Outdoor Cooking: Burger Tips

Originally posted at TheKitchenHotline.com:

I am a firm believer that the most American food is not the hot dog nor the apple pie but the burger.  Both the hot dog and the apple pie trace their lineage to one other country (Germany and France respectively) while the burger reflects our melting pot culture.  The bun originates in Egypt, the Mongols were the first to grind the beef while the Germans were the first to cook it, tomatoes are from the New World but ketchup gets here by way of Italy via China and mustard is from India.

Mobile Burger CrawlThere is a very important designation to make here – a burger refers to a sandwich with at least 5 ounces of meat while anything with less than 5 ounces of meat (including a quarter-pounder) is a slider.  Remember when the McDonald’s sign used to say how many hamburgers were sold?  Today it says “billions served.”  There is no mention of hamburgers.  Perhaps that is because most of their menu fails to meet the definition of a burger.

Of course when most of us think about throwing a few burgers on the grill few visualize a paper thin wafer of frozen ground beef.  Most of us visualize a thick, hand formed patty.  That’s why the designation is important, if you try to mimic the weights at Micky D’s you’ll end up disappointed with your grilling experience.  In this case bigger is absolutely better.

Calories aside the best burgers contain a grind that is 80% lean meat and 20% pure fat.  Unfortunately that much fat can be lethal.  Many have experimented with leaner grinds, not just of beef but also chicken, turkey, pork, et al.  The result is a dry, less than satisfying burger.  Granted it is healthy but not exactly good.

I have two healthy fixes, one easy and the other a bit labor intensive.  The first is to throw your lean ground meat into a large bowl then blend in olive oil equal to 1/5th of your meat.  That’s 1/5th by weight mind you not volume or 3.2 ounces of oil per one pound of ground meat.  Olive oil being unsaturated fat that is full of antioxidants will give your burger the right mouth-feel without adding all the saturated fat.

The other method is for the burger connoisseur like myself.  Using the meat grinding attachment on my trusty old stand mixer I usually grind my own meat for burgers.  I buy the leanest sirloin steak I can find, usually 96% lean or higher, grass fed if at all possible.  I cut that into 2” cubes and place them two or three cubes at a time into the grinder alternating frequently with a tablespoon of coconut oil.  This gives me an actual saturated fat for my burger that has the added benefit of being very healthy.  The result is a burger that is perfect in every conceivable way.  This same method works well for grinding a skinless turkey breast or a nice lean pork tenderloin.

When hand-pattying burgers it is important not to work the meat too much, it can actually make them tough.  For the novice I suggest getting a 5 ounce ice cream scoop to make well-rounded balls.  Place each ball on a piece of parchment paper or cellophane topped with another piece then gently pressing down with a plate until the patty is ½ to ¾ of an inch thick.

Something else I like to do when making burgers is to blend herbs into the meat.  My preference is Herbes de Provence but any dried herbs and/or seasonings will do.   This way the meat is flavored throughout and not just on the surface that gets the salt and pepper on it.  Oh, yeah, salt is not an option; it has to be used.  In addition to enhancing the flavor it is crucial for the Maillard reaction which is the fancy science name for searing meat to get a crust.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
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