie patty is on the softer side. Still, it hasn’t stopped me from ordering this option on multiple occasions.

While I haven’t had the cheeseburger at Famous Lunch, I imagine they would serve it on the same hard roll as the egg and cheese sandwich. What I love is how those rolls get buttered and deeply toasted on the griddle before being filled with deliciousness. But I’m not sure how that would work with a greasy well-seared cheeseburger.

Dammit, now I want to go and find out.

Of course, some buns you don’t want to toast. You want all of those beefy juices to get absorbed into the crumb of the bread, which can help the whole sandwich come together. But that requires a sturdier roll. You know, much like the French bread at The Original Joe’s. Which I may recall someone dismissing yesterday.


Yes, buns can be about personal taste. But they are also about intent and burger structure. Shitty buns can be perfect for the right kind of burger. But shitty buns can also still be shitty. I’m really curious to see how this plays out on Saturday’s tour, and if anyone shows up with preconceived notions that one kind of bun reigns supreme.

This is one of the reasons why on the Fussy Little Tours the “Overall” score for each place is so important. Because instead of being a straight summation of the individual criteria, that score is more about the totality of the eating experience. So if a nondescript bun is totally unremarkable, but it works brilliantly with a particular burger, that burger can still get a perfect “Overall” score.

If that’s not entirely clear, come out to the tour on Saturday, and we can discuss it at length. Just let me know if you’re coming so I can print enough scoresheets.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2017 10:12 am

    Jumping Jacks has a bun steamer.

  2. Ryan H permalink
    May 3, 2017 12:24 pm

    I understand just getting the toppings on a bun completely. My favorite bite of a burger might not even contain beef. It’s at the very end after the sauces and drippings have soaked into the bun and there’s just a few bits of toppings left. So much flavor in that soft bun.

  3. May 3, 2017 2:12 pm

    Five Guys’ buns are fine for eating in but they turn to mush in the foil by the time you get a take-out order home. A brioche bun is fine for a fancy burger. A crusty sourdough bun is never okay. To me the best bun is soft enough to easily bite into, sturdy enough to hold the ingredients, and toasted which gives it extra flavor and strength.

  4. May 3, 2017 2:33 pm

    First, woohoo! I made a good point.

    And second, I disagree that adding more little burgers for a double or triple stack is similar to one big burger. I’m not saying it’s bad, just different. Aside from some textural difference, the little burgers will most likely be well done. So while a greasy, fried double cheeseburger can be a beautiful thing, a half pound cheeseburger grilled medium rare can be beautiful too. But each is a completely different eating experience and I enjoy them both. It’s one of those same ingredients, completely different end result things.

    Also, if you are doing a big burger at home, a Prinzo’s hard roll makes a great bun. I’ll take mine with seeds. For a smaller bun, pick some up at a Stewarts.

  5. Jack C. permalink
    May 3, 2017 5:29 pm

    Five Guys and Burger 21 are mere steps from one another. Surely you can order your Five Guys veggie abomination, head to Burger 21 for an actual burger, then just move the patties over? Curious to see how they’d work together. I can’t justify such costs for one burger, but someone whose job and blog depend on food criticism certainly can.

  6. May 4, 2017 7:22 am

    I’m single minded on this subject, probably to a fault.

    A good burger (again) is all about delicious ground beef patties. A bun should enhance the beef, not detract from it. It should not overwhelm the beef, and it should not upstage the beef.

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