There are few dishes as versatile as the hamburger. The only other food that has developed the same cultural status of universal appeal is pizza. Both spring from humble origins, both are found served up hot and fast for frantic diners around the world, and both have made their way into fashionable restaurants under the guise of gourmet food.
Burgers featured in today's menus find are topped with such things as bacon and blue cheese dressing, pineapple and chilies, and goat cheese with tomato. Of course, the secret to all gourmet cooking is using the freshest ingredients. If you do nothing else, try using fresh ground beef in your next hamburger. Most butchers will grind meat on demand, so pick up some fresh ground round or chuck (not too lean), to take home and grill it right away. You will definitely notice a difference.
Getting expensive and lean cuts for grinding, won't necessarily make a better burger. The real secret to the burger flavor is in the fat; so don't skimp by getting more expensive meat. Ground chuck, round or sirloin work best, or a combination also works. The other factor that improves the patty is a coarse grind. Most ground meats are just too fine to make a good burger.
When it comes to forming the patties, make the burger slightly larger than the bun and about an inch in thickness. A thicker patty will not allow you to get the middle cooked safely before the surface becomes too dry. Also, don't pack the meat too firmly. Leave the meat just firm enough to hold together on the grill.
A lot of people will tell you to stuff your hamburger patty full of all sorts of things. Bread crumbs, eggs, whole cloves of garlic and a whole host of other additives seem to find their way into people's favorite recipes. First of all, about the breadcrumb thing, my Grandmother made hamburger patties with a slice of bread torn up and an egg to hold it all together. She didn't do this to enhance the flavor of the burger, but to spread out the meat.
Back in the days when meat and money were scarce, people did things like this to get the most out of a meal. If you have one of these recipes floating around, it probably comes from before 1950. As for garlic cloves, olives, and anything else, I find them rather distracting from the meat and choose instead to mince the garlic and add other flavorings that are not nearly as chunky.
To finish off, the perfect gourmet burgers always choose the freshest ingredients. If you've ever used home grown tomatoes on a hamburger you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Also, plan on preparing condiments and toppings as near to eating time as possible. All the vegetables should be cool and crisp when they hit the bun. You should also try to get good, freshly baked rolls to finish off the perfect sandwich.