Introduction: Fresh Ground Beef Burgers
This is a bit of a purist approach to making burgers. We use the meat grinder attachment to a KitchenAid mixer, and fresh chuck roast, for super clean, tasty and juicy flavor.
If you love burgers, consider reading the book "Fast Food Nation." That's when we decided to start grinding our own beef. It's really very simple to do, and the flavor and freshness can't be beat! Just use meat with a decent proportion of fat (otherwise, burgers won't be juicy). Cheap, tough cuts work very well.
One advantage to preparing burgers from freshly ground meat is that, with proper care, concerns about bacteria / other pathogens from pre-ground meat are essentially eliminated. This is especially comforting for people who like their burgers rare.
We use minimal (usually just salt and pepper and sometimes a touch of dried basil) or no seasoning in the meat.
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Step 1: Grinding Beef
Start with 3 to 4 pounds (I usually grind more than I will use in making the burgers, and freeze the rest for use in other dishes, as mentioned in Step 3; grind less if you like) of very cold (chill in coldest part of your refrigerator) chuck roast - about 10-20 percent fat content. Don't use lean cuts of meat, or the burgers will be too dry after cooking; going for juicy grilled flavor here.
Cut meat to fit the grinder. Here, it's cut into 3/4" - 1" by 1/2" thick strips. Note the amount of fat present; purchase cuts of meat with a similar appearance.
Step 2: Grind Meat - First Pass
Grind all of the meat that was cut into strips in Step 1. Use the coarsest setting or grinding attachment (if your grinder comes with more than one).
It helps to have two large bowls, one to hold the meat from the first grinding step, and a second bowl to catch the meat for the second pass.
The meat is always ground in two passes; one pass produces too coarse of a grind (but this can be useful for certain pasta meat sauces); two passes is just right.
Step 3: Second Grinding Pass
Here is shown the result of feeding the meat from Step 2 through the grinder's hopper a second time.
From now on, you want to handle the meat gently, otherwise it can become less tender when molded into burgers.
I mentioned having a second bowl ready for this step. An alternative method (once you have a lot of practice with your grinder) is to catch the meat directly into small containers like the ones from supermarket "olive" bars, for freezing (see photo). A medium size container will hold almost exactly one pound, gently packed without air voids. Then the meat can be preserved for later use in sauces or other dishes that call for ground meat (except only use freshly-ground meat for burgers). (To thaw, just place in a covered saucepan over very low heat with 1/4 cup water; turn every 10 minutes, scraping the thawed part from the frozen part, until all has thawed.)
Step 4: Form the Burgers
Form burger patties using the ground meat from Step 3. Season as desired; however, plain without any seasoning at all is just fine.
Handle the meat very gently when forming the patties, and don't press too much, or the burger will have a dense, less appetizing texture after cooking.
Place the patties to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to a few hours. This step will help the patties stay together better on the grill.
When forming the burger patties, a restaurant trick is to press your thumb in the center of the patty, to form a concave depression (on both sides), as shown. Then, when cooking, it will plump up, and flatten out. Otherwise, the burger will have a convex shape after cooking, and not sit very well on the bun.
Step 5: Sidebar: Prepare the Fire for Grilling
Here's the way I like to prepare the grilling fire. I think charcoal provides the best flavor for grilling burgers and other things (chicken, scallops, fish, steaks, etc.)
Some folks prefer the convenience of a gas-fired grill. The heat can be regulated very easily, which is an advantage, and is safer, from the standpoint of not handling hot coals (if using a chimney starter). Charcoal or gas, use whatever works the best for you.
I use a chimney starter, avoiding starter fluids; I find the odor unpleasant, and the residual vapors can taint the flavor of the food. For fuel, you can use pre-formed charcoal briquets; for a more intense (but shorter-lived) fire, hardwood charcoal. If you use the briquets with a chimney starter, avoid the "match light" type, because these have extra additives that aren't necessary if using a chimney starter.
There are instructables for making chimney starters (search for charcoal or chimney). I use a $15 Weber starter, has a sturdy molded handle and lasts for about 3 years of use (2-3 times a week over the summer). I've noticed some home center stores sell chimney starters that are smaller and cheaper (less than half the cost of the Weber). This is probably fine if you're using briquets, but because hardwood charcoal burns faster, you need more of it, so a bigger starter is better.
Place two large, and tightly-wadded (important) sheets of newspaper in the bottom, fill to the brim with hardwood charcoal, and ignite the newspaper. (Loosely crumpled paper isn't as effective, as I have learned the hard way, discovering that the charcoal didn't ignite, when I went back to check the fire later.)
For igniting, the starter can be placed inside the grill on the charcoal grate; otherwise, on a heat-proof surface (as shown). If placed in the grill, I find that there's less maneuvering room to grip the chimney starter handle (to empty the coals) while avoiding the heat and flame, but, overall, this is probably the preferred way to ignite the coals (safety considerations). (It should go without saying, but proper footwear is a must; stepping on a hot coal, even a small chip, while barefoot, is not pleasant.)
In about 15 - 20 minutes, the coals will be ready, as judged by flame coming from the top of the starter, and the coals on top partially ignited. The second photo shows the chimney just before flames are emitted. Note that the amount of charcoal will decrease, as it ignites. Monitor the ignition progress; don't allow it to burn too long, or the coals will be consumed before you can use them. The main (flaming chimney) photo illustrates the limit, for obtaining the hottest coals.
When ready, empty the coals into the grill (photo) and replace the grilling grate. Wait a few minutes for the grill to get hot, then clean the grill with a long-handled wire brush.
(This Sidebar step was added after first publication.)
Step 6: Grill the Burgers
Grill over intense heat using hardwood charcoal (see Sidebar, step 5), with some mesquite chips thrown on just before grilling, if you like. Test for doneness by pressing on burger. The meat will become firmer the more that it's cooked.
Here, the burgers are accompanied - with shrimps (skewered) on the barbie, of course; surf 'n turf...
Step 7: Serve
After grilling, allow meat to rest on platter (or toasted bun) for several minutes, to allow the meat to decontract and absorb some of the juices.
Top with cheese and arugula (as shown) and serve on a nice, toasted Kaiser roll.
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