Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On to the meat of the matter, because meat matters

Welcome back, while you were gone I cooked and ate something great. I hope you did too.

I want to address something that is a pet peeve of mine, people who make a lousy hamburger. There is no excuse for this. Making a delicious burger is easy and only takes 15 minutes from raw hamburger in a package
to delicious burger on your plate.

For those of you who don’t know me, I have a bit of a reputation amongst my online family (shameless plug #2 http://www.forums.mlb.com/ml-mlb ) as being a bit of a grill master. I BBQ a LOT and I do it year round. As long as the propane to my grill will flow, I will use it to cook and as such my first recommendation for making a better burger is grill the thing. No pan frying. Grilling puts a delicious sear on the meat and locks in the juices making your burger so much better. And really folks lets face it, everything tastes way better if you cook it over fire.

That said, lets do this from beginning to end. The first key to making a great burger is having great meat to make it with.  Store bought burgers do not cut it, make your own. You can make your own burgers taste exactly how you want as opposed to the prepackaged ones that come in 6 delicious flavors ranging from greasy cardboard to waxy construction paper. Back to the meat of the matter, your meat matters. Burgers need a decent fat content to stay juicy when you cook them so avoid the “uber lean, negative fat content ground beef” at the store. I personally have a local cattle farmer raise my beef for me so I know exactly what I’m getting and I suggest this if you can get it. There is nothing worse than getting poor quality meat that is high in water content and low in fat and your burgers shrink to half of the size you want while they cook.

Now that you’ve got your beef you need to decide what you want in a burger. How big, what flavors and what style of burger do you want. The possibilities here are almost endless so I’m going to go with my basic style and let you experiment from there.

I make my burgers ¼ pound apiece. Very simple method since hamburger is sold/packaged in one pound packages. I also make 2 pounds worth at a time, but that is just me. Put your burger in a bowl and add one egg for every 2 pounds of meat. This is all you need to help your burgers stick together, you do not need combiners like bread crumbs which in the end will just dry your burger out and make is cardboard-like. From here it is time to spice. The spices you choose are up to you and your personal tastes. One thing to avoid is putting any type of salt in the burger. Putting salt in the meat will draw the moisture out of it and dry your burger out. Add salt if you want it just before you grill or even while the burger is on the grill. Salt goes ON the burger and not IN the burger. My basic burger seasonings are: garlic powder (again, not salt), chili powder, black pepper, smoked paprika, Worcestershire sauce, oregano and basil. I very often will add other things depending on my mood. This is a great place to experiment with your spices and come up with new and exciting flavors of your own. I know of many people who add BBQ sauce or jalapeƱo peppers or onion or some pre-bought spice combination to their burgers and love them that way. If you do add a pepper or onion I find it best to mince them into tiny tiny pieces as we’ve all had someone’s mom make us burgers with giant onion chunks that are burnt on the outside and still raw and tear jerking on the inside. Not good.
Now that you have your meat spiced it is time to make the burgers out of it. Again there are many methods you can use to do this. I split my 2 pounds of meat into 8 equal parts and use a burger press to make uniform patties. There are tons of variations of hamburger making presses to choose from or you can just make your patties by hand. Another option right now is to make “stuffed burgers” where you literally wrap the meat around whatever ingredients you want as the “stuffing” and form a patty out of it. There are also burger presses that can be used in this manner so if this interests you, shop around.

Remember that once the patties are formed you need to use your thumb to press a small dimple in the center before you cook them. This keeps the burger from “rounding out” while cooking and becoming a large meatball. Think back to when you were a kid and you had a Kaiser roll with a burger that was the size and shape of a chicken egg on it, that was because it wasn’t dimpled.

Ok, the burgers are formed, lets get cooking. I use medium high heat on my grill which gives the burgers a good sear on the outside which locks in the juices. Now I cannot tell you how long to cook your burgers as it varies depending on how thick your burgers are and how well done you want them so that is something you will need to figure out on your own. Remember that eating undercooked meat is a great way to get really really sick and the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 160 F.  What I can tell you is what not to do while grilling a burger. DO NOT squish your burger with your flipper. All that juice that comes out and burns up is what makes your burger juicy and tasty. Honestly if you squish it will dry out. There is a huge debate among us BBQ nuts on how often to flip your burgers. Many say once, others say often. I’ve tried both and personally the only difference I’ve noticed is that flipping often prevents flare ups and gives a more even char on the outside of the burger. Again, it is totally up to you. Finally, let your burgers rest for a few minutes before you eat them to let the juices reabsorb into the meat. Same deal as with a steak. With burgers it is really easy to do if you just fix your bun while the burgers are resting.

Here's a quick rundown of how to make a great burger:
1. Use hamburger with a decent fat content to keep the meat juicy
2. You do not need combiners like bread crumbs only 1 egg for every 2 pounds of meat
3. Put salt on the burger instead of in the burger
4. Put a dimple in the burger before grilling it to keep it from rounding out
5. DO NOT squish the burger while cooking it
6. Let it rest for a couple of minutes before you eat

And that is that. I’m not going to tell you what to put on your burgers as the options are pretty much limitless so all I will say is dress them up with whatever you enjoy .

Happy grilling my friends and in honor of a blog that is all about burgers, here is my recipe for clam linguine.

Clam Linguine in White Wine and Mustard Sauce

1 pound clams (canned, fresh or frozen)                  1 pound bacon (chopped finely)
1 medium onion chopped                                        ½  green pepper chopped
2 stalks celery chopped                                           Linguine noodles
2 cups white wine                                                   2 tbsp Dijon mustard

            1.     Fry bacon until crispy and set aside, drain as much fat from pan as you can
2.       Add onion, pepper and celery to pan and cook until onion is translucent 
3.       Add bacon back into pan 
4.       Deglaze pan with white wine and then add mustard, thyme and clams. Cook until wine has reduced to half 
5.       Cook linguine noodles until al dente and drain
6.    Pour sauce over noodles, serve and enjoy

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