5 Tips for Easier, Better Burger Grilling

 

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The family backyard barbecue marks the arrival of spring and summer for many of us. And as amateur domestic chefs, there are few things that thrill us more than firing up the grill (either gas or charcoal) and cooking our favorite homemade burgers to share with the most special people in our lives.

Unfortunately, grilling can be a hassle along with the fun. It takes skill and patience to cook good beef on a grilltop. And it takes energy and time to guide and maintenance your grill through the process.

But grilling burgers doesn’t have to be all pain and no pleasure. Here are five very quick and super simple tips I’ve discovered that I guarantee will both improve your cooking results and increase your enjoyment in the grilling process. Cooking is a science, and you should experiment and find your own tricks, but it doesn’t have to be a rocket science process.

1 – MIX IT UP: Season and blend your own beef. No doubt, it’s easier to use frozen or pre-prepared fresh patties. But if you really want your burgers to impress your diners and yourself, buy fresh ground beef and mix in your own seasonings. It takes a little more effort but not much more cost, and you’ll thank yourself when everybody (you included) takes the first bite.

2 – TAKE SHAPE: Press a thumb print into the center of each patty before cooling (see tip No. 3) and cooking them. This indentation will help your patties hold their shape during cooking, instead of swelling in the center and shrinking on the outsides.

3 – COOL IT: Flash freeze your burger patties after you hand-shape them. We’re not talking long here so that your burgers turn into frozen patties. Just 15-20 minutes or so in the fridge or freezer or long enough to cool the meat so that it holds together better on the grill. This will keep you from dealing with your fresh meat trying to fall apart on the grill.

4 – DON’T CROWD: Don’t put too many burgers, or other foods, on your grill surface at any one time. Your meat, and everything else for that matter, will cook better with space around it. No matter your cooking method, you get better heat on your food if you’re not distributing it to more items. So be sure you allot enough time and be patient with the cooking process.

5 – KEEP IT CLEAN: When you’re done cooking and after your grill cools down, go ahead and clean it up before putting it away for next time. (I use a charcoal grill and have found that soap pads and warm water work wonders on a dirty grill top. I clean it and then store my grill grate in our pantry until the next use. And I go ahead and remove all of the used coals from the bottom of my grill to be ready to add fresh coals the next time I grill.) You’ll thank yourself when you get ready to grill next time and you don’t have to go through a long process to clean before you begin cooking.

What are your best tips for grilling out? Share them in our comments section or on social media. Find us @foodiescore on Facebook and Instagram, or on Twitter at @Foodie_Score.

Foodie Travels: Carolina Cafe, Gaffney, S.C.

“Get there early.” That’s the advice we received from several sources about the Carolina Cafe, off Highway 11 in the Upstate of South Carolina. And when we rounded the corner and saw the parking lot of the place at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday night, we understood.

We were told to expect a 40-minute wait for a table for the two of us, but it only took 15 minutes before we were seated in a cozy, but very chilly, corner of the restaurant. That pleasant service surprise was the first of many fond moments during our dinner experience.

img_8314Warm yeast rolls and fresh honey butter arrived at the table along with our drinks, another check mark for a great dining outing. It’s always a plus when you get delicious bread with a meal; it’s a type of free appetizer, if you will.

The menu offers a little bit of everything you’d expect to find at a nice casual American family restaurant in the South. There are burgers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, seafood, ribs and more.

Molly ordered the shrimp and grits, one of her favorites. The grits were creamy, and the shrimp were plump, flavorfully sautéed and generously portioned. It was also a great deal at $10.99. You’ll often pay closer to $13 or $15 or more for this dish. And I often have a hard time justifying that cost, unless I’m eating premium shrimp and grits in a coastal area.

img_8316I decided to try the beef tips – a less-fussy compromise for a steak. As much as I love a great cut of beef, I often find my steaks come with too much fat, or not enough bites, not cooked as well as I like, or too much price for what I’m eating. I’m not saying any of those apply at Carolina Cafe, but restaurants in general have led me to the beef tip. And the version at this particular establishment was very satisfying: a great portion for $10.99, served alongside a flavorful baked potato.

We both got salads as part of our meals, and they were just as satisfying as the rest of the entree. Nice portion, fresh ingredients and just the right amount of dressing on the side. Outback Steakhouse serves one of my favorite side salads, and the Carolina Cafe’s salad matches it.

img_8323Our visit was a special date night on the spur of the moment, so we decided to order a dessert. Our choice: the $4.99 Caramel Apple Cheesecake. The piece we shared was a rich and creamy cheesecake, filled with small pieces of flavorful apple, topped with a caramel sauce layer and covered with pecans. Along with the Graham cracker-style crust, it was one of the tastiest cheesecakes we’ve sampled in recent memory. And we love a delicious slice of cheesecake.

Carolina Cafe impressed us at every turn, from that very first glimpse around the highway corner. The restaurant was full of families and couples all night, and a crowd was still waiting outside when we left. The recommendations we received to try this place were spot on. Similar to a well-known pancake house’s slogan, when you come to Carolina Cafe hungry, you leave happy.

The Carolina Cafe gets a $-$$ on our price scale of $ (cheapest), $$ (middle of the road), $$$ (expensive). You can go $ with burgers, or you can go $$ with steaks and shrimp. As always, it’s your choice!

Carolina Cafe

211 Old Metal Road, Gaffney, S.C.

CarolinaCafeGaffney.com

Foodie Travels: White Duck Taco Shop, Asheville, N.C.

Mexican food is always a viable option when Molly and I are deciding what and where to eat. We’re attracted to the free or inexpensive appetizers of chips, salsa and queso dip, the ability to mix and match a variety of tortilla, chicken, beef and cheese entrée options, and the atmosphere you experience in each Mexican-style restaurant.

White Duck Taco Shop takes that experience to a whole new place altogether—quite literally in its Asheville River Arts District location.

We first discovered this place while on our honeymoon in 2015. The arts district was on our list of places to visit in the city, but White Duck wasn’t really foremost on our radar. That radar, by the way, wasn’t very accurate as we initially had a difficult time even finding the arts district along a beautiful but lengthy stretch of river.

A bit frustrated from driving around a bit more than expected, we came upon the taco shop, which we had heard of but hadn’t necessarily planned to visit. Hungry, we decided to make it our lunch stop.

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Already in a graffiti and creativity-covered waterfront section of an artsy town, White Duck’s setting in a colorful old industrial building gave us the feeling of being somewhere outside North Carolina.

When we walked inside and took note of the pub-style seating, the underground-feeling environment and the somewhat-hipster customers, we felt like we had stepped into a travel portal and out the other side in Europe. Upbeat music filled the air and a variety of drinks covered patrons’ tables around us as we surveyed the menu.

At first glance, you might think more than $3 for a taco sounds expensive. Normally, you’d be right, but these are unique and large tacos. We decided to order three and share all of them to make the most of our experience. We highly recommend the fish taco, the carnitas and the black bean variety.

You should expect to have a hard choice, as this place appears to offer about 10-12 different taco options on its menu each day, with slight variations depending on when you visit.

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White Duck’s tacos are packed with the kind of intense flavor that many Americanized ethnic food restaurants are lacking. The different meats were clearly seasoned in their own unique spices, the vegetables were fresh, the sauces added to the experience instead of feeling like a way to hide a lack of taste. And the portions were more than satisfactory for the price.

Past the tacos, most of your chip-and-dip combinations are also about $3 and are a satisfying prelude or sidekick for your main courses. And the side order offerings provide $2 choices that are a mix of traditional and unique for a shop that serves Mexican-style food. We had the options of black beans, cowboy pinto beans and chipotle cheese grits on the day we first visited, seeing a chance to mix Mexican and Southern recipes to accompany the tacos.

We liked White Duck so much we’ve referenced it ever since that first visit as a Mexican-American favorite within an hour of our home in western North Carolina. That affinity even led me to stop by to pick up takeout for dinner on my way home from a conference in Asheville earlier this year. There’s always room for tacos on our household’s menu, and White Duck is absolutely one of our favorites.

 

White Duck Taco Shop

1 Roberts Street, Asheville, N.C.

(There are also locations in downtown Asheville, the Charleston and Columbia areas in South Carolina and in Johnson City, Tenn.

whiteducktacoshop.com

Cheese-Stuffed Juicy Lucy Cheeseburgers

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Basic cheeseburgers can be one of the easiest dinners you make for yourself or your family. The Juicy Lucy cheeseburger, however, is one of the more complicated burgers to pull off.

The Juicy Lucy, a cheese-stuffed burger, is known to have originated in Minnesota. Two restaurants, Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club, take ultimate credit for the specific take on the American classic.

I’ve cooked Juicy Lucy burgers on the stovetop before, but until last week I had never tried them on the grill. I worried a bit about all the cheese melting out while cooking on a grill top over an open flame. Some of the cheese did melt out, but not nearly as much as I expected.

There are a few keys to cooking a Juicy Lucy, particularly on a grill. We’ll share the whole cooking process below, but here are a few important tips that stand out.

  1. Be sure you tightly seal your two patties together around your cheese to help keep the cheese in the middle as it melts.
  2. Be sure to chill your Juicy Lucy-prepped patties in the fridge for a while prior to putting them on the grill. That further keeps your cheese tightly sealed.
  3. Don’t plan to turn your burgers more than a time or two while they’re on the grill. The more you turn them, the more likely you’ll start to tear up your meat and leak your cheese from the center.
  4. You’ll want to make your patties as thin as possible so they cook quickly and get done before your cheese melts enough that it wants to leak into the grill.
  5. If your cheese does begin to leak, you will likely experience flame-ups if you’re using a charcoal grill. Be prepared to put out those fires.

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Here’s what you’ll need to make your Juicy Lucy Cheeseburgers. These amounts will be enough to make four quarter-pound burgers.

1 pound of fresh ground beef of your choice

1 block of Cheddar (or your favorite) cheese to slice fresh

Marinade of your choice (we used a half cup of Worcestershire sauce and pinches of salt and pepper on each patty)

4 buns

Condiments and toppings of your choice

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Directions

  1. Make eight equal patties from your ground beef and coat as you wish with your marinade.
  2. Slice your cheese thin and form it into stacks of two or three pieces each.
  3. Stack slices of cheese (not too thick) in the middle top of one of the patties.
  4. Cover that patty with another patty.
  5. Crimp the edges of the two patties together to seal them together and envelope the cheese.
  6. Repeat the process with the other patties to prepare four total Juicy Lucy cheeseburgers.
  7. Put your burgers on a plate and cover with tin foil. Place them in the fridge while you prepare your grill. Allow the burgers to chill for at least 20 minutes to help further seal the burgers and the cheese inside.
  8. Have your grill hot before you put the burgers on the grill top. Allow your burger to cook well on one side before you flip it to allow the seal to strengthen between the patties. You’ll be able to slightly pull up the side facing down with a spatula to check on the doneness of one side before you flip the burger.IMG_4515    
  9. Once you flip the burger and have your patty done on both sides, be sure, as you would with any cheeseburger cooking, to be sure your juices are running clear.
  10. By this time, you will also likely have cheese running out of the burger. As long as you don’t have too much cheese leaking out to lose much, you’ll be in good shape.
  11. Put your burgers on your buns and serve with the toppings you choose.

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Matthew’s Take: I’ve made Juicy Lucy Cheeseburgers on the stove, but the taste of these grilled burgers by far tops anything I’ve ever attempted. The difficulty level also tops anything I’ve ever attempted with a burger, not because the steps are difficult, but because it requires some planning and precision to ensure your burgers are ready to stand firm against the grill without leaking out all the cheese. You will likely have cheese leakage because I did, too. But there was still a nice layer of cheese in the middle of the burgers. It was a smart move to patty the meat thin because it helped the meat cook better in the center with the cheese in the middle, too. I’ve been told at restaurants that serve the Juicy Lucy to expect a pink center because the burger is so thick it doesn’t cook to the center. At home you can control that factor. I give this Juicy Lucy Cheeseburger an A+ for taste and an A for cost. But I give it a C for ease because it does take some patience and practice.

Molly’s Take: These cheeseburgers were truly Juicy and delicious. It was so awesome to find a cheesy surprise in the middle of my burger. The cheddar was a great choice, too. I do think they’re harder to make than some, but not impossible. And Matthew did a great job, especially on the grill. I was also glad he made sure they weren’t pink on the inside, as I’m not a fan of pink/under-cooked burgers or meat. I give this burger, and Matthew, an A+. Give them a try if you’re adventurous! And especially if you love cheeseburgers, like we do.