Best Burgers Ever

Photographed by Jim Stott
Everyone loves burgers…well, almost everyone. And if you don’t eat them, you will wish you did when you see burgers like these! While going vegan would be easy for us on most days, most of us would cave immediately when a big juicy cheeseburger hot off the grill comes into focus. There is nothing better than a perfectly cooked burger, especially in summer, when the weather allows wonderful options for grilling outdoors. Whether you prefer gas, charcoal, or a campfire, the secrets to making a top-notch burger are simple and apply to all types of fires.

First select high-quality ground beef (or lamb, turkey, or even fish if you must). When choosing ground chuck or sirloin, look for a mix ratio of 85 percent lean to 15 percent fat. This seems to be the best to produce a burger that has the perfect balance of juiciness, flavor and texture. Don’t handle the beef too much; treat it as you would pastry, the less handling the better. Overworking the ground beef will break down the fat and meld it into the meat, making for a denser mix that won’t cook up as tender. As far as shaping the patty, we find that making a burger too thick is not a great idea. Generally the edges and outsides of the patty will be crusty and overdone before the inside is heated through. So, as tempting as it might be to make those giant burgers, try to keep them at ¾  inch to 1 inch and about 5–6 ounces each. This way the burgers will be good sized, satisfying, and still cook thoroughly with no exterior toughness. In addition, there is no guilt from over indulging, and it is much easier to layer on those toppings that we love.

One more little hint. We always use our thumb or spoon to indent the meat in the center of the patty before grilling. This does a couple of things. It allows for more even cooking and prevents the “puffed up” center in a burger, which makes toppings spill out the side of the bun and can leave you with a raw center. Using this trick also makes the burger virtually flat and ready to top with bacon, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and so on.

Cook hamburgers over a medium hot fire. Too much heat and the burgers will cook too fast and be charred but not juicy and flavorful inside. Resist the urge to turn them too often (3 to 5 minutes on each side and they should be done), and don’t press the juices out of them with your spatula. Never, ever cut the burgers open while still on the grill to see if they are done; this lets all those wonderful juices go right into the fire. Instead, get used to pressing lightly in the middle, you will soon learn the “spring back” feel that tells you the patties are done just the way you like them.
As a final note, one of the recipes we have given here is for sliders, a delightful way to serve burgers. These two-bite treats are great for appetizers, kids, a “design-your-own-burger” party, or late night snack. Just make the burgers in 2-inch circles, adjust cooking time and serve with lots of toppings. The only drawback to making sliders is that finding the right sized rolls can be tough. We made the ones pictured here out of pre-made, store bought dough and they were relatively easy to bake. You can use a cookie cutter to shape rolls from regular hamburger buns or think about using tiny pita breads or thinly sliced French bread as an alternative.
Now, go start the grill...

Makes about 10 mini burgers
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons minced red or yellow onion (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
10 mini rolls, pitas, or 20 pieces of thinly sliced toasted French bread
Optional toppings: Sliced cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, sliced tomato, lettuce, pickles, and condiments
1. Preheat grill or broiler.
2. If desired, gently blend onion with ground beef.
3. Form ground beef into about 10 patties, 2–3 inches in diameter and ½ inch high.
Salt and pepper patties to taste.
4. Grill burgers over a medium hot heat, about 2–3 minutes on each side, flipping once.
5. Serve on buns with condiments and toppings.

Grilled Stilton Burgers
Makes 4
1 ½ pounds ground beef
2 ounces Stilton or good-quality blue cheese cut into four thick slices
4 crusty rolls
Lettuce and sliced tomatoes
1. Preheat the grill or broiler.
2. Form the ground beef into 4 burgers each about ¾ inch thick. Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Grill burgers over a medium hot heat. Allow burgers to cook for about 3–5 minutes and then flip. After flipping, allow burgers to cook for another couple of minutes, then top with cheese and continue cooking for 2 more minutes to let the cheese melt slightly.
4. Serve burgers with lettuce and tomato on grilled rolls.

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