With Canada Day celebrations this long weekend and the 4th of July in just a few days, many a grill will be fired up to cook burgers for a backyard barbecue over the next week. Frozen pre made patties are popular, but nothing beats a homemade burger – here are some tips for making the very best burgers, from shaping the patties to cooking them perfectly on the grill (or even indoors). While you’re at it, put away a stash of homemade patties, so that you can pull a bag out of the freezer and be on the fast track to the ultimate burger, all summer long.
The ingredients: ground beef is the classic choice – with some fat to keep it juicy and tender. Ground turkey or bison are good choices if you’re trying to cut back on fat; try a combination of meats for a different twist. Italian or chorizo sausage, squeezed out of its casing, adds a ton of flavour mixed in with any of the above, or ground beef and pork is a classic combo. Whatever ground meat you choose, handle it gently – overworking it will result in tough burgers. Some of the very best burgers are no more than straight-up ground beef, gently shaped into patties straight from the butcher paper, so that the squiggly lines from the meat extruder are still intact. There’s no need to add binders like egg, or fillers like breadcrumbs – if you do, just make sure you mix them in gently. As for seasonings, try adding cooked, crumbled bacon, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, grated raw onion, crushed or roasted garlic, caramelized onions, a spoonful of pesto, chopped sun dried tomatoes – anything goes!
The patty: there are plenty of burger secrets that involve stuffing the patty – with anything from cheese to a pat of butter. (Try adding a slice of herb & garlic compound butter, then shaping the patty around it!) If you do shape your meat mixture around a piece of cheese or pat of butter, shape the meat around it gently, ensuring that it’s completely sealed in and won’t leak out into your grill. Stuffed or not, shape your patty larger than you want it to be – they will shrink as they cook. Some cooks make them slightly concave in the middle, to prevent burgers expanding and winding up more baseball-shaped than burger-shaped.
The storage: burger patties are perfect to make in advance; store them in the fridge for up to a day, or freeze for 6 months or longer. Place a piece of parchment between each patty and stack them 2-3 high; arrange in a sturdy Hefty Slider Bag, seal and refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready for them. Frozen bags can be stacked, and take up little freezer space. To thaw, simply take the bag out of the freezer and place in the fridge for the day, or I place mine on the countertop to thaw – as long as the patties are partially frozen/very cold, they’re fine. Put them into the fridge if they thaw to the point of being almost at room temperature if you’re not ready to cook them yet.
The grill: preheat your grill, or if you want to cook them indoors, heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan. A hot grill – or hot pan, drizzled with oil – will keep your meat from sticking. An average burger will take 3-4 minutes per side to cook; some say flip them once, others say it doesn’t matter. Some companies make a habit of flattening their burgers right off the bat, to make a crispy, ruffled edge; if you do this, just make sure you aren’t squeezing all the flavourful juices out.
The toppings: think beyond ketchup and mustard to the myriad of toppings available. Try topping turkey burgers with sliced avocado, goat cheese, spinach leaves and roasted red peppers, with a schmear of pesto aioli – equal parts mayo and jarred basil or sun-dried tomato pesto. Or add sliced brie or crumbled blue to beef or bison burgers; top with caramelized onions. Guacamole and salsa with melted cheddar would make a loaded taco burger (add some taco seasoning to the meat mixture too!) or make it Greek with crumbled feta and sliced black olives.
However you build your burgers, they’re best served outdoors, with cold drinks to wash them down – preferably in flip-flops, so you don’t need to worry about drips!