From the fat content of the ground meat to the all-important depression you should make in the center of each patty, tips from a Southern foods expert make a summer staple even better. This California Dreaming burger boasts Monterey Jack cheese, sliced avocado, tomato, red onion and tortilla chips. Read on for more on making the great American burger. Photo by: AP Photo/Matthew Mead
May 27, 2015 10:42:34 AM
As food goes, it's hard to imagine anything more American -- and that more perfectly captures summer -- than a great grilled hamburger.
Trouble is, as much as we love a great burger, we're not always all that great at making them. That's because there is more to making burgers than serving time at the grill. But if you master a few easy tips and techniques, you can produce burgers that will blow you away. And the good news is that almost everything can be done in advance.
If you want a rich, juicy burger, you have to use ground meat that has some natural fat.
Let's start with the meat. If you want a rich, juicy burger, you have to use ground meat that has some natural fat. Ground chuck is the most common choice. The chuck is ground from the beef shoulder and has enough natural fat to give your burger a rich, moist flavor. You can use 100 percent chuck, or you can do what I do and use a combination of ground sirloin and ground chuck. Sirloin provides a lean texture and chuck adds big beefy flavor. When I am hankering for something extra meaty, I substitute ground brisket for the chuck. Whatever your blend, plan on 1/3 of a pound of meat per burger, so figure a total of 1 pound of meat per three burgers.
If you buy quality, freshly ground meat, a little salt and pepper is all you need to season a burger. But to enhance the beefiness, I also like to add a dash of dry mustard powder and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.
The more you work the mix, the tougher and drier the burgers will be.
Now let's talk about mixing and forming the meat. It's important that you not overwork the meat. The more your work the mix, the tougher and drier the burgers will be. I like to use a fork to mix the meats. The heat from your hands can heat up the beef, and you want it to stay chilled until it hits the grill.
This depression is the key to a perfect patty.
To form the patties, it's best to loosely scoop up a 1/3-pound mound of the meat mixture, then gently pat it into a patty. When you are happy with the shape, make a depression in the center with your finger. This depression is the key to a perfect patty. It will prevent your burger from swelling up like a ball on the grill. As the burger cooks, the meat will expand to fill the hole.
Only turn the burgers once halfway through the cooking time.
Now, the cooking. Burgers should be cooked directly over medium to medium-high heat. They should take 8 to 10 minutes total, 4 to 5 minutes per side. And please resist the urge to mash the burgers down with the spatula. This just causes all the yummy juices to leak out.
Also, only turn the burger once halfway through the cooking time, after about four minutes. This reduces the chances it will stick to the grate and fall apart.
If flare-ups are a problem during grilling, close the lid of the grill. This should extinguish the flames. If not, you may need to both close the grill and turn off the burners.
Once you have mastered the burger basics, you can up the ante by creating all kinds of competition-worthy burgers simply by switching up the toppings. I've listed my four favorite topping combinations below. You may notice that they all have a crunchy element. This is the one topping that I never eliminate, as it is the secret that takes a burger from good to great!
Check out the recipe for the best basic burger. You can make it with all ground chuck or a combination of chuck and sirloin. My "house burger" is a mixture of chuck and sirloin enhanced by Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard, which make the burgers taste meatier. You also can prep the burgers up to a day ahead and keep them refrigerated until ready to grill.
Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."
BEST BASIC BURGER
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground sirloin
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Coleman's Mustard powder
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Buns, to serve
Condiments and toppings, as desired
Nutrition information per serving: 410 calories; 190 calories from fat (46 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (7 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 100 mg cholesterol; 500 mg sodium; 22 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 34 g protein.