For years I frittered around trying to make the perfect burger. I added garlic, Worcestershire sauce, any number of ingredients. Over time I discovered that, because ground beef is made from the most flavorful meat on the animal, less is more. A tiny bit of salt and a dash of pepper is all you need. Much of the flavor is built up by the sear on the grill, and then the prolonged indirect cooking time, which allows the sugars to caramelize over the surface of the meat. We like our burgers so much we eat them plain, as though they were fine steak—no ketchup, no mustard. We revel in the full, glorious, mineral-rich intense beef flavor all on its own.
I’ve included a recipe below, but for those of you who bristle at the idea of using a recipe to grill a burger, preferring instead to season your dinner with impromptu stunt grilling, here are the basic tips that make a great burger:
1. Go light on seasonings. Grassfed ground beef is made from the most flavorful cuts on the animal, so it won’t take much to put intense flavor on your plate. A touch of salt and a little black pepper will do the trick.
2. Work quickly and gently when forming your burgers, handling the ground beef as little as possible. Excessively squeezing and kneading the meat will make for a chewier, drier burger.
3. Make them big. I find that burgers are much less likely to dry out if I am generous with portions. I think the best burgers should be a feast unto themselves at 8 ounces each. Between the protein, the fats and the minerals, there is a lot in each burger that your body craves, so be generous. It is true that some folks may not be able to eat an entire 8 ounce burger. Save the leftover bits for soups (I’ll talk more about that next week). Yes. I will scrape my guests’ and kids’ leftovers off their plates and cook something else with them. I’ll be simmering it anyhow in the soup, so there’s no need to worry about germs (What? Why are you canceling our dinner date???)
4. Put a small, half-dollar size impression in one side of each burger. That gives a little expansion room as it cooks so that the meat won’t get all puffy and round.
5. Sear directly (4 minutes per side), then finish indirectly (10 minutes). That indirect time is critical for bringing the ground beef up to a safe temperature without over-cooking it. Also, it enables the sugars in the beef to caramelize on the surface of meat making it amazingly delicious….without ketchup.
6. Lose the bread. Okay, maybe this is just an opinion (although I consider it a fact), but burgers deserved to be honored for their splendor without having to share their glory with soggy bread. In any event, with burgers this big, you won’t be able to get your mouth around a burger and a bun, anyhow. If you absolutely MUST adulterate your burger with gratuitous carbohydrates, consider using good quality sandwich bread. It can be toasted on the grill just like buns, and the thinner slices will make your meal easier to eat.
Now, for those of you who prefer a recipe, here y’are:
2 pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine the ground beef with the salt and pepper. Loosely shape the meat into four balls. Gently flatten them until they are about 1 inch thick. With your fingertips, make a small well in the top of each patty to prevent the meat from getting puffy over the flames. Set the patties aside while you light one side of your grill and clean off the cooking grate with a wire brush.
When one side of the grill is medium-hot and you can hold your hand five inches above it for no more than four seconds, brush it down lightly with oil, then set the patties directly over the flame. Cover and cook 4 minutes per side. Move the burgers off the coals to indirect heat, cover, and cook 10 minutes longer.
Leftovers: If my kids or guests leave any leftover burger on their plates, I don’t let it go to waste. I toss cooked leftover burger into the Minestra Maritata Soup, or Refrigerator Soup (more on that next week).