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Hamburgers, a familiar feature in many fast- food establishments, are usually mass-produced in factories, flash-frozen and then delivered to the site. Fast food burgers are usually thin and uniform in thickness, unlike the hamburgers we make at home that are thicker and usually prepared using fresh ground beef.
The first hamburger
Being from Akron, Ohio, I looked forward to going to Menches Restaurant for burgers, which were made from fresh ground beef and a secret ingredient, which I later found out was coffee. The beef was mixed with fresh coffee and then squeezed out, giving the beef a subtle additional flavor.
As the story goes, the Menches family is credited with inventing the first hamburger around 1885. Two brothers, Frank and Charles, traveled the concession circuit (fairs, farmers’ picnics, etc.) in the Midwest in the early 1880s.
At the Erie County Fair in a small town in New York State, they ran out of sausage for their hot dogs and sausage patties and went to a local butcher in town. He didn’t have any either, but he did have a lot of ground beef. So, the brothers went back to the fair and started making beef patties, grilling them and putting them on some biscuits they used for their sausage sandwiches. Their creation was an immediate hit.
The name of that small town in New York?…Hamburg, which is why the brothers named their latest creation a “hamburger.”
Making the perfect hamburger
The goal to making a perfect hamburger is to maximize flavor and juiciness. Once you place them on the grill, only flip them once, but refrain from pressing them down with the spatula. If you do, they will cook faster but you’ll lose some of the juices.
The next thing to remember is not to overcook them beyond medium. The more you cook protein, the tougher and drier it becomes. Learn to judge the doneness by touch. Of course, this depends on the thickness level of the burgers you prefer. The more done it is, the firmer it will feel when you touch it. If you choose to cut it open, you’ll lose some of the juices. It just takes practice, practice, practice.
Any of these burgers below can also be grilled in a pan on the stove instead of using an outdoor grill.
Grilled Hamburger with Sour Cream and Herbs
3 lb. lean ground beef
1/4-cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. minced, fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. minced, fresh parsley
1 tsp. minced, fresh rosemary
3/4 tsp. pepper
8 hamburger buns
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Divide mixture into eight patties, about 1-inch thick, and place on a plate. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Place burgers on the grill, cover and cook about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare and 5 minutes per side for medium. Place the buns, cut side down, on the grill during the last 2 minutes, if desired. Transfer the hamburgers to the buns and top with your favorite condiments. Makes 8 hamburgers.
Grilled Hamburger with Guacamole and Monterrey Jack Cheese
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
Monterrey Jack cheese, cut into 4 pieces (2 inches square x 1/2-inch thick)
4 tsps. chopped pickled jalapeno chiles
2 cups prepared guacamole
4 hamburger buns, split and toasted
Divide the ground beef into four equal amounts and then shape each into a ball. Using your thumb, make a depression in the center or each ball. Fill each depression with a piece of the cheese and one teaspoon of the jalapeno chiles. Form the meat around the cheese mixture into a 1-inch thick patty. Season the hamburgers with salt and pepper.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Place burgers on the grill, cover and cook about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare and 5 minutes per side for medium.
Transfer the hamburgers to the buns and top with the guacamole. Makes 4 servings.
Grilled Carolina BBQ Burger
Use your favorite barbecue sauce and coleslaw mixture for this tasty Carolina burger.
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tsp. Paul Prudhomme Magic Barbecue Seasoning or other seasoning blend
1 cup barbecue sauce (your favorite)
3 cups coleslaw (your favorite)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 sesame seed hamburger buns
Combine 1/4-cup barbecue sauce, ground beef, chopped red onion and seasoning blend in a large bowl; mix well. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions and form into patties about one-inch thick.
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Once hot, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the burgers on the rack, cover, and cook 4-5 minutes on each side for medium, turning once. Baste burgers with remaining barbecue sauce, until done. Place the buns, cut side down, on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly during the last few minutes of cooking,
Transfer the hamburgers to the buns and top with coleslaw. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.
Pork Burger with Sauerkraut
For those who prefer ground pork, try this variation topped with sauerkraut and whole grain mustard.
2 lbs. ground pork
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground juniper berries
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup sour cream
Whole grain mustard
In a large mixing bowl, combine the salt, ground juniper berries, caraway seeds and pepper with the ground pork. Once blended well, mix in the chopped parsley and sour cream. Form the pork mixture into patties, about one-inch thick.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Place burgers on the grill; cover and cook about 4-5 minutes per side until the burgers are cooked through or until the interior of the burgers reach an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Place the buns, cut side down, on the grill during the last 2 minutes, if desired.
Top each pork burger with some whole grain mustard and a spoonful of sauerkraut. Makes 4-6 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.