Grilling the perfect burger is not easy, but can be achieved with help from the masters. Elliott Webb, regional executive chef for Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, shares his favorite personal tips to making the best burgers on the grill at home.
Select the right meat
The cut of beef makes or breaks the burger before it’s formed into a patty and thrown on the grill.
Although 85 or 90 percent lean meat may appear to be healthier, 80 percent is the best for grilling. Much of the fat will drip off during the open-flame cooking process anyway and it won’t dry out like leaner meats, keeping the burger juicy.
The fresher the meat, the tastier the burger. Ask for an on-site butcher to freshly grind the meat.
Season to perfection
The right seasoning is key to burger perfection.
If tingling taste buds are at the top of your burger goals, add garlic powder, onion powder or paprika. If juicy meat flavor is all you prefer, simply add salt.
Salt alone enhances flavor. Dissolve salt in a small amount of lukewarm water prior to mixing it in with the meat. Opt for a teaspoon of salt per pound of beef. The water will add a bit of moisture to the burger and helps evenly distribute the salt.
Forming a patty is an art with many options – round or oblong, thick or thin.
Use wet hands to shape the patty. This prevents hands from getting sticky and allows the meat to come together faster without over-handling.
Always form the patty larger than you would like it. The burger loses part of its circumference once cooked, but using your thumb to create a dimple in the middle of the patty will ensure even cooking and shape.
One pound of meat will typically yield three to four burgers, depending on size.
Preparing the grill
The grill should be clean, preheated and well oiled.
Preheating is essential. Before tossing on the patties, make sure the grill is sufficiently heated, but not flaming. A flaming grill will result in charred burgers that are raw on the inside.
A traditional sesame hamburger bun is always delicious, but a Kaiser roll, brioche bun or pretzel roll can enhance a typical burger’s flavor.
Opt for a bun that is sturdy enough to hold both the burger and the toppings you want to pile on. Toasting the bun prior to serving will create a sturdy platform and will prevent it from becoming soggy.
Select premium cheese
Although American cheese is the standard for a traditional cheeseburger, try cheddar, Swiss and provolone add extra zip also melt well.
If you prefer a smokier taste, Gouda or smoked cheddar can add an extra layer of flavor.
Also try blue cheese for a delicious alternative option for burgers paired with sautéed mushrooms and onions.
Make it gourmet
Interesting toppings can make a burger memorable.
Freshness makes a huge difference.
Of course, there are the standard options – ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, thousand island, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, but adding adventurous toppings can take a traditional burger to the next level.
Try fried egg, hot peppers, pineapple, avocado, coleslaw, potato chips, fresh fries or even jam, which can create a unique burger experience.
For more inspiration, Chef Elliott has provided a recipe of how to create one of Rusty Bucket’s famous burgers at home. Don’t feel like cooking? Visit the Rusty Bucket at the following Michigan locations: Bloomfield Hills, Bingham Farms and two restaurants in Northville.
Rusty Bucket Green Chili Burger
Recipe with beer cheese and pickled hot-pepper topping
Makes 1 burger
1 burger bun
1 hamburger patty
1/2 ounce mayonnaise
1 ounce shredded lettuce
1 tomato, sliced
2 ounces beer cheese (recipe follows)
11/2 ounces pickled peppers (recipe follows)
Toast bun and set aside. Season beef with steak seasoning and cook to desired temperature. Spread mayonnaise on bun top and top with lettuce and tomato. When burger is at proper temperature, cover with slice of beer cheese and cover with lid to melt. Top melted cheese with pickled peppers.
PER SERVING: Nutritional information could not be calculated for this recipe.
Makes about 2 pounds (20 servings)
1 pound jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced
1 pound serranos peppers, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup simple syrup (made from boiling 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water together)
Slice peppers very thin, removing stems, but leaving seeds intact. Place garlic and peppers in mixing bowl. Bring vinegar, sugar and simple syrup to a gentle boil and remove from heat. Pour directly on peppers and stir to mix evenly. Let marinade at room temperature until cool.
PER SERVING: 20 calories, 1 g protein, 4.5 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 0 g fat (0 saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 3 mg sodium
Makes about 20 servings
1 ounce shallots, minced
1 ounce butter
12 ounce light beer
2 cups chicken stock
18 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
7 ounces Velveeta
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent and lightly browned. Deglaze with beer. Reduce beer by half, add chicken stock and reduce carefully until mixture reduces by half again.
Slowly work both cheeses into the base while warm, stirring with a spatula until completely melted. When cool enough to handle, divide into cylinder-shaped containers, allow to cool and refrigerate ate until fully set. Once set, pop out of containers and cut into 2 ounces slices.
PER SERVING: 146 calories, 7 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 11 g fat (7 saturated), 28 mg cholesterol, 351 mg sodium