Chef David Eisel of Bob Evans Farms on how to choose the right ingredients and how to best maintain the flavor of the meat.
To get a reputation as a grill master one has to master the basics first, such as barbecuing the humble hamburger.
As we discussed in Easy Grilling Techniques for Perfect Cookout Results, mastering the skill of grilling requires discovering the “entry trick” from a pro who knows. (The book Micromastery by Robert Twigger, defines an entry trick as that one thing that elevates our performance to an impressive level quickly and easily, which can only be learned from a pro with experience.)
To create the perfect burger, it begins with the ingredients as the “entry trick”. Once the flavor of the burger is established, the goal of grilling is to maintain that flavor.
Chef David Eisel of Bob Evans Farms discusses the best ground beef for hamburgers and gives us his mouth-watering recipe for Backyard Burgers.
He then shows us how to grill a burger to perfection to maintain the flavor of the ingredients.
What to buy for the best beef burgers.
The perfect blend in ground beef for burgers is 80/20, which means it is 80% lean and 20% fat. Yes, you need that much fat for your burgers to be nice and juicy.
The best ground beef for hamburgers is ground chuck because it is at the 80/20. If you can find freshly ground chuck, you’re going to have amazing burgers!
The emphasis is on fresh. Ask at your butcher or grocery store if it was freshly ground the same day. Some places will grind it for you right there while you wait.
Ask for the Store Trim. These are the pieces of meat remaining after steaks, roasts, and other cuts are removed. They are usually the 80/20 blend. On the shelf it will look pink with visible marbling of white fat, wrapped in a shallow styrofoam tray with the plastic pulled tight across it, touching the meat to keep the air from aging it.
What not to buy.
Since we have established that ground chuck and store trim is at the preferred 80/20 blend, let’s talk about the blends that you don’t want. Ground round is 85/15. Ground sirloin sounds like it’s top of the line, but it is a 90/10 blend and produces the driest patties.
Don’t buy the tubes of ground beef (called Chubs). The texture and the mixture is questionable, and it was definitely made in a factory days before you see it.
Don’t buy ground beef in the deep styrofoam trays with the plastic not touching the meat (called a Gas Flush Tray because they pump oxygen or nitrogen plus carbon dioxide in the container). This ground meat will appear red from the gases. It, too, has come from some factory far away. And this goes for the pre-formed beef patty in the same type of tray, too.
If the sign says it’s “ground in-store” ask about it. This could mean that it came pre-packaged in a bulk Chub from the factory and just ground in the store. Still not truly fresh.
It’s pretty obvious that frozen burgers are not fresh. They may be convenient, but not the awesome burger that you want to serve, right?
How to store ground beef.
It is important to keep ground beef cold. Fats cook best when they are their coldest.
Put the ground beef in the coldest part of your refrigerator. According to Science Focus, this would depend on your fridge. “Cold air sinks, so it collects at the bottom so in a refrigerator-freezer, the bottom shelves will be coldest. But in a fridge with an ice-making compartment at the top, it will be the top. Frost-free fridges circulate the air and have much more even temperature distribution. Of course, the coldest part is the back of the fridge. The biggest source of heat in a fridge is the warm air that rushes in every time you open the door.”
You should use the ground beef within 2 days or freeze it. (The point is to use the freshest beef, but life happens. Wrap it in plastic wrap or foil and put it in an airtight container or resealable bag. It can stay in the freezer for up to six months.)
Chef Eisel’s bonus tip.
For additional flavor add Bob Evans Original Sausage Roll to your burger mixture. The flavor-enhancing effects of the sausage will add a nice layer of flavor and creativity to your classic burger recipe.
(Or . . . make patties with 25% ground pork for juicy, tasty burgers.)
How to shape your patties to maintain the flavor.
Be gentle with your burger.
The more you work with the ground beef, the tougher your burger will be.
- the fats need to stay cold as long as possible to have a juicy burger – they warm when you work the meat with your hands
- if you knead the patties, the proteins tend to cross-link, creating heavy hard-to-cook burgers
- if you pack them too tightly they will be dense and not flavorful and juicy
Tenderly shape the ground beef into a ball and flatten with your thumbs in the center, creating an indentation in the top. (The indent helps the patty expand lengthwise as the meat tightens during cooking, rather than width-wise. Now you’ll end up with a nice patty shape instead of a bulging burger.)
Beef patties should be 3/4″ to 1″ thick.
Know when to season.
Now that you’ve carefully chosen the best ground chuck and tenderly coaxed it into indented patties, don’t salt them too soon or over-season so you can’t taste the meaty flavor.
Salt the beef patties just before you grill them. Salt will cause the proteins to cross-link if it sits on it, making your burgers dense and rubbery. You can use Himalayan sea salt, kosher or table salt liberally just before they go on the BBQ.
Of course you need freshly ground pepper from peppercorns.
And just a note about the egg, bread crumbs, etc. This is a meaty, juicy burger – not a meatloaf. The secret of a perfect burger is the meat. This can’t happen when there’s too much seasoning, too many ingredients or too much handling of the ground beef when mixing.
How to grill a burger to perfection.
- Preheat the grill about 15 minutes for perfect searing temperature
- While waiting, get everything you need grillside – formed burgers, seasonings, utensils & platters
- Place burgers on grill when it is 500 °F
- Once burgers are on the grill, stay with the barbecue – they need your constant attention
- Never press down on the burger – it removes all the juices and your burger will be dry
- If there is a flare up, move patties away from the flames
- For the juiciest burgers, don’t keep flipping; once per side is best
- If using a BBQ sauce, brush on at the end of cooking
- Don’t cut open to see if it’s done, use a thermometer so it doesn’t dry out
- Use an instant-read thermometer and cook the patties until the internal temperature is at least 165°F (especially if there’s sausage or ground pork in the burger)
- If you grill the bun, it will help keep the burger juices from making the bread soggy
(If your burgers are more than 2″ thick, use pitmaster Chris Lilly’s 2 Zone Fire technique to barbecue your burgers.)
Chef Eisel shares his Backyard Burger recipe made with Bob Evans Original Sausage Roll for a fun twist.
Chef David Eisel’s Backyard Burger
- 1 lb Bob Evans Original Recipe Sausage Roll
- 1 lb ground chuck 80 percent lean beef/20 percent fat
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- ½ c grated Parmesan cheese
- 8 hamburger buns
- lettuce optional
- tomato optional
- onion optional
- In large bowl, combine first five ingredients.
- Form into 8 patties, making an indent in the middle of the patty with your thumb after forming.
- Over medium heat on a grill, cook burgers on each side until done, about 10 to 15 minutes. (To maintain the flavor and juiciness of the meat never turn the burgers more than once while grilling.)
- Toast buns, assemble burger and serve with your favorite toppings.
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