Is there anything better in the glorious summertime than a big, juicy burger, straight off the grill, tucked into a soft, toasted bun, topped with all the fixings? Maybe with a cold, dark beer alongside? Not in my book.
But too often these days, cooks are cutting corners with the beef patties, sometimes even buying preformed patties at the meat counter. When I see someone in the grocery store reach for those predone packages of hamburger patties, I want to scream, “No, no don’t do it.” Because, well, it actually matters what grade of ground beef you buy and how you form the patties. It matters very much.
You may think it’s best to buy the leanest ground beef you can find, because that’s the most expensive and expense often indicates quality. But in the case of the humble hamburger, lean meat virtually guarantees a dry burger. Instead, look for packages of ground beef that contain 16%-20% fat.
And never, never purchase preformed patties. I don’t know what they do to those poor patties in the shaping process, but the resulting burger always tastes like cardboard. If you look closely at the patties in the package, you can see that the meat is ground to almost a paste. This is the opposite of what you want.
If you happen to have a meat grinder, by all means grind your own meat and grind it rather coarsely. It really does make a difference. Chuck shoulder is an excellent cut to use, because it has a lot of good meaty flavor and the right amount of fat. Or, have your butcher grind it for you. Then you know exactly what you are getting and it is always an improvement over packaged ground beef.
It’s much better to mix a few flavor and texture enhancers into your excellent quality ground beef and then shape the patties very gently by hand, being careful not to compress the meat.
And on a somewhat contentious note: If you cook your beef patties to well-done, they will NOT be juicy and tender, no matter what else you do to them. Buying your meat from a quality butcher is your assurance that the meat is safe to eat, even at medium-rare.
Beef , Beer & Fresh Rosemary Burgers
This burger pulls out all the stops. It is wonderfully juicy, tender, and flavorful, thanks to the stout, onion, chile, bread crumbs, fresh herbs, and seasonings. Plus there is a secret ingredient used here that I discovered recently: unsalted butter. If you have ever dipped a piece of steak into melted butter, you know the combination is dynamite. In a burger, the butter adds not only flavor but extra lubricant for the juiciest burger ever.
1 pound ground beef chuck shoulder (at least 16% fat), well chilled
¼ cup finely minced red onion
1 small jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and ribbed, and minced
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs, processed until fine
2 tablespoons stout beer (or a lighter beer if preferred, or beef broth)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold, grated
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tomato catsup
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, for grilling
crumbled blue cheese or sliced aged cheddar cheese, optional
4-5 soft, artisan buns, cut in half, lightly toasted
sliced ripe tomatoes
thinly sliced sweet onions
mayonnaise or aioli
- In a large mixing bowl, break up the ground meat with your hands. Do this lightly as you don’t want to compress the meat.
- Add onion, jalapeno chile, breadcrumbs, beer, garlic, butter, parsley, rosemary, Dijon mustard, catsup, salt, and black pepper.
- Use your hands to mix everything evenly together, again being careful not to compress the mixture.
- To test the seasoning level, heat a little oil in a small saute pan and saute a teaspoon of the hamburger mixture to cook through. Let cool briefly and sample. If the mixture needs more of anything, especially salt or pepper, add it now.
- Shape the meat mixture into four to five 3½-inch diameter, 1-inch thick patties. To obtain perfectly round patties, use a pancake ring to help with the shaping.
- Wrap each patty in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook. The patties can be made the day before you plan to cook them. They actually seem to get better with some resting time.
- Preheat a barbecue grill to medium-high. When it’s hot, brush the grill with vegetable oil.
- Put the burgers on the grill, and adjust the heat so that they don’t overbrown while cooking through. Close the lid. It usually takes 3-4 minutes of cooking per side to achieve medium-rare burgers. Turn the burgers only once during cooking and do not poke or press down on them.
- If desired, add cheese to the top of each burger during the last 2 minutes of grilling. If necessary, put the lid on the grill for a minute to melt the cheese.
- Remove the burger patties to a clean plate and assemble the burgers.
- To assemble, slather each bun half with mayonnaise, mustard, and catsup, as desired. Lay the burger patties on the bottom half of the buns and top with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. Add the top half of the buns to the stacks and serve immediately.
Makes 4-5, 3½-inch diameter, 1-inch thick burger patties; or 4-5 hamburgers.