Tips for grilling hamburgers for maximum flavor and juiciness

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

The oldest hamburger chain is White Castle, founded by a short-order cook and an insurance executive in 1921 in Wichita, Kan. It served steam-fried hamburgers cooked on a bed of chopped onions for a nickel.
The “Big Mac” was introduced in 1968. It was more expensive than a regular hamburger. Its price was 49 cents.
Even with all the fast-food chains serving hamburgers today, most of us still prefer grilling our own burgers. The fresh grilled taste just can’t be beat. When making a hamburger, the goal is to maximize flavor and juiciness.

Grilling the perfect burger
The first step is to use fresh ground beef. Form your burgers, place them on a hot grill (medium-high heat 400 degrees), flip them only once and DO NOT press them with the spatula. Squishing them will cook them quicker, but you’ll squeeze out some of the juices.
The last thing you need to do to achieve a juicy burger is not to cook it beyond medium. If you insist on overcooking your meat, knock yourself out, but remember: The more you cook protein, the tougher and drier it will become.
How long your burger will need to cook depends on its thickness and your intended degree of doneness. Learn to judge the doneness by touch. The more done it is, the harder it will feel when you poke it. Of course, you could cut it open, but this will dispel some of the juice. You’ll just need to practice with your grill and the thickness level of the burgers that you prefer.
Since I always make my burgers the same thickness and grill at the same temperature, I can usually achieve success just by timing.

Did you know?
During World War II, a hamburger was referred to as a “liberty sandwich” to avoid using words from the enemy’s language. “Liberty cabbage” was the alternative name used to refer to sauerkraut, and German measles were known as “liberty measles.”

Juicy Grilled Hamburger
Everyone has his own variations for making hamburgers. This is my basic recipe when grilling.
1 lb. lean ground beef (90-10)
3 Tbsps. chopped onions
3 Tbsps. ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Mix all ingredients together; cover. Place covered mixture in the refrigerator for several hours to marinate before grilling. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Divide mixture into fourths, shape each fourth into a ball, and then shape to size.
Grill burgers about 4 minutes. Turn them over, cover and grill burgers to desired doneness, about 4 additional minutes for medium-rare, 5 minutes for medium. 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.

Guacamole Hamburgers with Monterey Jack and Chiles
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef or chuck
Monterey Jack cheese, 4 cubes about 3/4-inch square
2 Tbsps. chopped pickled jalapeno chiles (seeded)
For the guacamole:
1 avocado
2 tsps. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup petite diced tomato
3 Tbsps. chopped onion
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
4 sesame hamburger buns
Divide ground beef into fourths, shape each into a ball and using your thumb, make a depression in the center or each ball. Fill each depression with a piece of the cheese and 1 teaspoon of chopped chiles. Form the meat around the cheese mixture into a 1-inch thick patty; season with salt and pepper. Grill for 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare meat.
To make the guacamole, halve, pit and peel the avocado. In a bowl, mash the flesh coarse with a fork and stir in the lemon juice, tomato, onion, cumin and cilantro; salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the hamburgers to the buns and top them with the guacamole. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Hamburgers with Sour Cream and Herbs
3 lb. lean ground beef
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. minced, fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
1 Tbsp. minced, fresh parsley
1 tsp. minced, fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp. dried
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 hamburger buns
In medium bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients. Shape beef mixture into eight, 1-inch thick patties. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
Pre-heat grill to medium-high heat. Place burgers on grill; cover and cook about 4 minutes. Turn burgers; cover and grill burgers to desired doneness, about 4 additional minutes for medium-rare, 5 minutes for medium. Grill buns, cut side down, during last 2 minutes, if desired. Makes 8 hamburgers.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.