The time to fire up the barbie is nigh, and thank goodness. For carnivores, there’s almost no better food than a juicy, freshly grilled burger. In fact, burger-philes will be toasting one another, patties in hand, on May 28th (National Hamburger Day) and September 18th (National Cheeseburger Day). Here are some tips for how to up your burger game.
Buying the Meat
1. Find a butcher that grinds fresh meat
The supermarket, sadly, is not typically your friend when it comes to buying top-quality meat. The one person you can bank on likely having the freshest stuff is your local butcher. But buyer beware: Many butchers get some of their meat prepackaged off-site. Your best bet is to find out who grinds her own daily—or better yet, who will grind it to order.
2. Get the right fat content
You want at least a 20 percent fat content in the beef you choose. (Some swear by 23 to 27 percent fat to lean.) That’s the difference between a dry burger and a juicy one.
3. Look for USDA prime chuck
Yes, you could work in short rib or brisket, but there’s a lot to be said for USDA prime chuck—less than 5 percent of what’s on the market, and top quality.
Prepping the Patty
4. Don’t overwork or overpack the meat
Touch the burger meat too much, or squish it firmly into little balls, and you’re on your way to a tough patty. You want to handle the meat briefly with cold hands to shape it into patties.
5. Make an indentation
Make a small, two-inch thumbprint in the middle of each patty after you gently press it down. That’s the difference between a burger than looks like a golf ball and one you can fit neatly between two buns. (It’ll puff up as it cooks.)
6. Salt at the last minute
Salt each patty as close to the cooking time as possible. It’s fine to salt it on the grill, even. If you salt too much in advance, it will transform the beef texture into something less juicy and more sausage-like.
Adding to the Grill
7. Don’t squash the patty
You could squash the patties when they go on—if you don’t mind a dirt-dry burger.
8. Say yes to American cheese
Yes, you could do cheddar. Or Brie. You could stuff your burger, or go cheese-less. But for our money, a quick application of a square of American cheese before pulling down the lid of the grill is the best bet. It melts beautifully.
9. Toast those buns
Don’t be the guy or gal who doesn’t toast the buns. Remember the buns!
The Grand Finale
11. Provide options
You’ll want lettuce, tomato, mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise along with your special sauce. Don’t forget crunch at that toppings bar you set out, too. Coleslaw, jalapeños and thinly sliced red onion all provide gorgeous crunch, as do potato chips. (If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.) Some of the best simple burgers have just tomato and lettuce, with sauce, but there’s nothing like customizing a patty to your taste.