My Guy is a fabulous burger-chef. Usually I’m in the thick of it when it comes to making dinner, but if hamburgers are on the menu, I just step aside. I’d put his up against fancy restaurant burgers any day, and he’s agreed to give us a few of his tips. If you’re not a meat-lover, stay tuned - I promise a post on homemade veggie burgers soon.
Buying, Making, Freezing, Defrosting & Cooking Burgers
Buying meat for burgers – Chopped meat (beef) is a generic term. Typically the less fat the meat contains, the more expensive it is. You might think that leaner (more expensive) meat will make a better hamburger, but in fact if there is too little fat, the burger will be rather tough. If you buy ground beef in a pre-wrapped package, the label should state both the cut of beef and the percentage of fat as in 80/20 (meaning 80% beef, 20% fat), 85/15, 90/10 etc. We prefer the cut called “chuck” and somewhere around 15% fat. This explanation and handy chart explain some of the more confusing terminology found on beef labels.
Making the burger
- Food safety alert! Keep raw meat separate from other foods and clean work surfaces that touch it with hot water and soap before using them for anything else. Also, don't use the same plate for raw and cooked burgers. That avoids cross-contamination, which sounds bad enough that the name alone should prevent you from doing it.
- Add seasoning. My Guy puts salt, pepper, and garlic powder together, before sprinkling them onto the meat with a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, then forms the meat into patties. You can add other, more, or fewer seasonings – but I suggest keeping it simple.
- Handle the meat as little as possible. (Remember the technique for mixing meatballs?) Make the burgers slightly rounded, not flat. To make the package of beef into relatively uniform burgers, if you’re not comfortable “eyeballing” it, divide the meat into equal parts before adding the seasonings.
Freezing burgers - If you make more patties than you will eat, or make them for later use, freeze them in a closed container separated by waxed or freezer paper. After the uncooked burgers are frozen, they won’t stick to each other; you can then transfer them to a freezer bag so they take up less room.
Defrosting frozen burgers – If you use a microwave, defrost slowly. (If you're impatient and use too high a setting, you will partially cook instead of defrost them.) If you don’t use a microwave, you can defrost burgers in the refrigerator overnight. In order to avoid growth of bacteria, do not defrost by leaving them on a counter, especially in the hot weather.
- Food safety alert! Make sure your beef is adequately cooked all the way through. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Even if you don’t use a food thermometer, do make sure the burgers are not raw in the inside.
- If possible, use a charcoal grill. Of course, that isn’t always possible, but I think charcoal-grilled burgers are the best tasting. Whichever way you cook them, use a high enough cooking temperature (pre-heating the pan if you are using one) to brown and almost crisp on the exterior. You don't need extra fat in a pan.
- Use good bread or rolls, and cheese if you add it. If you’ve made a great burger, don’t skimp on the extras. I like my burger on a toasted English muffin, while others in my family prefer softer bread or rolls. We grill the bread on the barbecue next to the burgers after turning the patties to their second side - cheese slices go on top of the burgers at that time too.
And don’t forget to put out the onions and tomatoes, not to mention the ketchup, relish and other condiments!