Memorial Day is just around the corner. All hail the unofficial beginning of summer and the official beginning of grilling season. My holiday cookout isn’t complete without burgers. Mine are world-class-tasty (says me) and while there are a few special things I do that go the extra mile, you’ll be shocked at the one thing I don’t do for this, or any other, backyard burger build.
The foundation of any burger is meat. The bun is also important. After that, everything else is a topping, and wildly subjective, save a few objective characteristics. Burgers may be considered humble, simple food, but don’t be fooled: perfect execution of simple food is blissful. Last year, I served burgers for Christmas Dinner. True story. They’re that good. Get the grill ready; you’re gonna need it for your very own world-class burgers.
My burgers have two things going for them that are absolute requirements of world-class burgers: flavor and crust. Rarely do you just “find” burgers made from more than one cut of meat, but that’s exactly what you should be doing. You just have to ask the meat counter in your grocery store or a butcher to grind what you want. While I frequently experiment, there is one tried and true blend I find easy to get and super tasty.
The flavor comes from a blend of three cuts of meat to form the actual patty. The magic “house blend” is: 2 parts chuck, 1 part sirloin, and 1 part brisket, ground together twice on a medium die. The brisket adds a surprising meatiness, and more of that awesome fat we need to make a supremely juicy burger.
The crust comes from the way I cook them. Notice I say “crust” and not “grill marks?” Sure, grill marks are sexy on chicken; just keep them off my burgers. I use cast iron and you should too. The grill is just there to super-heat the iron, and keeps the mess outside. Several companies make cast iron griddles. I found one for about $30 that will last long enough for my not-yet-to-be-born grandkids to use. They’re also great for pancakes but that’s another post.
Here’s how to build, and cook, world-class burgers:
- 4 pounds of “house blend” ground meat, formed into 10 patties (about 6oz each). I kept the math easy, but adjust per the formula, as you need. 2:1:1 is the ratio from above. Store in the refrigerator but bring to room temperature before cooking, about 1 hour.
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the grill to 550-650 degrees. Once the grill hits 450, put the cast iron griddle on one side. If you grill often, you know your grill well enough to find the hot spots. Use them. My griddle takes up 3 of 4 gas burners on my grill, and leaves some room in the front. That’s helpful later. If you use a charcoal grill, get the charcoal ready, and then push it all to one side, placing the griddle over that side. Preheat the griddle for about 15-20 minutes at 550 or above. Your patience will be rewarded.
- If you have a gas grill, you can turn down the heat once the griddle is hot. I have 4 burners. I preheat with all 4 on high, then turn 2 off and the other 2 to low. Your griddle should be seasoned (most new ones are these days). If not, follow the instructions included with your griddle to do so before you try this recipe.
- Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the patties. Place them on the griddle. No oil necessary. Once placed on the griddle, cover the lid and wait 4-6 minutes, depending upon the thickness of your patties. Don’t poke, press, or touch while cooking. Do nothing. Just wait.
- Raise the lid and flip with a spatula. Admire your crust. It’s likely sensational.
- 4-6 minutes on side-two and the burgers should be done medium-to-medium-well. If they were cold when you put them on the grill, I cannot promise the final quality. Room temperature patties are important.
- Toast burger buns on open space while side two is cooking. Yes, you should toast burger buns. These burgers are juicy; you’ll want something sturdy. I recommend Kaiser rolls. They toast well but remain light and airy inside.
- If you want cheese, melt it after the buns are finished toasting. Lay two slices on each patty and close the lid. Just wait. I like to spray water on the grates and the griddle and then close the lid to add some steam but it’s more for show than need.
The griddle will catch the fatty juice from the burgers while they cook so pesky flare-ups will likely be avoided while cooking. But if some of the juice goes over the edge, look out! When you’re done cooking, the heat will be off, but be careful removing the griddle. It will still be screaming-hot and the juice will burn you if you’re not careful.
Burger assembly is important. The order of the ingredients matters. I can see you shaking your head “No.” Yes. It. Does.
My “house” burger/cheeseburger is built as follows, from the bottom up:
- Guacamole – try this recipe for Great Game Day Guacamole
- Burger, with cheese
- Pickles or cucumbers
- Purple onion
- Heirloom tomato – yes, specifically and only heirloom tomato. You can’t get them all year. They are worth the wait and they take place of ketchup I refuse to use. I’m picky, I know.
- Lettuce next, except, most times, I like arugula.
- Barbecue sauce, or, more guacamole – no ketchup but BBQ instead? I make my own. Picky, remember?
The keys of this build are the consolidated areas of richness (meat and cheese) and salt (meat and bacon), and then cutting them from both sides with something fresh and acidic (guacamole from the bottom and pickles and onion from the top). The freshness section (tomato and lettuce) just adds “summer” to the party but if you use arugula or even parsley or cilantro, it will amp-up the freshness level dramatically. Go for it.
There you have it. Use the grill, just not to cook. Try these burgers at your next cookout and your friends will light up their feeds with pictures, hashtag worldclass. Until next time – A.
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