This weekend I was craving a nice, juicy hamburger and while I would have settled for take-out, Todd was nice enough to make a trip to the store (while I slept off another dose of cold meds) for the necessary ingredients to make them at home.
It’s not enough to just form some ground chuck into a disk and toss it on a grill or in a frying pan.
First of all, you have to have the right mix of meat to get good results! Too much fat, like in straight ground chuck, and your burgers shrink to half their size or bunch up in the middle and don’t cook evenly. Too little fat and you wind up with a dry, mealy burger that falls apart on the grill. A 50/50 mix of chuck and lean seems to work best and results in a juicy burger that still fills out the bun.
Secondly, salt enhances flavor, as do other seasonings; don’t be afraid to use them! Salt, pepper, garlic and onion all go into our burger mix. This time we also dashed in a bit of paprika for fun. One thing I do tend to go back and forth on is whether to go powdered or fresh with the onion and garlic. On the one hand, fresh is generally best but it can be tough to finely mince the onions enough that the flavor is evenly distributed. Onion and garlic powders allow, I think, for a greater distribution throughout the meat. We also add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, too.
Finally, help the meat stick together by adding some binding agents. Just like you do with meatloaf, an egg and some breadcrumbs certainly won’t hurt the burger and can help a too-lean mix hold up to being flipped over flames. I’ve used oatmeal in the past, instead of breadcrumbs, and Todd’s used crushed potato chips and even rice cereal! As long as it’s fairly finely crushed (a rolling pin and a plastic bag will do if the food processor’s too much of a hassle) it’ll work!
Stove versus Grill
There’s just something about a grilled burger than one done in a frying pan or skillet can’t match. If you have a gas grill, like we do, firing it up (even in January) is no sweat. Charcoal takes, I think, a little more commitment but the flavor is often worth it (though I think having a second item–like some chicken quarters or a pork roast–to cook while the coals are still live is the most efficient use of a charcoal grill). An indoor grill is somewhat superior to a skillet but if you really have a hankering and a frying pan is all you’ve got, then go for it!
What are your qualifications for a really good burger?