By Norm Huffnagle
It’s strange to be advancing a super keen method of grilling burgers when most of the nation is knee deep in that white frozen powdery stuff. But here in southern New Mexico (just a little ways outside of Las Cruces, to be exact), sunny days and moderate nights have me hankering for a good old outdoor grilled burger. Not just any burger, but The Perfect Burger!
I’ll bet that you, like me, have attended many outdoor grilling fests that seem to be thin veneers over that ancient practice of making burnt offerings to the gods. How many times, and I’m also guilty, too, have I watched a SuperChef plop one of those luscious patties on a flamingly hot grill, burn those babies black, then flip them over, and with an industrial-sized spatula, squeeze them until they cry out in agony and disgorge all their precious fluids down into the fiery pit?
Naturally, those poor defenseless slabs of charcoal-covered hockey pucks demand to be slathered with as much sauce as it takes to kill the taste of burned meat.
Then after long sessions of crisping meat, I tried somethings differently, and Viola! The Perfect Burger!
My family and I both enjoy these juicy, wholesome burgers. We’ve been known to run out, even with small groups.
The secret? It consists of two ‘obvious’ ingredients: Preparing the Meat, and Cooking the Meat.
Now, wasn’t that easy? As usual, the devil is in the details. So, let’s get to the details.
First, choose the right meat. There’s an almost infinite variety of meat combinations that you can use. Each grilling expert has his or her own special secret concoction.
There’s ground beef, ground bison, ground turkey, ground lamb, ground pork, ground chicken, and a whole host of ground ‘other’ meats. Choose whichever you feel comfortable with.
Personally, I like a subtle mixture of 70% ground beef and 30% ground pork. I use a 90/10 ground sirloin, and lean ground pork. The fat in the pork makes the resulting patty flavorful and juicy. I just like the taste of sirloin! But that’s a personal preference.
By the way, if you do decide to use one of the lower fat cuts, like ground turkey, beware that the meat will be very dry unless you deliberately add some oil. I recommend adding a teaspoonful of Avocado oil to 2 pounds of ground turkey. You might find you like a little more oil. Try it, but don’t let those slabs ‘juice out’: nothing worse than a slab of shoe leather between two buns to turn you off, no matter how “healthy” it might seem.
When you make those patties, a little tip: make the patties at least 1/2 inch thick, maybe as much as 3/4 inch thick, and at least as wide as the bun. With your thumb, make a good-sized dimple in the center of the patty. They’ll shrink a bit on cooking, so give your guests what they deserve! And as those patties cook, resist the urge to smash them down!
After I make the patties, I liberally dust them with a good garlic salt (I prefer Lawry’s, but you might have another preference), then I dust them with freshly ground black pepper. Using a spatula, I gently press the spices into the meat and then let them rest as they come up to room temperature. Never plop a patty directly from the refrigerator onto a hot grill The outsides will burn before the inside has had a time to react. Black, crusty burgers with a raw interior are not my idea of fun!
As with various combinations of meats, there are an endless variation of additives that you can add to the ground meat mixtures. Breadcrumbs, eggs, pickles, olives, capers, all manner of spices, you name it. Experiment to your heart’s desire. You can even create cheese stuffed patties if your tastes run that way. Pepperoni slices??? Why not!
Grilling! I use a gas grill. It’s convenient, easy to bring to temperature, and easy to stabilize. But that’s my own preference. Before getting this three-burner wonder, I have always cooked with charcoal although it took some time to get up and running. I liked working with charcoal, especially with a large glass of my favorite libation close at hand to pass the time. But once I began using gas, I was hooked. No more messy lighting sequences, no more dumping ashes.
I’m going to give you my way to cook the Perfect Burger, then I’m going to give you a suggestion. However, you are not required to follow either of them.
The first is the direct method: “Plop and Flip”.
But there’s a secret. Always oil your meat, not the grill. I know, every one of us has been told, “Clean the grill. Oil the grill. Bring grill to temperature. Burn the meat.” And that’s just plain wrong. The oil on the hot grates lasts only as long as it takes for the volatiles in the oil to boil off. Then you’re just left with a sticky mess, the heavy residuals from the oil. I guess that whomever thought up this canard was thinking about how Asian woks acquire a layer of carbon from their cooking oils.
Think about it: If the first step you do is to thoroughly clean the grates, well, you’ve just gotten rid of that nascent, forming carbon layer from the last time you used the grill. Now you have bare metal, and you’re starting over.
Here’s a better way. This one works:
Brush the burger patty with a high smoke point oil. Avocado Oil(520°F), Refined Safflower Oil(510°F), Soybean Oil(495°F), Canola Oil(470°F), Extra-light Olive Oil (468°F) are just a few. Experiment to see which you prefer. Personally, I like Avocado oil.
Place the patty, oil side down, on the preheated grill grates and cook until the meat has just browned. Brush the top of the patty with oil, and flip the patty over. Cook until the meat has reached your desired degree of doneness. Repeat the “Oil and Flip” as desired. Resist the urge to squash out the juices with that killer spatula.
Toast the bun on the grill as you may desire.
Cheese? You like cheese on you burger? Brush a little oil on that patty, flip it over, then place a slab of cheese on your burger. Close the lid and let cook a while as the cheese melts.
Remove the burger directly to a burger bun bottom shell. Don’t waste time placing the cheese-laden burger on a serving plate.
I used to enjoy sweet red onions, the Bermuda variety, but either my tastes have changed or the onions are no longer grown to my liking: I find that the red onions sold today have a harsh and bitter taste. I prefer slabs of the Mayan Sweet or Vidalia Sweet onions on my burgers.
A couple of sliced rounds of Roma tomatoes, a few pickles, and then a lettuce leaf. I slather the top bun with mustard and perhaps some sweet pickle relish, and I’m good to go!
As there are an endless variation of grills and cooks, so, too, are there an endless variation of burger condiments that can be applied. For those who’s memories harken back a ‘few’ years, here’s a spread that will bring back memories of yore:
Mix 1/3 cup real mayo with 1 tablespoon of ketchup, and then add sweet pickle relish until the taste is right.
An alternative method of cooking which you may find amusing is to bake the patties on indirect heat until their internal temperature reaches 110°F. Then oil and grill the patties until they are nicely browned on the outside. This is a variation of the “Reverse Sear” technique that I use on steaks, makes these burgers really flavorful and juicy and the outer crust does exhibit the beneficial and tasty effects of the Maillard Reaction!
Norm Huffnagle enjoys sharing exotic recipes with friends and family. Although more of a ‘gourmand’ than a ‘gourmet’, he does ‘dabble’ in that arcane art of unconventional cooking to the point that he has actually been invited back to do repeat performances. Norm specializes in ancient Chinese dishes, various flavors of Chilis, contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, and Special Occasion cookbooks.
Chek out these fantastic BBQ books by my good friend “Big Jim” McClintock:
“Grilin’ and Chillin’!”: https://amzn.com/B075H2DTW2
and “Bodacious Barbecue, Sauces, and Chili Recipes”: http://amzn.com/B01GNHLSZY
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