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It's All Food Related

Hamburgers - The Basics


Hamburgers are popular because they are not only tasty, but the traditional way they are eaten make it easy to carry around. A good hamburger is one that needs little or no toppings, although a good hamburger can be accentuated very well with the right toppings without overdoing it.

Fortunately, most markets have meat already grounded that saves you a step from grinding your own meat. The drawback is you don't really know which meat cuts were included or how long ago the grinding has taken place. Merchants without scruples will often use bits of meats close to the point where it would have been thrown out anyway, bits that would have been harder to sell, too much fat, connective tissues, and other unsavory bits. Even in high market stores where you expect good quality may try to let things in the mix.

If you want to be assured of what goes into your mouth, you should consider grinding your own meat. The key is picking cuts to balance the texture and taste. A strictly lean grind would render the meat easily dried and no one really likes a dry hamburger. One with too much fat tends to shrink down too much, will drip grease as you eat it, and is unhealthy. A good lean range should be about 75-80% with fat at 15-20%.

You also want to grind the meat as close to the time you are going to use it as possible. If you are having a big party or serving a lot of people, it may not be practical to grind moments before getting it cooked. A good range of time is 24 or less hours between grinding and cooking. The longer you wait, the more the meat will start to breakdown and pick up anything floating around in your refrigerator (weird tastes, smells, germs...) A combination of chuck and sirloin will make a good burger (80% chuck, 20% sirloin).

If you have the right cuts of meat with the right amount of fat, the only ingredient you really need is salt to enhance the flavour of the meat. NOTHING ELSE!!! Of course there are specialty hamburgers that add things inside which are quite delicious, but for now we are concentrating on the basic. The specialty hamburger is down further in this article.

To cook your hamburger, scoop about 1 large ice cream scoop of meat into your hands (wash and dry hands between making patties) and round it out without kneading or massaging it around too much. The more you overwork the meat, the drier and tougher it will be. If you want to make the patties all at once, lay them out on wax or parchment paper and leave space between the patties. Refrigerate until you are ready to cook, but make it within the hour of cooking.

The grill is by far the best way to cook your burger, but many have health concerns of using the traditional charcoal grill as the fat combined with the charcoal can be a cancer risk. As long as you leave enough space between the heat and the meat, it would be harder for the fat to bounce back and forth between your burger and the charcoal. Also, DO NOT USE THE SPATULA TO SQUASH THE MEAT!!! That will not only squeeze all the fat out making a dry burger, but it will cause the charcoal to create the massive flames that can get back to your burger with the cancer causing agents. Use a medium heat and let the fire run in a partially ventilated unit for about 20 minutes so you can be sure the grill surface will be hot when you place the meat on it and won't stick. (Or you can cover the grill surface with cooking oil. Some will swear by using aluminum foil, but others have health concerns about cooking with it.)

Spread the patties over the surface of the grill so they do not touch. Put the partially ventilated lid on the grill and let it cook for 5 minutes. Open the lid and flip the hamburgers. Cover and let cook for another 5 minutes. Using a knife, peer into the center of one of the patties to check the done level. At 10 minutes, you should have a medium rare product. If you like it more bloody, cook it for about 3 minutes on each side. If you like it well done, cook it 7 minutes each side. Remove them when cooked and let them rest for at least 3 minutes so the juices inside will settle.

This will give you time to prepare the buns with whatever toppings you wish to put on. Keep it simple, no more than 2 vegetables or 2 condiments. Why? The more flavours you heap on your burger will take away from the taste of the meat. It will also make a sloppy mess that can destroy the bun and drip all over you.

Toppings for a burger can include a wide range of things: ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, relish, pickles, pickled peppers, jalapeno, mayonnaise, salad dressings, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bacon, parsley, cucumbers, green peppers... As you can see, there are so many combinations that you can never really get bored, but remember to eat red meat in moderation as it still poses a health risk.


Specialty Burgers

A specialty burger is one that has ingredients added to the ground beef before it is cooked. A popular one is when people add onion soup or mushroom soup mix to the ground beef before shaping them into patties. While these can make pretty good hamburgers, they are also full of sodium that may not be right for everyone.

You could pretty much add anything to a specialty burger that would normally compliment beef, but the trick is to add only enough to give it the taste you wish without making the cooking time awkward or items inside being burned or under-cooking the meat in the process.

This is my personal recipe for a specialty burger. There are many possibilities out there, but this one is my favourite.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl with your hands until all the ingredients are well blended. Shape into patties and grill. This creates a pretty spicy burger that is best served with toppings such as lettuce, tomato and barbecue sauce or mayonnaise.