When the weather turns warm, I find myself craving the smell and taste of a great homemade burger off the grill.
So what makes a great burger? There are a few simple rules. But if you remember just one of them, it should be that less really is more. Which is to say, the less you add to your ground beef, the less you handle the meat when mixing it, and the less you flip it while grilling, the better burger you get in the end.
The foundation of my backyard burger is a 50-50 combination of sirloin and chuck. I love mixing the leaner and cleaner ground sirloin with the rich beefiness of ground chuck. A patty that is 100 percent sirloin is too lean, and 100 percent chuck is too fatty.
If I am close to a good butcher, I also love to make a custom grind. You can ask the butcher to grind the odd pieces of brisket, short rib, skirt and hanger steak, and add it to a lean and clean base of sirloin for a top notch burger. The key is a mix of lean and fatty meat, freshly ground.
Beyond the meat itself, you don't want to add too many other ingredients, particularly wet ones. You don't want to compete with the flavor of the beef, or leave it too watery. I limit myself to a sprinkle of salt and pepper, plus just a bit of dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. The last two amp the savory flavors of the burger without competing with it.
Once the meat is seasoned, I lightly mix everything together and divide it into equal portions. I generally use 2 pounds of meat to make six burgers. This step can be done up to a day in advance. If prepping in ahead, refrigerate the patties and make sure they are well covered to minimize the oxidation (discoloration) of the meat.
Before the burgers go on the grill, be sure to press your thumb into the center of each patty, pushing it halfway down. This is the real secret to a perfect backyard burger. This is because as the meat cooks, the fibers expand and they inflate the burger, turning it into a ball. If you make the depression with your thumb, the meat expands to fill the hole, leaving the burger flat.
A hot grill also is important to getting a great burger. Be sure to heat it with all burners on high (or wait until the charcoal is covered with a gray ash), then clean the heated cooking grates with a brass-bristle brush. Reduce the heat to a medium just before placing the burgers on the grill. You should hear a satisfying sizzle when the meat hits the grates! Cover the grill and flip the burgers just once halfway through the cooking time.
The meat will initially stick to the grill grates. But as it cooks, it will naturally release itself. This is true of many foods and all protein, whether you are grilling or sauteing it. This is why it is so important not to flip the burgers more than once, as well as why so many burgers end up falling apart when they are flipped too early. And it should also go without saying that pressing down on the burgers with a spatula is a no-no, too!
CLUB HOUSE BURGER WITH BUTTERED BUN
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground chuck
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Coleman's dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin Olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
6 kaiser rolls, sliced
6 crisp butter or Boston lettuce leaves
6 slices purple or sweet onion, such as Vidalia
2 large tomatoes, cut into 6 slices
6 slices cooked bacon (optional)
Heat a grill to high.
In a large bowl, combine the ground sirloin and ground chuck. Mix it together, being careful not to overwork the meat. Add the Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined, then divide the mixture into 6 pieces. Gently shape each piece into a burger about 3/4 inch thick. Press your thumb gently into the center of each to form a depression.
Brush the patties lightly on both sides with the olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the burgers and grill until the meat no longer is pink, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling time.
Meanwhile, brush butter over both sides of the rolls and grill until lightly toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve the burgers immediately on the buttered rolls with a lettuce leaf, a slice of raw onion, tomato and a slice of bacon, if desired. Serve with traditional condiments on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 260 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 30 g fat (12 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 110 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 35 g protein; 760 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."