Make It Monday: In Search Of The Perfect Burger

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Who Wants A Burger?

I hope all y'all are having a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

Show of hands: Who wants a burger?

Yeah...I thought so.

Is there anything more satisfying than a great burger? And, yet, there is some mystery about how to achieve the burger you are craving.

Let me unravel some of the mystery for you.

The Beef.

When you say "Burger" most people think "Beef". While you can make a really good burger from other ingredients (more on this later), beef is the number one source of burgers. And the thing that makes beef burgers taste so good and remain so juicy is fat. You want beef that is a 80/20 mix, i.e. 20% fat. Chuck is the go-to cut for burgers.

I know...I can hear some of you whining about always buying Lean Meat. 90/10. I get it. But we are talking burgers here, and the path to the perfect beef burger goes through the fat content. If you are truly concerned about cutting the fat then you should try some of the non-beef burger options later in this post. They are exceptionally good in their own right, and need not be avoided.

The Grind.

Ideally, you want a coarse grind. Most supermarket pre-ground meat is a fine grind. This results in a denser burger. If possible, buy your meat whole and grind it yourself (your food processor will do this perfectly well). You can also buy a chuck roast and ask the butcher to grind it fresh so you get the grind size you want.

If you are grinding the meat yourself you can experiment with blending different cuts. A mix of chuck, sirloin, and short ribs is very popular. But there is nothing wrong with using just the chuck roast.

The Patty.

You want to season the meat simply and avoid over handling it. Salt and pepper is all you need. And when you form the patties try not to press them too tight. You want them to just hold together - this gives you the best consistency for the cooked burger.

There are two major ways to cook a burger, and will form a different patty for each method. There are burgers cooked on the grill, and burgers grilled in a pan. Both of these methods have their cheerleaders.

If you are cooking your burger on the grill you will want to form patties that are about 6 ounces each. After you form the patty make an indent in the middle of one side with your thumb - this will keep the patty from swelling up into a ball.

If you are cooking your burger in a pan you will want to form patties that are about 4 ounces each. Don't press these into patties, but form them as balls. You will press them into the pattie shape when you put them in the pan.

Cooking.

In either cooking method you will only want to turn the burgers once. Too much flipping keeps that perfect crust from forming on the patty, and also can create an opportunity for them to fall apart.

When you are cooking on the grill you want the coals to be medium heat, with a nice coating of ash. Place the burgers on the grill, with the dimpled side up, and place the cover on the grill. After 3 minutes turn the burgers over, cover the grill, and cook for another 3 minutes. They should be done to medium or medium-rare at this point (depending on how hot your fire is). Feel free to test with an instant-read thermometer to make sure they are done to your liking.

When you are cooking in a pan you want to use a cast iron or carbon steel pan. Heat the pans on medium-high until they begin to smoke. When the pan is hot, take your burger meatballs and place them on the pan and flatten with your spatula. Cook for 2 minutes on the first side, then flip the burger and cook for 3 minutes on the other side. This should give you a classic quarter-pounder cooked to medium.

The Condiments.

Whichever way you cook your burger feel free to experiment with the condiments. Cheese or no cheese. Toasted buns or not. Onion, pickles, relish, mustard...etc. Everyone has their favorites way to dress up a burger.

Personally, I like my burgers relatively plain. Some melted cheese, a slice of raw onion, pickles or relish, and some good grainy mustard. Yum.  

Non-beef burgers.

Ultimate Veggie Burger

Ultimate Veggie Burger

There are some really good alternatives to beef burgers. If you have not tried some of these, you should.

Veggie Burger. If you want to avoid meat altogether, but still want the burger experience, there are many variations using beans, grains & veggies that are quite good. Here is one you could try. They require a bit more ingredients to get the flavor profile right and to keep from falling apart - but getting a good veggie burger is healthier for you, and the planet. Give one a try.

 
Turkey & Guacamole Burger

Turkey & Guacamole Burger

Poultry Burgers. Poultry does not have the fat content that beef does, so you will need to add some other ingredients to keep them from drying out. Moisten them by adding ketchup and a bit of grated onion to the ground meat — or mayonnaise and a bit of mustard. If you are cooking these in a pan then you will need to add some fat to the pan. Other than that, they cook up the same and have their own special charm.

 
Salmon Burger

Salmon Burger

Seafood Burger. This is one of my favorite alternatives to beef in a burger. I love Salmon Burgers. And what is a Crab Cake but another name for a Crab Burger. Whether you are cooking a salmon, tuna, shrimp or crab burger, the key component is the binding agent, the thing that helps keep the burger from falling apart. Some recipes rely on bread crumbs, others on an egg or mayonnaise. Whatever the recipe calls for, make sure the balance of wet and dry ingredients is maintained.

Happy Cooking.

Michael Liss