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Grilling and getting the best burgers

Food writer Holly Ebel says it's the simplicity of the burger that makes it like a canvas on which a cook can paint a masterpiece.

Purple Goat
The Smash Burger and fries at Purple Goat in Rochester on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
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Here it is mid-August with Labor Day coming right up. Wasn't it just Memorial Day? According to the calendar that means our grilling days – and summer – are gradually winding down.

But wait! Not so fast! There are still plenty of meals waiting to find their way onto the grill. One of the most popular, no surprise, are hamburgers. These are the winners of summertime grilling with brats close behind – quick and easy to cook, and a favorite of just about everyone. Burgers are a true icon of backyard cuisine.

With all the condiments we put on them, what is it that makes them taste so good from first bite to last? One word: fat, and the more of it the better. Butchers and chefs agree that for the consistently best flavor and texture there should be a combination of 80% meat and 20% fat.

As for seasonings, they suggest taking it easy. A little salt and pepper is all that's needed, though that is also up to whomever is doing the cooking. What makes a burger a burger is simplicity. It basically becomes a canvas for everything you put on it (or inside it).

It's also important not to leave the uncooked burgers out – the best is to go from fridge to grill. The FDA says to cook them to160 degrees (well done) though most folks prefer 140 (medium).

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As most foods have, hamburgers have undergone many changes from the time they were first served around the 1890s, maybe before, no one seems to know. At that time it was a simple meat patty, maybe served with bread but not much else on it.

These days they are so packed with additions you can barely get your mouth around it. Along with ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce or sriracha, there might also be a version of Thousand Island dressing (hello Big Mac) or a special sauce prepared by the cook. Then there are likely tomatoes, shredded lettuce, grilled onions, one or two slices of cheese, avocado, a fried egg, maybe even another patty and even – gasp – peanut butter.

What's also important is the bun. Sorry folks, but the grocery buns don't hold up to the task, they're too soft. You need something sturdier, with more substance like a Kaiser roll or ciabatta. Every bite you take should have some bread with it.

A fairly new entry into the world of burgers is the Smash Burger, one you smash down with a heavy spatula in a hot cast iron skillet, hence the name. It's also become a popular restaurant offering.

Purple Goat (3708 N. Broadway) uses a flat top griddle to cook the meat. Their version includes two patties totaling a half-pound, two slices of cheese, four strips of bacon, lettuce and tomato. How does it hold together?

Charles Morris, the manager, credits the cheese. "It acts as the glue."

They pride themselves on their own special blend of beef as well as spices.

The folks at Newt's (216 1/2 1st Ave. SW and 5231 E. Frontage Road Highway 52 North), who have specialized in burgers for decades, also have their version, again with two large patties flat, bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato. While they sell many during the course of the day the customer favorite is still The Marvin.

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All of Hot Chip Burger Bar's burgers, of which there are at least 20 including vegan selections, include two patties with more add-ons than I'm listing here. It's an amazing selection and very creative in ingredients used. You'll find them at 1190 16th St. SW. Go hungry.

You can also try making them at home – it's a quick and easy cooking process, one that may tempt you to give up grilling burgers on the charcoal grill.

Greek Burger

1 lb. ground lamb, chuck or half of each
2 tablespoons pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large bowl combine the meat, and all the ingredients and using your hands lightly mix to distribute seasonings throughout the meat. Gently form into 4 patties, about 3/4-inch thick. Either pan fry or grill over medium coals to medium or however you like them. Serve on buns and garnish with sour cream, thinly sliced cucumbers, or whatever you like.

Southwest Chili Burger

1 lb. ground chuck
1 canned chipotle chili in adobo, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh or canned fire-roasted green chilies
1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
2 tablespoons red onion, minced

In a large bowl mix together the meat and all of the listed ingredients using a large mixing spoon. Form into 4 patties about 3/4-inch thick. Panfry or grill over medium coals to however you like them. Serve on buns and garnish with avocado, chopped tomato, lettuce and any of your favorites.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com .

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Food for Thought - Holly Ebel column sig

Related Topics: FOODRECIPESHOLLY EBEL
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.
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