Summertime, and the livin’ is easy… but the grill is hot and the guests are hungry! What better way to satisfy them than with the most American of cookout foods, the burger (some people may say the hot dog is more patriotic, but to that, I say that this is my blog and those people are wrong). I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me more depressed at a picnic than an overcooked burger, that tastes like lighter fluid, and is served on mushy Wonder bread roll.
So, to help make the world a better place for burger eaters everywhere. I give you these three tips to up your burger game. Since cooking is a personal thing, I’m not going to give you rules to follow. I’m going to give you suggestions that will hopefully inspire. Here we go.
1 – Consider the Meat
If you’re reading this, you’re probably not buying those frozen, pre-made hockey pucks (thank god). Always go for something that is freshly ground. Go to your butcher. Ask him or her if they have a specialty blend for burgers. Over the past decade, meat purveyors have made a big business from “exclusive custom burger blends” for restaurants. Maybe your butcher has jumped on that trend. If not, why not consider grinding your own blend? Any kitchen-level grinder will do the trick. I use this attachment for my KitchenAid. I experiment with different blends all the time; short rib, chuck, round, brisket. Add spices to the mix. I’m usually a simple salt and pepper person, but get creative. Add extra fat. I know a chef that swears by adding mayo to his blend. You can’t taste it in the final product, but it definitely makes the burger juicier. I sometimes add pork fatback to my burgers. Whatever you do, remember that fat=juicy=flavor. I like at least a 30% fat content. Don’t fall into the “lean” trap. Burgers are not health food. Embrace that and all will be juicy and good.
2 – All Burger Cooking Methods are not Equal
I cringe when I’m at a cook-out and I see someone throwing burgers on a newly lit grill over direct heat. At that moment, I usually opt for the pasta salad instead. The cooking method is extremely important. For big, thick burgers, I’m a fan of the direct / indirect method. Usually, I’ll sear the patty over high heat, then move to a cooler area of the grill to finish them off. Think of burgers as mini-meatloaves. If you keep them over direct heat, you’re drying them out on the outside and not cooking them properly on the inside. I also love using cast iron. I know that the image of the cook flipping burgers over a grill grate is iconic, but cast iron burgers taste so much better. I use this cast iron griddle from Lodge, placed right on top of my grill. If you don’t have any cast iron cookware, I HIGHLY recommend making a purchase. It pretty much lasts forever if cared for properly. Searing on cast iron creates an amazing crust on burgers. steaks, and chops. For big fat burgers, I’ll sear on the griddle, then move to indirect heat to finish them off.
3 – Bun and Toppings
Switch it up! Yeah, there is nothing more classic than lettuce, tomato, pickles and American cheese, but this buns and topping are where creativity shines. For bread, I use everything from sweet Chinese buns, to English muffins, to King’s Hawaiian rolls, to plain old potato rolls. If I’m feeling like I don’t want the carbs, I’ll wrap my burger in collards or Toscano kale (ok… I only do this like once a year. A burger should be on bread). As for toppings, go crazy. Mix up your cheese. Add an avocado. I may look at you funny for doing so, but so what? This is America and you have the right to put whatever you want on your burger. It’s in the constitution (somewhere in the back). Here’s a great list from The Stir to help inspire. Go ahead, leave this site and check it out.
I’ll be eating a custom blended burger topped with a smoked green tomato, Monterey Jack, and BBQ sauce while you’re gone.