Summer mission: Grilling the perfect burger

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“The biggest mistake people make is pushing the burger around because they want to look like a grill master,” Jeff Weinstein, burger master

I love this time of year when the air is full of anticipation of summer fun to be had and the smoky, fragrant, scent of dinner on the grill. I often stop and breathe in deeply and imagine what is going to be for dinner next door. I always seem to imagine burgers for some reason.
Everybody loves a burger, but despite everyone’s best intentions, creating the perfect burger is hard to do, most of the time we manage to get a dry, crumbling, hockey puck of a thing that sticks to the roof of our mouth. So what are the secrets of a perfect burger? Once again, I have sacrificed myself and my loved ones to find this very answer for you. Here are some tips for burger mania on the summer grill:

On the Meat: Buy good meat, the cheaper the meat the less flavor and health involved. We like to mix our ground meats and do 50/50 venison/pork or lamb, lean beef/pork or lamb. A rule to remember is that the fat carries the flavor so you want to make sure and have that in the burger for taste and juiciness. There are many local meat farmers at your farmer’s market and their meats are far superior to any store bought meat. (And you are supporting our local farmers! Win-Win)

On forming the patties Chill your meat in the freezer for 10 minutes before handling and wash your hands in cold water before forming the burgers. This keeps bacteria down and helps reduce the stress to the burger so it won’t be tough after cooking. You want to handle the meat quickly and gently when forming the patties. Resist the urge to squash your burgers, it doesn’t work out well for either one of you. Form your patties about 3/4 to 1 inch thick and make a dimple in the middle of the burger about a 1/4 inch deep and 1 to 2 inch in diameter. This dimple helps the burger cook evenly and reduce shrinkage. It will flatten out perfectly when cooking. Brush them with a little olive oil on both sides, season with salt and pepper (if they are already seasoned) and then put the burgers back in the freezer for 5 minutes before grilling to firm them up.

On grilling them: Grill burgers hot. A high constant heat is the key to a perfectly cooked burger. Make sure to have your grill hot before laying the burgers on it. Do not fiddle with or squish the burgers once you’ve got them on your hot grill. I know it’s hard but you can do it! Burger masters only flip the burgers once, so try to keep that in mind when cooking these gems. You’ll know if you have the right sear on the burger if they come right off without sticking when you go to flip it. If it sticks you either haven’t got your grill hot enough or you haven’t let it sear long enough. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of your burger. If you want those groovy crisscross patterns on the burger, just do a half of turn after they have cooked for 3 minutes or so, then after flipping them, doing the half turn again before they are done.

After the grill: Take them off the grill and let them set for a few minutes, batting off the offending intruders who wish to jump in. This allows the juices to redistribute into the burgers. Serve the burgers with high quality toppers like homemade BBQ sauce, mayo and ketchup. I also like to marinate red onions, which are a cinch, and serve with them, along with interesting cheeses like blue cheese or feta. (If you do dairy) Believe me this really turns a regular burger into a party in your mouth.

The good use of spices also add interesting flavors like my latest favorite burger that I cannot get enough of. They are easy enough for a weeknight and delicious enough for a weekend barbeque. The leftovers are great crumbled up on a salad and turn the mayo into a salad dressing. This recipe comes out of my new favorite cookbook that I highly recommend, “Dishing up Oregon” by Ashley Gartland. Beware, when these burgers are grilling the neighbors might not just sniff but come to dinner!

Herbed Beef and Lamb Burgers
(The lamb can be substituted with ground pork if you like but it’s just not the same.)

2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 cup of fresh parsley
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro
1/2 cup of fresh oregano
2 medium shallots roughly chopped
OR 1/2 red onion roughly chopped (About 1/2 cup)
2-3 garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon of allspice
1 egg
1 pound of ground lamb
1 pound of ground lean beef or venison
1 teaspoon of flaked or kosher salt
1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
1/2 cup of mayo, preferably homemade

In your handy dandy blender or food processor, blend the herbs, shallots, garlic and lemon juice until everything is a fine mess. Dump 3/4 of that herby mess into a large bowl with the ground meats and mix in the spices, salt and pepper, egg and herb blend with your hands (hopefully clean) until just mixed. Don’t overmix or you will get tough burgers. Form the burgers into 8 patties about an inch thick and with a dimple in the middle of them about 1/4 inch deep and a couple inches wide to prevent shrinkage. Brush or spray the burgers with a bit of olive oil on the top side, season with salt and pepper and set in the freezer while your grill heats up. Add the remaining herb mixture with the mayo, stir well and set in the fridge till later.

Heat your grill to medium high heat or if you are using charcoal, get your coals red hot. (You should probably do that charcoal thing before you form the patties) Grill your burgers, turning once until medium done, about 4-5 minutes per side. After taking them off the grill, let them set 2-3 minutes before serving. Serve with the herbed mayo, thinly sliced red onions, tomatoes and arugula (Mixed greens work well too). Cheers!