The burger buns are ready for whatever you’re hungry for. Is it time to start toasting them?
The question posed, “Should I toast my burger buns?” has a simple eight-word answer. That answer is, “Why, yes, you absolutely and most definitely should!”
As with most other questions about cooking, opinions on the Internet differ about why exactly you should toast your burger buns. Some say it keeps them from getting soggy, as the burger patties inevitably drip their juices onto the bread.
They’re close—and, to a large extent, this is true—but that’s not the real reason. So let’s discuss what that reason is and what it means for how to toast your burger buns to deliciousness.
Why Toast Your Burger Buns
By toasting your burger buns, whether in the pan or on the grill, you greatly ameliorate their aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel by triggering the Maillard reaction.
The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that takes place on the surface of the burger buns at temperatures of 284°F (140°C) and above. As they taught us in high school physics, heat is a form of energy. So when you toast the buns, you transfer the energy from the heat to them.
Charged with this energy, the carbs and the proteins on the surface of the burger buns start to tremble and shake. At a certain point, this trembling and shaking get so intense that the carbs and the proteins collide with each other—causing millions of explosions invisible to the naked eye that lead to the creation of thousands of new particles.
The part of the burger bun that comes in contact with the pan or grill grate turns golden brown. The heat evaporates the moisture in the bread and dries it out, making its surface crispy. The particles created as a by-product of the Maillard reaction impart new aromas and flavors to the buns that weren’t present before.
In other words, you toast the buns to brown them. The browning, which results from the Maillard reaction, makes the bread smell and taste better. It also makes the bread crispier and gives it a better mouthfeel.
How to Toast Your Burger Buns
Now that you know the science… How do you put it into practice?
To toast burger buns to absolute perfection, preheat a flat and shallow cooking vessel over medium heat, add butter or cooking oil, and toast the buns for a few minutes on both sides until golden brown and fragrant.
It takes a while to get the hang of it, but the results are totally worth it. Whenever I make burgers, my wife and I can hardly resist eating the buns before I put the burgers together!
I have three tips for you to get this right:
First, maximize the contact area of the burger buns with the cooking surface. The more surface area exposed to heat, the more aromatic and flavorful the toasted buns will be. So toast them on a regular flat-bottomed pan on the stove and on a preheated baking sheet on the grill.
Second, add a cooking fat or oil. When you melt a big dollop of butter or add a generous glug of cooking oil to the pan, the hot fat will help transfer heat from the cooking vessel to the surface of the bread, resulting in better browning (and more delicious buns).
Third, use medium heat. High heat speeds up the Maillard reaction, but it can also burn the bread. The difference between browned bread and burnt bread is subtle but important: Browned burger buns are sweet-smelling and flavorsome, burnt buns smell acrid and taste like charcoal.
Hacks to Improve Toasted Burgers Buns
My favorite hack to make toasted burger buns better is to use a flavorful fat.
You can always use butter, which gives the buns a creamy flavor, or rice bran oil, which makes them smell and taste like popcorn. But if you use beef tallow or bacon grease, you’ll take your toasted buns to the level of a gourmet burger restaurant.
This requires you to think carefully about what you want to cook first. For example, if you’re frying bacon strips for your burger, you should toast the buns in the same pan as soon as you remove the bacon from the heat.
When building the burger, especially if you have prepared a thick and juicy patty that drips, do all you can to maintain the crispness of the bread. One way to do this is to spread one of the condiments—like the mustard—on the bottom bun. But you can also use the lettuce leaf as a layer between the bread and the meat.
Always toast your burger buns. Toasted buns smell inviting, taste fantastic, and have this pleasant, crispy mouthfeel to them that makes your burger all that better.
To toast your burger buns to perfection, use medium heat, add animal fat or vegetable oil to the pan, and don’t remove them from the heat until they’ve turned golden brown.