How to make a perfect Five Guys burger

You'd think that making a copycat Five Guys burger would be pretty easy; it's just meat and bun. But naturally there's a bit more to it than just throwing some beef on a hot surface. Five Guys uses very specific products to get that taste exactly right. Surprisingly, a lot of what goes into a Five Guys burger can be easily found. If you use the correct stuff, and follow the formula, you'll be making burgers just like they do at Five Guys.

Note: condensed recipe at the end for those who don't like reading.

Let's get to cooking!

What do you need for burgers? You need meat. I mixed equal portions 80/20 chuck with 90/10 sirloin. You'll also need sesame seed buns, deli-style Kraft American cheese, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and mayonnaise. For equipment, you'll need two cooking areas, nonstick parchment paper, a cookie sheet, a food scale, and aluminum foil. (Full ingredients list is at the end with the recipe.)

Get the right meat

The beef Five Guys uses at most of its stores comes from Schweid and Sons, and if you live in the right areas, you might be able to buy some down at the grocery store. Five Guys uses a blend of chuck and sirloin, and none of its restaurants have freezers on site, so to get the perfect Five Guys burger, buy your meat fresh and only refrigerate it.

Schweid and Sons does not sell a straight-up chuck/sirloin mix, so we'll have to fake that part. Alton Brown splits his chuck/sirloin mixture 50/50, and if it's good enough for Alton, it's good enough for me.

Five Guys does not add anything to the meat; no salt, no pepper, no onion powder — nothing. It's just meat and bun. As for the specifics, Five Guys will tell you that the meat is "twice ground." If you head to your local grocery store and ask the butcher for some "twice-ground" meat, he'll laugh a little and point to the meat sitting in the rack. All grocery meat is ground twice: once at the packing facility and once in store. So it's just the same meat you purchase for meatloaf night.

Make 'meatballs'

Five Guys rolls the meat into 3.3-ounce balls — if you have a scale, you can get this pretty precise — and then smashes them. Yes, smash. If you have a hamburger press, you can use that, but really, any flat surface will get the job done. Pressing down the burger at home without a burger press or some sort of weight is by far the hardest thing to emulate. Five Guys famously stacks its burgers by fours, but they aren't pressed four at a time. Rather, they're press individually then stacked. Stacking four burger balls on top of each other and pressing down is a disaster waiting to happen. So make sure you're only smashing one burger ball at a time. As for a trick method without a heavy press, we'll use Five Guys for inspiration for our fakery.

Smash 'em up

All the cooking countertops at Five Guys are stainless steel; I'm guessing your kitchen isn't like that. That's OK, we can cheat this a little. The advantage of stainless steel is that it's naturally cooler than a regular countertop. When you're squishing meat, which by default exerts heat from the friction, you want the location where the meat is being pressed to be a bit cooler than your usual countertop. To help the process, take a cookie sheet and throw it in the fridge for a few minutes. It doesn't have to be frozen, just a little cooler than room temperature. Put the burger balls on the sheet, grab a 10-inch stainless steel pot, and press. The smaller the stainless steel mock presser, the bigger the patty you'll spread. After some trial and error, I found that a 16-inch pan didn't provide the force to get the burgers as big as Five Guys does. That will help the pressed burgers stay together — see, no need for a burger press!

You can try the press-and-spin, which is exactly what it sounds like, pressing down and turning the pot slightly. If you get uneven pressure, you'll end up with some funky-looking burgers. Just remember, take them one at a time. Even if you try and smash down two, you'll end up with weird burgers. You're not looking for flat as a pancake here, but size and flatness vary from store to store, and even from burger presser to burger presser.

Smack it up, flip it, rub it down

Next is a two-step process; Five Guys starts the burgers and the buns at the same time, but on different grills. Obviously these are at two different temperatures. The buns are not coated with butter or mayonnaise, but they do have more egg flavor than the average sesame seed bun. With two eyes going on your stove, set one to about a little less than medium (3.5 to 5 if your stove uses a 10-point scale) and one to about medium-high (about 6.5 on my stove). The cooler one is for the buns, the hotter one is for the burgers. You don't want water dancing off the pan like it's MC Hammer, just hot enough to give it a solid sear.

If you really insist on just toasting the buns in a toaster, you want to aim for a lightly toasted bun and use the bagel setting so you don't toast the top and bottom of the bun. You can do that, but just live with the shame that you're cheating.

Place two of the burgers down on the hot pan/flat top. Five Guys doesn't touch them for about 30 seconds. After that, dig in — they're usually pretty stuck to the grill — and flip them. Then flatten the daylights out of 'em. Five Guys uses a heavy press, but like always you can get it done with a spatula providing you press out toward the edges from the middle to get that sucker flat. If you don't have a heavy press, you won't get your burgers quite as wide as Five Guys does. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but don't freak out if they seem a bit on the smaller side.

There's a school of thought that says pressing down a burger is akin to leaving kittens floating in a box on a river. But if you do it the right way, you'll actually make the burger meatier and more flavorful. Five Guys flattens them but in a very specific way: the wrong way. The trick is to smash immediately once you put meat on the hot surface, but Five Guys doesn't do that. By waiting until the flip, some of the juiciness escapes from the burger. But you're here for a Five Guys burger, so do it wrong.

Dress those buns

After the flip and smash, the buns should be just about ready. Five Guys toasts the buns, but they're certainly not well done. They should just be toasty enough to hold some toppings. For the purpose of this "exact" recipe, we're going very simple with just "wet" toppings — ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and hot sauce.

A side note for you onion fans. Five Guys cooks its onions and mushrooms in clarified butter ahead of time and then just adds them to the burgers. There's no great secret here.

Let's start at the top: there's a very specific order to the sauces. The first sauce that goes down is the hot sauce. Frank's Original Hot Sauce is the topping of choice, the same that made its bones as the one used on the first Buffalo chicken wings. Frank's goes on the top bun first, all across the top of the bun.

The next top spread is mayonnaise. Five Guys produces its own private-label mayonnaise, but it shouldn't be hard to replicate. At 100 calories per serving, Five Guys mayo is probably a little creamier than your typical mayo, so you have three choices: find a creamier mayo in the store, beat an egg yolk into a standard jar of mayo, or just live with the fact that your mayonnaise isn't exactly the same you and you might save a calorie in the spread. Regardless, the mayo is spread over the entire top of the bun. It should almost go to the edges, but a little hot sauce will be visible on the outside. After all, you just spread it around by putting the mayo on.

Bottom bun

On the bottom goes the ketchup and mustard. Five Guys ketchup is 20 calories per serving. So is Heinz and Hunt's. Five Guys has a touch more sodium (180 milligrams) than Heinz's 160 milligrams, but Hunt's comes in right at 180 milligrams. The big giant container of ketchup in the store says "Heinz" on it, so clearly it's Heinz ketchup but a specific mix of it. If you actually put Five Guys, Heinz, and Hunt's next to each other, Five Guys tastes a little closer to Hunt's than it does to store-bought Heinz. Not saying it's a conspiracy, just saying the Heinz that Five Guys uses is a little different from the one you pull off the shelf at the grocery store.

Ketchup gets three rings on the bun — from a small-nosed ketchup dispenser. Mustard gets two rings. The mustard is just a standard yellow mustard from Heinz as well. Hmm, unless … no, really, it's not a conspiracy.

Finish and cheese

The burgers have been cooking for about 2 minutes on their flipped side. Five Guys flips again and gives them another press with the spatula. This seems to be to the cook's discretion; some press hard and some just give them a tap. (The Five Guys cook witnessed for today's illustration pressed down like there was no tomorrow.) If you just scroll through some images of Five Guys burgers, you'll see varying degrees of thickness on the finished product, which all depends on how press-happy the cook is. Anyway, they'll go for about another minute and then … flip again! The School of One Flip does not apply to Five Guys. About 30 seconds later — you guessed it — flip again. But that's the last of the flips. Remember, Five Guys cooks all burgers to well done.

It's now time to add cheese. Five Guys uses Kraft American cheese, same as when the doors first opened in 1986. You'll notice the cheese is a bit thicker than the average Kraft processed stuff in the plastic. The one you give to 5-year-olds isn't the one Five Guys uses. Kraft makes a deli slice that's a little thicker and a little more real than the other stuff. Five Guys doesn't pre-melt it; it's just stacked on the patty and then two patties are stacked together and transferred to the bun. Five Guys' cheesy-gooey secret is stacking cheese to cheese. The top of the bun — with mayo, hot sauce, and whatever toppings you choose — should have meat facing up, not cheese.

The only thing left is to wrap it in aluminum foil. Go from corner to corner and fold them in. It's likely the convection properties of the foil that melt the cheese, since the cheese is actually delivered to the bun relatively intact. But it's that same foil that also leads to the soggy bun syndrome. One of the knocks on Five Guys is that the bun comes out soggy. Just as aluminum foil is a great trick to get moisture into stale bread, it's also a great way to get moisture into bread when you don't want it there. Your best bet is to wrap your homemade Five Guys burger in tin foil for just about 60 seconds, and then open it up. That should give the cheese enough time to melt and still keep the bun from crossing over the Soggy Styx.

How close are we?

I shared my copycat Five Guys burgers with three other people. All four of us had eaten Five Guys earlier in the day and had the exact same copycat burger later on. In the photo above, the original burger is on the left and my copycat is on the right.

As you can see, I didn't get nearly enough hot sauce on my burger bun in this shot. But that's easily adjustable. There's one thing I must have missed, though, and that's butter. Somewhere in the Five Guys step, there must be some butter. (Source: those of us with a lactose intolerance to butter.) The spreads were dead on, and the cheesiness also hit it perfectly. Even leaving a burger wrapped up for 10 minutes in foil led to a super gooey cheese but a slightly soggy bun. If anything, the copycat Five Guys produced a leaner burger; it wasn't as greasy as the original. That means the sirloin to chuck mix probably isn't 50/50, or perhaps the ratios of the chuck and sirloin are a little different. But overall, this is pretty darn close to a homemade Five Guys burger, if I do say so myself.

Directions

Want the recipe all in one place? Here you go.

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 5 minutes. Servings: 2.

The hardware

  • 80/20 chuck, about ¼ pound
  • 90/10 sirloin, about ¼ pound
  • 2 sesame seed buns
  • 4 slices Kraft American cheese, deli style
  • ketchup
  • mustard
  • hot sauce
  • mayonnaise
  • 2 cooking areas (one for buns, one for meat)
  • non-grease parchment paper
  • cookie sheet
  • food scale
  • aluminum foil

The process

  1. Mix even proportions of chuck and sirloin. Make 4 meatballs, weighing 3.3 ounces each. Flatten balls between nonstick parchment paper.
  2. On different grills, simultaneously start cooking burgers on medium-high and toasting buns on medium-low. At 30 seconds in, flip and flatten burgers.
  3. When buns are lightly toasted, remove from heat. Coat top bun with generous helping of hot sauce and mayo. Coat bottom bun with 3 rings of ketchup and 2 rings of mustard.
  4. About 2 minutes after the first flip, flip burgers again and flatten to your liking. Flip again 2 minutes later, flattening again.
  5. Top each patty with 1 slice cheese. Put 2 patties together cheese to cheese, and place stack between buns.
  6. Wrap burger in aluminum foil. Keep wrapped for at least 1 minute, then unwrap and enjoy.