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How to up your (grill) game

I am in love with burgers. I don’t discriminate. I love them all. Beef burgers, turkey burgers, pork burgers—don’t even get me started on lamb burgers; I’ve even met a few veggie burgers that I liked more than I expected to.

A burger is only as good as the quality of the protein you choose. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a burger that is 100 per cent ground round—the most common type of meat found in ground beef—but these are burgers, folks, and this is not the time for lean or extra lean meat. The flavour is in the fat and the fat keeps the patties moist. I opt for medium fat content as full fat can cause flare-ups when grilling. I don’t generally recommend adding eggs and bread crumbs to a burger—an old trick from in the restaurant world to act as filler and make beef stretch further.

Go beyond the basics: add creative toppings (even a fried egg!)

So if we don’t add bread crumbs and eggs, what do we add? I like grated onion as grating imparts the flavour throughout the burger. And for good old-fashioned burgers add a steak spice, too—Montreal steak spice is my go-to. Don’t be shy, add a good handful as ground beef is only as flavourful as the ingredients you add to it. With the steak spice there is no need for additional salt but I would definitely add lots of freshly ground black pepper, and finely chopped fresh parsley, too.

Tips and flips

To form the patties, be generous. Does anything look more appealing than a perfectly cooked burger spilling out from a crusty bun? Many of us start with the best intentions and make a beautiful, full patty, only to have it shrink and shrivel on the grill.

When making the patty, keep in mind that the centre takes the longest to cook, so make sure the centre area is a bit thinner. Next, dredge the beef patty in flour—this works to seal in the juices and, for me, is the number one way to prevent shrinkage. Before grilling make sure your grate is clean and preheat the grill to 450°F (230°C). Place the burger on the grill, leave the lid open and do not touch it! Don’t flip it, don’t poke it, and don’t continuously press it down—all these things drain juices from the burger, and the juice holds the fat and moisture content. If you think it’s time to flip the burger and you notice a lot of resistance don’t force it; continue to let it cook, as once that side is completely cooked it should flip easily.

Safety considerations

I’ve noticed that some restaurants have started offering different degrees of “doneness” for their burgers. While I don’t mind eating a medium to medium-well burger if I know the source of the meat and how it was handled, unless I am eating at a restaurant where these factors are known, I suggest burgers should be cooked through. Here’s why: when you cook a steak the process kills any pathogens that may have been on the outside of the meat, and the inside is hardly penetrable.However, with ground beef everything is mixed though the grinding process, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and cook to well done, or an internal temperature of 165°F (73°C).

The finale

Once the burger is cooked to perfection, instead of putting it directly onto a bun to serve, treat it like a steak and let it rest for five minutes to allow the juices a chance to lock in.

Now it’s up to you to get creative with the rest. There is more to life than ketchup and relish: think about tzatziki, horseradish, steak sauces, salad dressings, and put out spinach in addition to lettuce; try avocado, grilled pineapple, tart red apples; the possibilities are endless. Up your game and earn the title King, or Queen, of burgers in your neighbourhood this summer!

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