The news that wacky American chain TGI Friday's (the acme of sophisticated dining in my teenage years) is dropping the lettuce leaves from their burger range will wring no bland, watery tears from me.
Although I'm unlikely to be popping into a branch for a chimichanga and a jolly jogger mocktail (thank you for the memories) any time soon, I agree with development chef Terry McDowell that lettuce adds nothing to the overall flavour of the burger - in fact, I'd go so far as to argue that, as the leaves wilt into soggy submission on contact with heat, lettuce actually detracts from the experience.
Even common iceberg, as loved by everyone from McDonald's to hipster hangout Lucky Chip and George Osborne's high street favourite, Byron, loses its jaunty crunch once squashed into an embrace with a freshly charred patty. The same goes for those warm, woolly slices of bland beef tomato - always the first thing I pick out. In short, salad has no place in the perfect burger. This is what matters:
Often overlooked, the bun du jour in the burger afficionado world seems to be the soft, rich brioche style favoured by the likes of Patty and Bun in London and Almost Famous in Manchester. This, in my opinion, is the choice of someone who hasn't thought through the practicalities in sufficient detail. A deftly cooked burger, dripping with greasy juices, and topped with piquant sauces, will see off such a bun in minutes, leading to its inevitable sad, soggy abandonment - how many times have you had to pick up a knife and fork to finish things off? (In the case of Patty and Bun, notorious for its gloriously messy creations, it's advisable to keep the burger in its paper wrapping to the very last bite to save your dignity).
No, you want something more robust - Yianni Papoutsis, co-founder of the MEATLiquor chain, has explained his relatively unusual sourdough rolls thus: "I chose them because of their texture and structure; they have to hold up despite all the juices that should run when you bite into the patty." Hear hear. A soft, sloppy burger can take a little bit of chew in the bun stakes; for best results, as any Guy Fieri afficionado will attest, toast the cut sides on the same, hot greasy surface you've cooked a thousand burgers on.
A high fat content is key to success - John Torode reckons "the best formula will be about 40% fat, otherwise it will not be moist." Chuck or brisket are good places to start, but the main thing to ensure is that there's enough flavour, which means well-aged beef: New Jersey butchers Pat LaFrieda uses 50-day dry-aged prime rib in their patties, which may or may not be going too far. A coarser grind will give a more satisfyingly meaty texture - if you don't have your own machine, the butchers you'll no doubt have had to visit to source your decent beef should be happy to do it for you. Real burger purists will stop there, but for a really juicy, intensely savoury result, I add breadcrumbs soaked in stout - that said, I'd concede that the Glasgow bar that's recently begun offering Buckfast-infused burgers has gone too far. For a decent crust, salt your burgers just before searing them on a smoking hot grill or pan - and go no further than medium rare. A well-done burger is nothing short of a chewy tragedy.
Not mandatory, of course - but a very welcome addition. American cheese, that sad simulacrum of a noble foodstuff, is puzzlingly popular amongst modish burger pushers, as much, I suspect, for its much vaunted "dirty" credentials as its sinister eagerness to melt on the merest contact with heat. Indeed, the much-loved Bleecker St. Burger goes as far as to call it "the best cheese in the world", but then, it is run by an American, so we'll forgive him. I prefer a cheese you can actually taste, even if it doesn't drip so fetchingly down the sides of the burger - Honest Burger's mature cheddar is my preferred choice, added to the patty during cooking so it drapes round it like a cloak, but I'd also add an honourable mention for Hawksmoor's gorgeous, if less widely available, somerset ogleshield.
Forget kimchi: the humble gherkin is wise pickle choice. Photograph: Food and Drink Photos / Alamy/Alamy
With enough decent pickles, you won't miss that salad - spicy Korean kimchi is the latest fermented fad, but I prefer the less strident flavour of the more traditional gherkin. Add a few thin slices of red onion, briefly soaked in vinegar to rob them of their anti-social bite, and I'm in pickle heaven.
You can get as fancy as you like here - Tom Reaney's Grizzly Bear burger features a homemade bacon relish laced with bourbon, maple syrup and coffee, Patty and Bun adds a smoky mayonnaise - but you can't beat the classic combo of ketchup and mustard. "Dirty" purists would insist on that oddly neutered American stuff, but I like the fire of English mustard. A good burger only deserves the best.
Photo: Does salad really have a place in the modern burger? Photograph: Andrea Carpedi/Getty Images