The problem: I couldn’t make a cheeseburger as good as the gourmet burgers fancy restaurants serve these days. The reason: My parents (yeah, lookin’ at YOU mom). I blame them entirely.
My mom certainly makes some great food (Chocolate pie anyone? YUM!) But burgers in my folks’ house were these snowball shaped mounds of meat, firmly smashed together, and well done. Oy! How the heck was I supposed to go forth into adulthood and cook a good burger after developing a taste for this? And what’s worse is I didn’t really realize how bad things were until my wife spoke up. She said, “these aren’t my favorite,” which given how tactful she normally is, was her way of saying “This is the worst pile of you-know-what I’ve ever eaten.”
I’d love to say I went on some kind of burger quest, and after years of research, developed the miracle recipe. But that’s not really how it happened. A lot of the following came from a page out one of the Naked Chef’s cookbooks, except for few fairly significant tweaks I later added.
Naked Chef guy made a point that densely packed meat bombs could be avoided with onions and eggs. The onion makes it lighter and sweeter, and the eggs help to hold the thing together, so there’s no point or need for squeezing the oxygen out of a meat patty. In fact, you could and should very loosely form your patties.
But here’s the problem. Even the Naked Chef’s recipe had one flaw, which is egg or no egg, it still crumbled on the grill (vs. a pan). Half the burger would end up on the coals. Hmmm…. But after a few experiments, I finally found a cooking formula that works perfectly, every time.
So, here’s my fully-clothed set of adjustments to the Naked Chef’s approach:
(BTW: Just looking for pictures of cheeseburgers? Click here.)
- 1.5 lb of ground beef. (FYI: I’ve been grinding my own beef lately.)
- Half a large onion (or even more) chopped medium-to-fine. Do not worry about too much onion; I’ve found the risk is really too little onion, not too much.
- 1 extra large egg
- ¼ cup of Show-Me sauce
- Minced garlic
Prepare the cheese of your choice in slices. I like swiss, personally.
- Get the grill up there – 450 degrees, or so.
- While the grill is heating, mix the ingredients, but take care to avoid mashing up the ground beef. Mix just enough to get the onions evenly distributed.
- Create thick, but flat patties big enough to cover whatever you’re using for a bun.
- But DO NOT squish these patties. You want to apply as little pressure as you can to form and keep the patty shape.
- Use the big ol spatula to gently slide the burgers on the grill. Avoid plopping them on.
So, you’ve purposely made some pretty loose burgers here, so that they’re light and airy when done. Now the trick is preventing them from disintegrating on the grill.
The error, I’ve found, is when you imagine yourself “flipping burgers.” That is an evil phrase invented for the poor sucker who is making fried burgers at fast-food joint, and is the TOTAL opposite of what you want to do. Here, you’ll flip each burger one time, that’s it.
I discovered that if you let the grill heat thoroughly do its job on one side of the burger, that this fully cooked side will do the heavy lifting in holding your patty together.
So after the patties hit the grill, close the lid, and suppress that instinctive barbecuer’s urge to flip em. You can do it! Will power, friend! When you DO get that first urge to flip, grab two spatulas — use one to hold the burger in place, and use the big ol spatch to carefully slide under each patty just to prevent stickage. But don’t flip. Give the patties a full extra minute or even two if they’re thicker, anticipating that once they’re flipped, they’re flipped for good.
Have your cheese ready. Using the two spatula method again, this time go ahead and flip the burgers as gently as possible. Chances are some will still crumble a little, but for the most part, you should have a nice seared crust on top holding the thing pretty well together. So, cement time: Add the cheese, close the lid, and by the time the cheese is melted, that burger is done and ready to come off the grill (unless they’re really thick…use your best judgment).
The one thing I haven’t figured out is how to make a great hamburger bun. That statement would be slightly more impressive had I ever actually tried to make a hamburger bun. Still…. When I get a really great gourmet burger, the buns are usually big, buttery and toasted, but not too heavy and don’t overpower the sandwich.
If anyone has a fresh-baked, homemade hamburger bun recipe, please do share.