I joined my Sophomore year and over time, achieved the coveted title of Grillmaster which comes from learning the proper technique to making, cooking, and serving the classic GUGS Burger. I mean, I even have a polo saying so. It's been a few years since I graduated, but I can still remember everything like the back of my hand. While the ingredients and methodology are not really a secret, it's a Georgetown tradition I hope more people try in their own homes which is why I'm writing about it today. With the 15th Anniversary of the club recently being celebrated, I'm going to share some of the steps to recreate the legendary GUGS burger at home, as well as my personal spin on this perfect burger. Put on your gloves and let's get messy.
The first part of making the perfect burger is having the right meat. This is more than just the freshness of the meat, but also the fat content and the grind.
The Beef: Needless to say, the fresher the beef the better the burger. While you may not be able to know exactly when your beef was ground, check the label and see if you can find beef ground the same day if possible. You can ask for your butcher to grind specific cuts of beef (chuck is popular for it's intense beefy flavour) but for simplicity, even the regular "ground beef" which usually comes from a variety of cuts is perfectly good.
The Grind: The grind of the beef is important for the texture of the burger - too fine and the meat can become too compact, dense, and tough. Too coarse, and the burgers can fall apart or be difficult to eat. Luckily, unless you grind your meat yourself or have a free-range, non-GMO butcher who grinds your meat fresh, the standard medium-grind is just fine for burgers. That is the default that you get whenever you buy ground beef. Remember, you're making burgers, not a beef wellington.
The Fat: When shopping for ground beef, you will find many different varieties which vary in the amount of fat in them. The more fat, the juicier the burger will be, but also the greasier the mouth feel. Too little fat and the burger can end up dry and tough. The goal is to find a good balance between the two, so you get a juicy, flavorful burger that doesn't make you feel like you ate a stick of butter. In GUGS, we use an 88/12 ground beef for our burgers - 88% lean to 12% fat. However, you may not be able to find 88/12 beef in your local grocery store, so you can approximate it by combining the more readily available 80% lean and 93% lean ground beef varieties in equal proportions, getting you a 86.5% lean grind.
Crafting the Patty....errr, Softball?
The GUGS Burger: Creating a GUGS Burger involves compacting the meat by throwing a ball from one hand into the other, removing any trapped air, until you create a meat ball with a smooth exterior appearance. It's hard to describe the exact methodology, but the resulting burger is denser in texture than most restaurant burgers and has the signature round, softball-like appearance. This method also leads to a firm, almost steak-like texture when cooked while still being juicy. How does this happen? Well witchcraft may be at work but I'm not in the business of starting rumours. The round shape lends its own unique quirks when cooking this type of burger as well which we will cover shortly.
The Perfect Burger, My Way: Personally, I enjoy a burger that is pretty close-textured and not loose like some celebrity chefs often push. While some say you should handle the meat as little as possible or use forks to mix seasonings into the beef to avoid handling the meat, I say that's too much. For me, I like to create burgers about 1 inch thick and weighing in about 1/2 pound each. After hand mixing in any seasonings, I like to compact the beef mixture slightly in my hands to remove the majority of any air bubbles or gaps in the meat. To do this, I first form a ball, compacting the meat between my cupped palms, and then form the final patty shape.
To start, after adding your burgers to your hot, pre-heated grill, season liberally on the top side with your favorite seasoned salt first and foremost (We use Lawry's). When grilling a GUGS burger, the best way to check when to start flipping is to watch the line of "cooked" beef coming up the side of the burger as it grills. When that line gets to about half-way up the side of the burger, that is when you flip. Once you flip your burger, season the other side with more Lawry's and let it sit undisturbed for at least one minute before hitting it with the second, equally important seasoning: some generous splashes of Lea & Perrin's Worcester Sauce straight onto the burger from the bottle.
Like going to Benihana, part of the experience of a GUGS burger is the pizzazz and steam from the prep itself; so the steam and sizzle from the Worcestershire Sauce hitting the hot coals and perfuming the air and your clothes with savory goodness is a wanted bonus. Continue to cook and flip the burgers every few minutes to sear evenly, dashing with more Worcestershire sauce until cooked to your preferred doneness. Add cheese in the last minute or so of cooking to melt before serving.
Given the thickness of a traditional GUGS burger, this could easily take 15-20+ minutes to reach Well-done (the normal way GUGS burgers are served) but don't worry, part of the magic of a GUGS burger is that it will always be juicy. If you prefer medium or a cooler temp, pull the burgers 2-4 minutes sooner.
Side Note: As you may have noticed, there are also no hard measurements here - go with your gut.
**No Grill? No Problem. See indoor instructions below
A GUGS burger is served up simply to let the meat shine - a simple white burger bun with the classic sauces like ketchup, mustard, or my favorite, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. That doesn't mean you can't dress your burger up however you would like to - add on some fresh lettuce and tomato or get real fancy with caramelized onion, a fried egg, or guac. I ain't your mama.
Just remember a burger is by nature not a fancy food. Even the most expensive restaurants can dress up a burger or use more and more expensive meat, but at the end, we will all be eating with our hands and getting some juice dribbling down our chin. It's the ultimate culinary unifier (sorry vegetarians).
Alright - I hope this little post piqued your interest in what is a true Georgetown tradition and burger making in general. If you're in the DC area, head to campus on a Spring or Autumn Friday and line up for a lunch to remember or consider joining GUGS if you're a student. The next time you get a craving, try elevating your burger game at home and try out some new techniques.
Below are the final ingredients for a classic GUGS burger as well as a recipe for my personal riff on the classic burger. Get messy, have fun, and May the Flame be with You.
The Classic GUGS Burger:
- 2 pounds 88/12 ground beef
- Lawry's Seasoned Salt
- Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
- White or Potato Burger Buns - toasted if so desired
- Cheese (Optional)
- Your Favorite Toppings
See directions and method above
The GUGS Burger My Way
- 2 Pounds 88/12 Ground Beef
- 1/2 Medium White Onion Grated (Use a box grater on the "coarse" side)
- 1 Tablespoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
- 1.5 Tablespoons Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 Teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Cheese - I prefer cheddar or pepper jack
- Buns - toasted if so desired
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Your Favorite Toppings
- Combine Beef, grated onion, Lawry's, Worcestershire Sauce, and pepper in a large bowl and combine with your hands until well mixed
- Form into 4 patties about 1 inch thick and 1/2 pound each. Season with additional salt and pepper on the outside if desired
- Grill over medium-high heat, flipping every few minutes to cook evenly. If the outside starts looking dry, splash with a shake of Worcestershire sauce to moisten.
- Cook until desired doneness, about 6-7 minutes per side for medium-well. Add cheese in the last minute to melt before serving
An Addendum: No Grill?
Sometimes you can't access a grill or get rained out. That's no problem - bring it indoors with your favorite cast iron skillet. Turn your hood vent fan to HIGH and heat your pan over medium-high heat until ripping hot. Add a little oil to the bottom to prevent your burgers from sticking too much. Next, add your burgers without crowding the pan (you may need to do batches) and reduce your heat to medium and cook to your desired doneness, flipping as necessary to sear evenly. There will be some smoke - don't worry! A Phil's GUGS burger will take about 6 minutes per side for medium-well. A traditional softball GUGS burger may not work as well in a pan, so I would recommend flattening out a bit or waiting until a grill is available - it'll be worth it.