It’s finally summertime and like the song says “the livin’ is easy.” Or at least the dinner options are easier because it’s time to take off the grill cover, heat up that grill and start cooking outside.
Grilling is a true expression of summer and what could be better on that hot, hot grill than the All American favorite: a big, juicy burger? I’m talking about the kind of burger that you have to eat either standing up or hunkered over a plate to catch all the drippy juice that escapes every time you take a bite.
Making and cooking a burger is a simple thing, but with a few tips and guidelines, your burgers can go from good to sensational. Whether you’re a burger purist and go for ground beef or you enjoy your burger on the lighter side – made with chicken, turkey and salmon – there’s a beautiful burger just waiting to hit your grill and sizzle away.
Choosing Your Meat(s)
When talking about any burger the most important thing is to get the best type of burger meat. For the juiciest, most tender beef burgers look for a fat content of 15 to 20 percent and at least 15 percent for turkey and chicken. I know we’ve been trained for years to look for lower fat products but when it comes to burgers, the fat content makes a difference between a tough hockey puck and a tender, juicy burger.
Another great way to inject more flavor into your burger is to make it a mix of ground chuck (about 20 % fat) and ground sirloin (about 15% fat). The sirloin has a little more flavor and, when mixed with the fattier chuck, it’s heaven on a bun.
Shaping Your Patties
An important thing to remember when making a burger is not to overwork the meat when shaping the patties. I like to lightly pack about 1/4 pound of meat into the top of a small deli lid, place another deli lid on top, topside down, compress and then tap it out onto a plate or sheet pan. That way my hot hands haven’t overworked the meat and all the burgers look exactly the same.
Adding More Flavor
The beauty of working with ground meat is that you can mix a variety of flavors right into the meat, making the hamburger way more exciting without adding much extra work. The burger mix-ins below are guaranteed to add more flavor to your summer cookouts. Use them alone or in combinations to make the burger of your dreams.
For every pound of ground meat start out by mixing in 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper for the basic seasoning. Fish is lean and has a hard time holding a patty shape when cooking on the grill so, when working with salmon or tuna, add 1 egg per pound of meat along with 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs to help bind it all together. Then add:
- Finely diced bacon: It adds moisture and smoke to beef burgers. Just freeze the bacon slices in order to chop them into a fine dice. They’ll disappear into the mix when cooked, but you’ll taste the difference. Add about 2 slices.
- Montreal Steak Seasoning or other steak and burger seasoning: This is a one-stop-shop kind of ingredient as it has some salt, pepper, garlic, onion, paprika and other good tastes all in one little bottle. I use it on all kinds of burgers – meat, fish or fowl. Add 2 teaspoons.
- A combination of 1 teaspoon each onion powder, garlic powder, paprika: You can make your own little seasoning mix. The benefit is that if you like more onion or garlic you can feel free to add it.
- Worcestershire or A-1 Sauce: It’s great on a steak and even better in a burger. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons to any kind of burger.
- Egg: You can add an egg to every pound of beef, chicken or turkey. It will make the patties richer and help them to hold together better (just like it does in a meatloaf). Add 1 egg per pound. (You have added it to salmon or tuna as a basic ingredient).
- Onions: Finely diced onions are delicious cooked up on the inside of the burger as well. Just be sure to make them very small so that they have a chance to tenderize and cook inside the patty. Big chunks will remain uncooked … not so fun. Add about 1/2 cup very finely diced or grated to any type of burger.
- Garlic, Ginger, Green onions: I love this mixed in with tuna and salmon burgers but it’s also a great addition to chicken or turkey if you’re going in an Asian direction. Add 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon grated ginger and 1/4 cup diced green onion to the burger of your choice.
- Soy Sauce: It’s Asian salt, really. It adds a salty note, but also some caramel and umami. Add up to 1 tablespoon.
- Grated Cheese: Add a cup of your favorite grated cheese to the mix. Cheese on the inside of a burger. Why not?
- Fresh Herbs: I’m partial to a teaspoon or so of fresh herbs added to the mix. Try rosemary with lamb burgers, cilantro with tuna or chicken burgers, oregano with beef and thyme with chicken or turkey burgers. Add 2 teaspoons finely chopped.
- Pico de Gallo or Salsa: This tomato, onion, citrus blend is great in all burgers but it’s a little wet so you may want to add a few tablespoons of panko bread crumbs to soak up some of the juice. Add about 1/3 cup salsa.
- Hot Sauce: Like it spicy? Add a tablespoon (more or less depending on your taste) of your favorite hot sauce to any burger blend.
- Barbecue Sauce: I like to add it inside the burger and then again to the outside. Add 1/3 cup and mix it in.
- Marinara Sauce: Add 1/3 cup of your favorite jarred sauce for a zippy tomato flavor inside the patty.
- Mushrooms: Finely chop some cremini or wild mushrooms along with a little garlic if you love mushrooms.
- Red and Green Bell Peppers: I like to add these very finely diced to tuna, salmon, chicken and turkey burgers. They add color and zip to an otherwise beigey burger.
- Dark Asian Sesame Oil: Yes, definitely add a teaspoon or so to Asian-inspired tuna, salmon, chicken or turkey burgers. The oil adds huge sesame flavor. You can also add some sesame seeds (about 1 tablespoon) for added interest.
- Hoisin Sauce: Hoisin is an Asian barbecue sauce. Try adding a tablespoon to Asian-inspired burgers of all kinds.
- Mayonnaise: Mayo adds much-needed fat to the less fatty, fish and fowl based burgers. Try adding 2 or 3 tablespoons along with 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs to soak up some of the wet.
- Olives: Green or black, the briny taste is a great foil for the fatty, juicy meat. Add 3 tablespoons, chopped, to any burger.
- Citrus: The juice of lemon, orange and lime is a great add-in to fish and fowl burgers. Add 1 tablespoon. You can also zest the skin and add that to the mix. Lemon zest is fab in seafood burgers. Add up to 1 teaspoon.
- Fish Sauce: I know it’s stinky, but the flavor boost it adds is amazing. Salty and umami-rich, add enough so that it boosts flavor but not so much that you get that fishy taste. Add 2 teaspoons to any burger.
These ideas should get you started in the right direction for a whole summer of some of the best burgers ever. Stay tuned for another post about what to put on top of all these amazing burgers.