I’ve been accused of being a purist, especially when it comes to food. It’s not that I like plain or boring. It’s just that sometimes simple is best. That is especially true when it comes to hamburger patties.
Sure there are people who add eggs, bread crumbs, chopped onions, garlic, jalapenos, herbs and dashes of Worcestershire or hot sauce to their meat. You can spend tons of money trying to dress up your burger, but when it comes to burgers, what really counts in my culinary book is the quality of the beef, the cooking method and the perfect bun. Get those three things right and you’re 99% of the way to deliciousness.
Here’s my secret for making great burgers all year long, not just on the grill in summer. Not only are they delicious, they cost less than $1.50 apiece, completely dressed.
Make your own buns
You don’t bake, you say. It takes too much time, you say. Poppycock. This recipe from King Arthur Flour is wonderful and simple (they’re my go-to source for baking recipes and information). You’ll wind up with eight buns of amazing texture and flavor that will toast beautifully in a pan with a little butter. Total cost: about $1.25 for 8 buns. That’s less than half the price of store-bought buns.
Don’t buy the leanest beef
If you’ve ever watched a cooking show you’re familiar with the phrase “fat is flavor.” It’s true. There are times when you want to buy the 93% lean ground beef, but burger beef is not one of those times. Go for the 85% or 87% lean instead. The extra fat won’t add many more calories, and your burgers will taste better for it.
Buy good quality beef
It doesn’t have to be the fanciest grade of ground, but it should be from the butcher’s counter. Here are some tips on how to save on meat.
Genius tip: Never buy ground meat you can’t actually see. The packaging should be clear and have a date of production and expiration.
Don’t season your meat
This may sound like blasphemy, but I encourage you not to season your meat – at least not until you’ve formed the patties and are about to cook them. Salt draws the moisture out of your meat. If you leave it sitting long enough, or mix salt into your meat before you’ve formed your patties, you’re more likely to end up with dry patties. Instead, sprinkle your patties with salt and freshly ground pepper just before you cook them and after you turn them.
Leave the veggies for the garnish
They’re hamburger patties, not meatloaf patties (which are actually great, but go all the way and make meatloaf patties if you’re going to add veggies). It’s easy to overwhelm your patties when adding lots of ingredients. Stick to salt and pepper and maybe a little garlic if you must (though a bit of garlic butter drizzled over your patties right after cooking is way better).
Shape them correctly
Have you ever had burger patties fall apart as you’re cooking them? Or fatter in the middle than on the outsides? Start by letting your beef sit at room temperature for several minutes so it’s easier to work with. Portion it into your desired number of patties, placing each portion on a sheet of wax paper or parchment. Gently flatten the patty, making it slightly thinner in the center than on the outside edges. Next, cup the edges of the patty, patting them as you rotate the patty, smoothing the outside edges. Stack the patties, one on top of the other with the waxed paper or parchment between each. You can then use the paper to drop them onto your grill.
Cook them on a flat grill
Again, I can hear you saying it: blasphemy! Hear me out. You’re going to get a better sear from a flat grill than you will from a grate. That sear is what makes burgers so tasty. And you won’t get any flare-ups. Just please don’t overcook them. Leave your burgers slightly pink inside.
Buy the freshest veggies
Traditional burger fixings are at their peak during the summer, which typically means they’re less expensive and more delicious. Take advantage and buy the pick of the crop. You’ll still come out under budget.
By following this method, you’ll end up with delicious burgers that your guests will rave about. And your wallet won’t feel any worse for wear.
While you may save on this burger, the cost of barbecue supplies can add up. Don't forget to budget for them and other hidden summer expenses.