Build a Better Burger

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Step up your efforts to create a better burger.

Some historians claim that hamburgers come from Germany. Others suggest the ancient Egyptians enjoyed beef patties. There’s also the story about the Mongols packing beef to travel and unwittingly inventing hamburgers because the meat was squashed from being packed so tightly beneath their riding gear. Several 19th-century Americans lay claim to the invention of the modern burger – one Tulsan even says he was the first to serve the round meat patty on a bun. But, according to John T. Edge’s book Hamburgers & Fries, “The history of proletarian dishes like hamburgers is rarely explained by a linear progression of events.” So perhaps many nations have a part in the history of the hamburger. Wherever the burger originated, here are some recipes that will help you build a better burger.

Build a Better Burger With These Six Recipes:
Greek Style Burgers
Cacciatore Burgers on a Portobello Bun (or not)
Mexican Burgers
The Big Laskowski Spinach Burger
Bourbon Barbecue Cheeseburger
Vegetarian Portobello Burgers

One thing is for certain – wherever the roots of the burger – Americans have been making the beef patties known as “hamburgers” their own for generations. Today, this includes a variety of options for ground meat, like turkey, and sometimes even vegetable products, such as soy, lentils, beans or mushrooms. Also, the best-built, tastiest burgers now often reflect the many cultures that make up the United States. Think Greek burgers, pizza burgers and Mexican burgers.

Because grilling or frying a burger is such a simple process, each part of the exercise is important – starting with selection of ingredients.

You can buy ground beef or turkey at most grocery stores, or you can grind it at home with a food processer – a time-
consuming yet rewarding process. Ground beef at the grocers usually comes from one of three cuts: chuck, round or sirloin. Chuck is fattier than the others and so gives the most flavor. According to Bobby Flay, author of Burgers, Fries and Shakes, when checking for chuck, burger-lovers should look for 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat. Ground beef from round or sirloin tends to be leaner and so doesn’t offer the richest flavor. Fat equals flavor.

For even leaner burger meat, look for “ground turkey meat,” which is the ground muscle of the turkey without skin included. But “ground turkey” is ground whole muscle (no giblets) with attached fat and skin, and offers better flavor. Flay also recommends choosing the higher-fat ground turkey, marked 85 percent to 95 percent lean, for the best taste.

As far as cooking hamburgers, some people prefer a grill, others fry them in a cast-iron skillet or a nonstick pan on the stove. Countless types of charcoal, high-tech grills, special burger-making equipment and interesting hamburger spices are flooding the market. Whatever your preference on meat, cut, grill, skillet or charcoal, today’s burgers are a testament to the many cultures and tastes reflected in the patchwork of our American culture. 

Mollie Cox Bryan cooks and writes from her home in Waynesboro, Virginia. Her latest cookbook is Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pie.