But as I used to tell my students and co-workers, a little imagination goes a long way, when it comes to cooking.
Burgers don’t have to be plain
It’s fun to be creative with burgers. Surprise your guests and make Cheese-Stuffed Burgers, Buttery Onion Burgers, or Tex-Mex Burgers. We’ll give you eight great burger ideas to get you started.
Make Cheese-Stuffed Burgers. Instead of placing the cheese on top of the burger, use a burger press, to form two thinner patties then place the cheese between the patties. Mold the edges together to trap the cheese as it melts.
Make Tex-Mex Burgers. Toss your ground beef with diced green chilies, chopped cilantro, and shredded Monterey jack cheese before forming the patties.
Make Cheese and Herb Burgers. Make burgers as for Tex-Mex burgers but instead of chilies, use your favorite herbs.
Make Buttery Onion Burgers. Freeze a cube of butter then grate it as you would cheese. Mix the grated butter, a chopped sweet onion, and your choice of spices into your ground beef before forming the patties. (To keep the butter hard, place the grater and a plate or cutting board in the freezer before use. Make sure that the meat is ice cold.)
Make Blue Cheese and Bacon Burgers. Mix crumbled blue cheese into the ground beef. Cook and top with crisply fried bacon. If you are cooking on the grill, try wrapping the bacon strips around the burger patties before cooking. Secure the strips with toothpicks.
Make Italian Burgers. Mix one part ground beef with one part ground Italian sausage. Form patties. Season with additional oregano and basil.
Make Bacon Burgers. Microwave bacon until it is partly done. With kitchen shears, snip the bacon into bits. Mix the bacon bits into your ground beef.
Make Swiss and Mushroom Burgers. Make a cheese-stuffed burger as above but with Swiss cheese. Top the burger with sautéed mushrooms.
Chef’s note: Lean and extra lean burger is often too lean to make flavorful, moist burgers. By adding grated cheese or butter to the burger before forming, you are adding more fat and moisture to the meat and helping compensate for the lack of fat in the meat. Diced chilies, onions, or mushrooms and spices add flavor.
Eleven Secrets for Great Burgers
1. Start with the right meat. Buy your meat from a butcher you trust. Avoid the lean and extra lean burger which is great for casseroles but too lean for burgers—you need the fat for flavor and juice. Your meat should be fresh. Ask the butcher when it was ground and avoid meat that was not ground in the last few hours.
2. Don’t handle the meat unnecessarily. Too much handling makes for tough burgers. Break a section of meat off and form the burgers with as little handling as possible. If you are mixing seasonings into the meat, toss the meat gently with your fingers to disperse the seasonings.
3. Make the burgers the right size. Remember, they shrink while cooking. Three-quarters of an inch thick on the edges and slightly thinner in the middle is just about right for most of us. A hamburger press like our Burger Buddy is a nice way to form burgers without handling them too much. Make the burger thicker than necessary and then gently press the center to form a concave patty.
4. Start out with a clean, well-oiled grill. Burnt food particles will taint your burger and make it stick.
5. Cook at the right temperature. You want your grill or pan to be at medium high, hot enough to sear the meat and seal in the juices.
6. Avoid the urge to press. Yes, you see others pressing their burgers with the spatula but doing so forces the juices from the meat. Again, it’s the juices that make your burgers moist and flavorful.
7. Turn ‘em once. Years ago, I worked a grill in Alaska. The chef taught me to never turn the steaks more than once—doing so lets the juices run out and dries out the steak. The same goes for a burger.
8. Avoid the urge to overcook. A well-charcoaled burger is going to be tough and dry. That same chef taught me to tell how done a steak was by poking it with my finger. (The meat becomes firmer as it cooks.) You can do the same with burgers (and chicken). After the first cookout, you’ll be pro. No more over-cooked burgers or burgers torn apart to see how red they are in the middle.
9. Season your meat before cooking. You’ll find that your burger will taste much better if every morsel is seasoned, not just the outside. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to every pound of burger and knead it in gently.
10. Cook your burgers on medium high heat. You want to sear the burgers, make a bit of a crust, and seal in the juices. Too high and you’ll burn the outside before the burger is done; too low and too much of the juice will drip out.
11. Try mixing grated cheese into the meat for cheeseburgers. You’ll get a burst of cheese in every bite, the cheese won’t drip down into the grill, and it takes less cheese to make a cheesy burger.