Q&A: How to grill a better burger at your Labor Day cookout

From Lancaster Online:

Q&A: How to grill a better burger at your Labor Day cookout

“Earlier this year, the Texas Burger at Four54 Grill, 454 New Holland Ave., caught the eye of national food, drink and travel website Thrillist.com, which deemed it one of the 16 best hamburgers in Pennsylvania.

The Angus chuck burger is served on a grilled brioche bun with pepper jack cheese, sweet-onion marmalade, applewood bacon and beer-battered onion rings.

Leigh Menkes does most of the cooking at Four54 Grill, which he co-owns with his wife, Kim.

Six days a week, the eatery serves a wide variety of sandwiches, subs, salads, cheesesteaks and pizza. But it also offers specialty burgers, from teriyaki to bacon cheddar, under the menu heading “Awesome Burgers.”

With Labor Day approaching and folks preparing for cookouts, we asked Menkes for advice on how to grill up a better burger.

What do we need to make a great burger?

A good, hot grill. You’re not looking for the air temperature to be really hot. You’re looking for the grates to be really hot. And don’t be afraid to buy a better cut of meat. We use all Angus chuck, 80-20. That’s 80 percent meat, 20 percent fat. The fat content helps to hold the moisture and gives a lot of flavor to the meat. Most of that will cook off, so it’s not like you’re going to eat a burger that contains 20 percent fat. You’re going to be in the 5 to 10 percent fat range. We don’t add anything to our meat. This is a purist burger.

What’s a good size for a burger patty?

Somewhere around an inch (thick). And the patty should be a little bigger (wider) than the bun size. The other trick is to make a small indent, on each side, in the middle of the burger. The burger’s natural tendency when it cooks is to shrink. … When it shrinks up, the center will plump back up again. I don’t recommend making a meatball and then smashing it down. Every time you change the configuration (of the patty), you’re breaking the meat down a little further.

What about seasoning?

Before you put your burger on the heat, you want to make sure you’ve seasoned and basted it. We have our own secret baste. But if someone’s looking for just a basic baste: salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and even a little vinegar in there can help. But don’t overdo it on the vinegar, because it can really sour the flavor of the burger. Hit the burger with the baste first, because then your salt and pepper will stick to it.

What do we need to know about grilling the burger?

Be very cautious about flare-ups. What you’re going to want to do is heat your grill up. Get it to 400-500 degrees, and then cut your heat way back. Get your burgers onto those hot grates. You’re basically searing the burger and sealing everything up. And you’re adding the grill marks, which are adding to your flavor. Once you’ve branded your burger, you’re going to want to go to the indirect-heat side (of the grill). So, you’ll have your left-side burners on and your right-side burners off. And when you move (the burgers) over (to the right side), then you can close your lid. You’ll have no flare-ups, and you’re just looking for the air temperature to heat them up. You’re moving it over to finish it to whatever your desired internal temperature is. An internal temperature of 165 degrees is a mid-well to well-done burger, and that’s what the USDA recommends at this point. As you come back 5, 10 degrees, you’re coming into your mediums, and back another 10 degrees are your rares.

Why not well done?

We go out of our way not to cook burgers well done. A well-done burger is just dried out. You’ve cooked the life out of it, and it’s no longer representing a burger. We try to recommend that people stop at mid-well. That maintains some of the moisture content in there and it doesn’t destroy the inner texture of the meat.

What percentage of your customers like cheese on their burgers?

Oh, easily 95 percent. We do very few hamburgers. We may do one a week. And it’s usually for kids.

What’s the best way to melt the cheese over the burger?

When you put the burger on the indirect heat, you can put the cheese on and it’ll melt down just fine. Here, we use the pizza oven. It’s set at about 550 degrees, so that’s where we’re finishing off our burgers.

How about what the burger is served with?

Don’t be afraid to toast the bun, and to go outside the norm. Anybody can go and buy a basic hamburger bun. Experiment with different breads, different lettuces. You can add a lot of color and texture to a burger just by changing out the lettuce. Don’t be afraid to experiment with whatever’s in your refrigerator.”

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