- fresh ground 85-90% lean beef (the more fat the more juicy the burger)
Spices/flavorings you need:
- dark chili powder
- garlic salt
- fresh cracked black pepper
- cayenne pepper
- worcestershire sauce
Take out all of your spices, line them up, and remove their lids. In a baking dish, or whatever is easy for you, loosely break your beef into ~1/3 lb lumps. One at a time, give a very light dose of each spice to each lump. These spices will be mixed into the burger so be sure be light. My standard proportions would be more of the chili powder, medium on the black pepper and cumin, and light on the cayenne and garlic salt. Its up to you, and I admit there’s no math to my proportions. Lightly fold the meat into itself to spread the spices – be gentle here.
One of the biggest mistakes in making burgers is overworking the meat. The more you handle it, and pack it together, the more dense and mealy the burger will be. Thats bad. When forming your patti, toss the meat from one hand to the other into a ball (do not squeeze like a snowball!). Flatten (again, do not overdo it!) the ball into a pattie about 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ thick. Mend any cracks around the perimeter – you want this patti firm enough to not lose any pieces obviously. And for aesthetic reasons, it should be round and smooth.
Next up, line all your patties together and make a spice run over them. Be generous on this one, enough to coat the patty. There’s no need to be uniform, as the next step is to take your index finger and lightly rub the spices into the patty, which will effectively mix up the variety. Coat the outside of the burger. Flip, and repeat on the other side. Once again it is important to use light pressure – all you want to do here is get a nice spice rub on the outside of the meat. Don’t try to squish it in – much of these spices will be burned anyway.
Once both sides are coated, give each patty a couple dashes of worcestershire sauce. This will soak in nicely absorb nicely in the spice rub, so there’s no need to drown them. Flip, and repeat.
The next step is one of the best kept secrets in the burger world. Using your fingers, lightly create a depression in the middle of each patti, almost like a crater. Make the crater extend about 3/4 the width of the burger, and it should be about 1/4″ ‘deep’. Don’t use too much pressure, and be sure to mend any cracks on the sides again. The purpose of this move is to counteract the ‘inflation’ that burgers typically experience when cooked. When the center ‘puffs up’, these indentations will actually leave you with a nice flat patti. Your meat is now ready – let it sit (covered) in the fridge for a bit to marinate, if you want.
If you choose to do onions, cut them into about 1/4 – 1/2″ cross sections. They should be uniform, and thick enough to get your skewer through. Ususally I’ll stick two slices on each skewer. A simple sprinkling of olive oil, cracked pepper, and some salt is all I ever use. These can be grilled at any time, preferably started before the burgers as they take a bit longer. When you do cook them, try to keep the skewers away from direct flames. Grill the onions till they are nicely browned – or to your liking. Once cooked they will easily slide off the skewer, and right onto your burger.
Slice your rolls, as they should be toasted after the burgers cook. You can toast your buns at anytime really, but I prefer to do this at the very end, to retain some heat for counteracting cold ketchup. Also cut up your cheese and set it into portions so you are ready to add it when the time comes.
Fire it up!
Building a good fire – another key element of the perfect burger. You want it medium hot – ie, you can hold your hand over the grill for 3-5 seconds before you feel burnination impending. If its too cool, you can’t get a good char on the outside. Too hot, and you will burn the snot out of the poor thing.
If you are doing onions, you may want to keep a section of the floor low on coals to cook them with indirect heat (also handy once you add cheese – later). Once your fire is hot, cook the first side of your burger for about 3 minutes, enough to get a nice crispy coating. DO NOT squish your burger – use only a spatula and be gentle. When its time to flip, be careful not to break the patti, as it may be a bit crumbly being hot and not overly smooshed together.
Cook the second side for a few more minutes, depending on your preferred done-ness. When juices start flowing from the top of the patti, its usually about medium-rare. Keep in mind that your burger will continue to cook once you remove it from the grill, so plan accordingly. If you are unsure about doneness, cut into the edge with your spatula, but try not to break the patti.
If you are adding cheese, you are going to want to get the cheese on before the burger is done to your liking. The best way to cheese it, is to move the mostly-cooked burger to a cool part of the fire, pile cheese on it, and throw a lid on the fire. Heat will build up fast, and if you use real (not processed!) cheese, it will melt very quickly. Be sure not to leave the lid on too long, as it will bake and overcook the burger. Do not remove it too often, either, as heat will not build. Toasting the rolls after the cheese addition is good, as the fire has now simmered down a bit and there’s less chance of scorching them. Also I just check them by hand, and its alot nicer to not check their doneness over a pile of molten lava!
Cooking methods and times may vary – I base mine on a standard Weber kettle and Kingsford charcoal. You can use lump hardwood, but be aware that it burns much hotter than standard charcoal.
Throw your burger on a bun, with an onion, top with some ketchup or whatever condiment you prefer, and go to town. The only burgers that I’ve had better than mine are.. well, mine, to be honest. Play around with these methods, and you’ll soon be disappointed in any restaurant’s burger. Welcome to burger snobbery!
Always use good buns, such as some crusty kaiser or portuguese rolls. Do not use those ‘wonder bread’ style buns – they won’t hold up to this burger. You need a substantial piece or bread.
Cheese – your choice, but if not cheddar, you’ll usually find me getting monterey jack or muenster.
Vidalia onions – a favorite topper, I will grill cross sections to lay on top of the burger. I use wooden skewers to hold them together.