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Saturday’s Feast: Grilled Memorial Day Burgers

May 26, 2012

OK, I grant you most every guy on the planet thinks he knows how to grill a burger.  The problem is they think they know.  In reality, they know how to produce burgers closer to the charcoal briquette than a tasty burger worthy of a Memorial Day celebration.  If not a briquette, then they hand you a burger that looks good until you bite into it and discover it’s really steak tartare.  That might work for seared tuna, but in a burger, it leaves much to be desired.

Cooking ground beef on a grill presents its challenges.  First off, if the patty is not put together right, it falls apart on the grill.  Second, its shape will determine if you have a nice looking patty or something that looks like a scared puffer fish.  Lastly, having the grill at a proper temperature ensures burgers are fully cooked and remain moist.  Now, don’t let all that deter you, with a few easy tips anyone can rightly claim the title Grill

A Scared Puffer Fish

Master.

Let’s start with the grill.  If you have a gas grill, the preparation is straightforward enough.  Simply start your grill as normal but keep the top closed until the internal temperature reaches between 500° and 600°F.  At this point, open the lid, keeping your face back as the heat will rush out, and then clean the grill grates using a metal bristle brush designed for that purpose.  It is important to clean the grill when it is hot.  Avoid using chemical cleaners on your grill as it leaves a residue and can give your burgers a sour taste.  Let the heat do the work, the brush should simply knock off any “leftovers” from your last cookout.  Once clean, use tongs and a wet paper towel to wipe the grates, then close the lid.  Adjust the heat to between 500° and 550°F.

For a charcoal grill, it is the same process but you must let the coals heat completely before you begin cleaning.  Most charcoal grills do not have thermometers so judging the coals is required.  When all the coals have changed to a white ash color, use your tongs to arrange them in a bed that covers about half the grill area and replace the lid.  Let it heat up for about 5 minutes, then clean and wipe the grate like a gas grill.  The area without the coals will give you a warming area to keep your burgers hot without burning them or drying them out.  On a gas grill, simply turn one of the end burners off or down to low for your holding area.

Now for the burgers, I like to use 80% lean ground chuck.  Using anything leaner will leave you with dry, shoe leather.  For the dieters out there, most of the fat will cook off in the grill.  Besides, it is a holiday – give yourself a treat.  If you can find it, a course ground chuck gives a better result and freshly ground beats the prepackaged grinds every time.  Here is how I mix and cook my burgers for the grill:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for oiling grill rack
  • 4 buns and desired toppings

Instructions

  1. Prepare the grill as mentioned above, and then let heat for 5 to 10 minutes before placing burgers on the grill.
  2. While it is preheating, break up ground chuck with your hands in medium bowl.  Use wet hands and handle the meat as little as possible.
  3. Sprinkle salt and pepper over meat; toss lightly with hands to distribute.
  4. Divide meat into four 6-ounce portions. Gently toss one portion of meat back and forth between hands to form loose ball. Wipe your hands often and rewet them.
  5. Lightly flatten into patty 3/4-inch thick and about 4 1/2-inches in diameter. Gently press center of patty down until about 1/2-inch thick, creating a slight depression in each patty; repeat with remaining portions of meat.
  6. Coat the grill with vegetable oil by dipping a napkin in a bowl with enough oil to wet the paper towel.  Use your tongs as you did when cleaning the grill.
  7. Grill patties, uncovered, without pressing down on them, until well seared on first side, about 3 minutes.  Flip burgers with metal barbecue spatula; close the lid and continue grilling about 3 minutes for rare, 3 1/2 minutes for medium-rare, or 4 minutes for medium.  Serve immediately.
  8. Claim your title as Grill Master!

One of the key steps is to make the depression in the patty’s center.  This keeps the burger from acting like a puffer fish.  Another point, the cooking times assumes you keep the grill above 500°F throughout the cooking process.  A lower temperature grill will increase the cooking time and dry out the burgers.  Cooking with this method will produce juicy and flavorful burgers.  Of course, you are welcome to add any flavoring your troop likes but I recommend giving it a try as I suggest above before you start adding other things.  You will be surprised as how tasty they are without all that other stuff.

Another key point to keep in mind, it is normally pretty warm outside when Memorial Day rolls around.  Raw meat needs to be kept cold until cooked and even the rare burgers need to reach over 145°F to be safe.  The warmer the food, the faster bacteria grows.  The last thing you want is for a rare burger to make you sick on a holiday.  It is truly a case of better safe than sorry.

Happy Memorial Day and please, please, please – remember just why we celebrate this day.  Give thanks to the men and women who have sacrificed so much and continue to sacrifice themselves daily.  That sacrifice is the reason we are able enjoy our freedom and a cookout in the first place.

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