We love sandwiches at home and we especially adore burgers. And when I say “burger”, I don’t mean grocery-bought patties that had already been seasoned and shaped. They’re convenient, no doubt, but there’s no way to know the ratio between lean meat and fat. And that ratio is so important if one is to cook great rather than so-so burgers. A minimum of 20 per cent fat in the ground meat mixture is a good starting point. The fat acts as a natural binder to keep the patty in one piece during cooking. The fat keeps the burger moist and juicy. The fat adds so much flavor to the burger too.
So, we make our own burger mix at home. Speedy has his own recipe, I have mine, Alex does too and even vegetarian Sam has her own ideas about how to make tasty meatless patties.
For making burgers (with meat, of course), there are a few things worth remembering.
Finely ground meat is best
Ground meat can be coarsely or finely ground. Opt for the finest grind of meat for burgers so that the patties don’t fall apart. The finer the grind, the more tightly packed the patties are. That means using binders like eggs and bread crumbs become optional.
Do NOT freeze ground beef
If you buy your ground beef today but plan on making burgers tomorrow, keep the meat in the coldest part of the fridge instead of the freezer. Notice how water separates from meat when thawed? That’s all the juices you lose which, ideally, should stay in the meat to keep it moist during cooking.
Chill after shaping the patties
After seasoning the ground beef and forming them into patties, stack them on a plate, separated by pieces of wax (non-stick baking) paper and keep them in the fridge for about thirty minutes. Chilling makes them firm, handling is easier and there is less chance that the burger will break when placed on the grill or pan.
Grill, fry or broil burgers over very high heat and for the shortest cooking time possible
You want to sear and seal the patties as soon as they touch the heat to keep the juices in. Ground beef takes little time to cook since there are no large fibers to break — the meat is already ground, remember — so don’t cook them for a long time. The longer you cook them, the drier they will be. So, cook one side for four to six minutes, depending on the thickness, flip over and cook the other side for three to four minutes.
Let the burgers rest for a minute or so before serving
This is to allow the juices to stabilize. Burgers are like steaks — they need to rest so that the juices don’t come dripping off when they’re cut.
Uniformly-sized and shaped burgers
A few days ago, Alex decided to go beyond what goes into our burgers. She wanted to try a technique for making uniformly-sized and shaped burgers. She did an experiment and the results were spectacular. All it took was a long sheet of cling film, patience and an extremely sharp knife.
It starts with the burger mixture, of course. There are countless ways to season burger mix but that’s not really the focus of this post. This is about making uniformly-sized and shaped burgers. The recipes will come later.
When you have prepared the burger mix, form it into a log and position at the center of a large piece of cling film. Roll the cling film around the meat then take one end and twist it tightly.
Holding the other end of the cling film, lift the log so that it is standing vertically. The opposite side has already been closed so there’s no danger that the parcel will get undone. With one hand holding the untwisted end of the cling film securely, tap the log on the work surface to make it compact. Then, twist the unsealed end while pushing the meat downward to compress the burger mix even more. Roll the log again to make sure that it is evenly shaped.
Once you have a tightly packed log of burger mix, place it in the fridge overnight. You want the fat to harden to make slicing easier. There simply is no short cut for this stage. The meat has to be chilled sufficiently. Otherwise, all the preparations will just go to waste.
When you’re ready to cook, start heating the grill before you even take the meat out of the fridge. And don’t forget to brush or spray the grill with oil — even if it’s non-stick.
Take a super sharp knife and start slicing the meat log. There is no need to unwrap it. Just peel off the strips of cling wrap after cutting.
Of course, the first slice won’t be perfectly formed. But the next ones can be if you do the slicing correctly. If you want to be completely OC, you can use a measuring tape and mark the cling wrap where you will cut through the log. How thick the burgers ought to be is up to you. We like our burgers to be somewhere between three-quarters to an inch thick.
Slice the log using a see-saw motion. And, as you cut, roll the log slowly so that the pressure from your hand and knife does not flatten any part of the log for too long which results in an uneven circle.
Once you’ve cut your patties, they’re ready for the grill. See how I grill my burgers. Alex employs the same technique.
The burgers in the first and second photos of this post came from the same log of burger mix — they were just dressed up differently. There are recipes to go with them but I’ll reserve that for another time.