Creating the “Better Burger”

May 21st, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Creating the “Better Burger”

We pretty much put anything on the grill these days, but still, the favorite remains a good old-fashioned hamburger. Just because it’s everyone’s favorite, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s everyone’s specialty. Just about anyone can put a burger on the grill and let the heat do its thing; but creating the “better burger”, one that you’d be proud to serve at any cookout. . . well, that’s a different story. So, as the cookout season begins in full swing, I wanted to share a few burger-making tips that will make you a hit at any summer gathering.

It all begins, of course, with the beef. I must admit that I am biased towards our own products – the Grateful Harvest organically raised, grass fed ground beef, and the ABF Heartland Meadow All Natural Beef. The grass fed choice has some really unique flavor characteristics that you don’t get with grain-finished beef. Beef finished on grain (like Heartland Meadow) will have a more consistent and somewhat sweeter flavor, while beef fed and finished on grass will have a flavor profile that is influenced by the season, by the amount of rainfall in a given year, and for that matter, the type of grass that they eat. Much like a wine or cheese, grass fed beef can vary a bit from one time to the next depending on the feed that the cattle consume. I find these nuances interesting and delightful.

So, you now have excellent beef to begin with, and this assures you of a quality beginning. It is now our responsibility to cook and prepare the burger in the best way possible. A burger should be formed into a round flat patty. Far too many folks use the palm of their hand to form a burger and consequently the burger is much fatter in the middle than on the edges. This means the burger will be over cooked on the edges and likely undercooked in the middle. A hand made burger is a wonderful thing but should be carefully formed to be the same thickness throughout.

A burger should be cooked over moderately high heat. You certainly want enough thermal firepower to get great color on your burger without burning it. Some say that carmelization is the beginning of all flavor. A good way to determine the proper heat is to hold your hand as close to the cooking area as possible and count. If you can count about two seconds, your heat is just right.

You have now formed the burger, built the correct fire and correct temperature; now all that is left to do is cook the darn thing.

Put it on the grill and wait for it to color up on the bottom side. I like to cook with the lid off, but will place the lid on the cooker for a moment or two if the flames begin to get out of control. There is nothing wrong with the tongue of the flame touching the burger, but it should not flare and consume the meat. Just some basic common sense should work fine here.

Many grillers cannot resist pressing on the burger while it is cooking. I call this nervous fiddling. You’ve got to leave the burger alone! The spatula has one purpose and that is to flip the burger, not to push, press, or prod. That sizzle you hear when the juices are forced out of your burger is the sound of it getting drier and drier.

I’m really not a fan of mixing things in my burgers. I know that for some it’s a strong preference. I just prefer the more traditional approach. From my grilling perspective, all additional flavors should be put on top of, underneath, or on the side of the burger, but let the meat stand on its own. Again, it’s just a preference, but one that allows you to truly appreciate the actual flavor of the beef; which as we discussed earlier, if you choose the right product, will have a wonderful flavor without any help.

One thing to remember when cooking any meat and especially grass fed beef is that it does not tolerate being over cooked. It is best to use a probe thermometer to test the meat for doneness and you can consider a burger fully cooked at 160 degrees. Many recipes call for 180 degrees, but pathogens are cooked at 160 degrees and the burger will continue to cook after it comes off the fire.

Pile on the lettuce, tomato, onion, and bacon if you wish, and enjoy a great summer burger courtesy of our Grateful Harvest and Heartland Meadow beef.