Armed with a spatula in one hand and a cold beer in the other, there’s no better way to celebrate summer than by hosting a cookout with friends. Whether on a beach in sunny California or at a backyard BBQ in North Carolina, I love entertaining around a fully loaded grill. There’s just something primal and manly about watching raw meat roasting over an open flame.
Of course, a cookout is never truly a cookout without our beloved hamburger. Yet, for all of its simplicity, it’s one of those food items that can often fall flat. You know what I’m talking about: From the burgers that resemble hockey pucks, to those that taste like lighter fluid, to the balls of meat that have you two bites into the bun thinking: “Where’s the beef?”
Since we’ve been spending the past few months covering kitchen fundamentals, and with the Fourth of July approaching, I figured it was a good time to provide my best tips and techniques for building a better burger. Of course, I realize this is a touchy subject. Giving an end-all-be-all recipe for a grilled hamburger is akin to telling a Southerner how to BBQ or a Midwesterner how to prepare Brats.
In other words, I’m approaching this subject with humility.
Now that I’ve made my point, please immediately refrain from the following at your next cookout: using frozen patties, adding in filler ingredients, flipping your burgers more than once, and pressing down on your burgers with a spatula while cooking. Whew, I think I got most of it out there. We’ll touch on these points again below, just to make sure.
Moving on…what makes a great burger? I’m glad you asked. Since we men love seeing things clearly, I’ve outlined some of the key bullet points that will make you the king of your next summer cookout.
- Creating a great burger always starts with using great ingredients! Fresh 80/20 twice ground chuck is my preferred choice. This blend provides enough fat content to keep the burger juicy and flavorful. Personally, I prefer beef burgers; however, I realize many of us live by different dietary standards. Thankfully, the options are limitless: Lamb, Bison, Venison, Pork, Turkey, Chicken, Black Bean (Vegan), Mushroom (Vegan), etc. are all appropriate alternatives.
- Using your hands, loosely form (6 oz) patties. Do not overwork the meat while making the patties, otherwise the burgers will turn out tough. Try to make your patties a little bit larger than your bun as they will tend to shrink while cooking.
- Use your thumb to create a dimple or well in the center of the patty, as this will ensure that the burgers cook evenly without plumping up.
- I’m a minimalist, and I want to taste the meat. Therefore, I only season my patties with kosher salt and pepper. Adding other seasonings or flavors is your personal choice.
- Grill your burgers over high heat. Whether using gas, charcoal (skip lighter fluid and use a chimney starter instead), or an indoor grill pan, you want to make sure to grill your burgers over substantial heat to form that nice crust (flavor/texture) that we all love.
- Avoid using your spatula to press down on your burgers while cooking. Why? Those flavorful juices are meant to stay inside the burgers–don’t waste all that flavor by pressing out the juices just to make your grill sizzle.
- Flip your burgers only one time–about 3 minutes on each side for medium rare plus. Keep in mind that eating burgers rare or even medium does carry certain health risks. For the purist, you can always grind your own meat at home.
- If you get a flare up, cover the grill. Cutting off the oxygen should quell the flames. Otherwise, always keep a beer in your hand to put out the fire.
- Allow your burgers to rest for a few minutes before serving. This will ensure that the juices redistribute into the meat.
This is where you can let your personality shine. Condiments and accessories turn a quality grilled burger into your own piece of art. I’ve suggested some of my favorite items below:
Bun – Slice in half and lightly butter and toast on the grill before serving.
Cheese – American, Cheddar, Blue, Feta, Provolone, Jack, Swiss, Muenster
Greens – Lettuce, Watercress, Arugula
Onions – Red, Yellow, Sweet, Caramelized, Fried
Pickled – Pickles, Jalapenos, Peppers
Tomatoes – Vine ripened, Sundried
Condiments – Mustard, Ketchup, Mayo, Pesto, Thousand Island, BBQ Sauce, Guacamole, Tapenade
Accessories – Bacon, Fried Egg, Peanut Butter, Mushrooms, Avocado, Slaw, Fresh Herbs
I for one enjoy keeping things simple. Here’s my recipe for a classic burger:
Classic American Hamburger
1.5 lb 80/20 Ground Chuck
Fresh Cracked Pepper
4 French Hamburger Buns, sliced
Dill Pickle Chips
Preheat a grill over medium high heat. Divide ground chuck into 4 patties, using your thumb to create a small well in the center of each patty. Liberally season the patties on both sides with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Lightly butter the cut side of each bun, and add to the grill for 60 – 90 seconds, or until just toasted and browned. Add hamburger patties over direct heat and grill covered for 3 minutes on each side for medium rare plus. Remove from grill (or top with cheese to melt) and rest 3 – 4 minutes before serving. Top with your choice of ingredients and serve.
So that’s my go-to recipe. But I really want this post to be a jumping off point for some great discussion in the comments. What are your tips for creating a great burger? What combinations of toppings and condiments do you prefer? Let’s talk burgers!