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.

Flavor-Packed, Restaurant-Quality Texas Burgers

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Texans are known in the culinary world for their ability to create powerful flavors in meats. That’s a good explanation for why this Weber recipe for Texas Burgers is one of the all-time favorites in our house. This has become one of our favorite ways to season our burgers, no matter how we cook and top them. We’ve used this blend of seasonings for burgers cooked on the grill and in the oven, and we’ve now topped these delicious sandwiches with more varieties of toppings than makes sense to list here.

What makes this combination so good? It all starts with just a little bit of kick. You don’t want to give your burgers a funny taste that strays too far from what beef tastes like. But you don’t want a bland burger with no flavor. This blend is just the right amount of taste without going too far.

So far, my favorite way to top these burgers is the assortment you see in the picture above. A few pieces or a small bed of shredded lettuce, a hunk of fresh-sliced cheddar cheese and the desired amount of your favorite barbecue sauce. Per my experiences as a Texas barbecue consumer, I’d suggest a sauce that’s a bit more smoky than sweet, but not one that’s heavy on vinegar. Honestly, one of my favorites for this recipe is Heinz’s Kansas City BBQ Sauce, right out of the bottle. Top off your burgers with a couple of pickle chips for an extra little crunch if you like.

Most importantly though, be sure you can enjoy the flavor of your beef. Here’s how you can do that. The yield for this recipe is 4 burgers.

Ingredients

1.6 pounds of fresh ground beef (I like at least 80-20, and 90-10 is even better)

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon garlic salt

4 hearty buns (I like Brioche)

12 pickle chips

BBQ sauce (of your choice)

4 pieces of freshly sliced cheddar cheese

lettuce (small pieces or leaves to shred)

Process

1 – The most important step is to blend your own burger meat and hand-patty the burgers yourself. The best burgers I’ve ever had – at home or in a restaurant – were clearly hand-pattied. So get your hands dirty and mix your beef, chili powder and garlic salt together. Start by tearing the ground beef into small pieces in a bowl, then top with the seasonings, and finally incorporate by hand.

2 – Once everything is nice and mixed, divide the meat into four equal amounts (if you want all of your burgers to be the same size) and roll each one into a ball. Then, if you don’t have a burger press, use your hands to press the burgers into patties less than an inch thick (any thicker and cooking will take longer and be more difficult to gauge).

3 – Cook your burgers with your desired method and to desired doneness, either on a grill, stovetop or in the oven. I prefer using the oven method – cooking them in an aluminum foil packet – and seeing all of the grease that drains off. You end up with a well-cooked burger that maintains its juiciness without all of the fat. The oven process can also be ideal to save time and hassle with the grill, and if you cook the meat in a packet to catch the juices, you won’t have a dirty pan or grill grate to clean up later.

4 – Lightly toast your buns, then top with your burger patty and a piece of cheddar cheese. Put your burger and cheese in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to melt the cheese perfectly and re-soften the now-toasted bun (this is a trick I like to use to toast a bun and then remove any excess crunch…I don’t like a toasted bun that creates all of the pieces that fall off, meaning parts of the bun I don’t eat).

5 – Add the lettuce and top with the barbecue sauce and pickles and serve.

We’ve tried a lot of burger combinations at our house, but this simple two-seasoning, hand-pattied option has become our go-to method for a delicious homemade burger. And if you’ve read to the very end, I must leave you a golden coin of information that may be the best part of all. The recipe above costs me less than $2 per serving, without sacrificing good meat, good bread, fresh cheese and other ingredients for toppings. Good luck finding a $2 burger this good at any restaurant. (I suggest you try this recipe instead!)

Foodie Travels: Copper Penny Grill, Forest City, N.C.

Flavor: That’s how I would describe the Copper Penny Grill in Forest City if you only allowed me one word. Everything we ate on our recent first visit to the new restaurant in Forest City’s downtown was full of flavor.

We received a few recommendations from friends to check this place out and decided to spend a weeknight along the city’s Main Street. In addition to dinner, we took a walk through town, around old mill buildings and a mix of new and longtime local businesses.

My first impression when we sat down in the Penny was aided by the space in the booths. At 6 foot 4, I struggle to relax and find comfort in the booths of places like Waffle House, where I really have to fold myself up to fit and don’t have full range of motion to lift my fork from table to mouth.

We settled in and checked out the menu and had plenty to discuss. Molly and I rarely get the same thing or even a plate from the same category on the menu. At the Copper Penny, our ordering discussion included talk of fish tacos, steak, sandwiches and burgers.

In the end, we followed one of my restaurant rules (I like to try a place’s burger first to determine how they handle the basics and my favorite savory meal) while also breaking our collective rule (we BOTH ordered a burger).

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Molly went with a favorite of hers—the mushroom swiss variety—while I selected the quesadilla burger. She had regular fries and I upgraded to the sweet potato fries, which I highly recommend if you like them. More on that in a moment.

The burgers were both cooked well and still juicy. The meat was well-seasoned, and the flavor that topped both sandwiches was distinct and memorable. Molly’s mushrooms were a tastebud-pleasing topping, something that’s not often the case in many dining experiences. I’ve found that mushrooms are often squishy and flavorless after-thoughts that really don’t add to the burger. The bun on Molly’s sandwich was soft but hearty, the perfect housing for a burger.

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The quesadilla burger, not really a common find in an American grill restaurant in western North Carolina, was topped with a pico de gallo that was the star of my dinner show. It was neither spicy nor bland, but had a fresh veggie feel to it that really set off the experience. Oh, and my sweet potato fries! They came with a brown sugar dipping sauce unlike anything I’ve had as a fries condiment. The sauce turned the fries into a major component of my dinner, whereas an average fry accompaniment usually takes a backseat to the burgers I order.

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It’s rare we do dessert when we eat out on a normal occasion, but we had already planned to see what our options were on this night. (The menu tells you specifically to save room for dessert but does not tell you what those desserts are.) When presented with the choices—a variety of cake options—we selected the lemon berry mascarpone. A waitress walking by as we ordered said, “that’s the best cake I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

When our cake plate was finished, the same waitress walked by and said, “Did I lie to you?” No, she didn’t. This mascarpone had a cool and light summery quality to it. The lemon and berry played off each other perfectly, and the cake was just the right mix of moist and crumbly.

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Keep in mind that we order water most of the time for our drinks, and we did here, too, but we were still able to eat dinner, with a couple of additions to our meals and dessert (and also a tip) for under $30. That might sound like a lot for two burgers and fries, water and piece of cake, but consider this: The burgers were satisfying, the fries were plentiful and delicious and the cake was a huge piece, plenty for two people to share. Also consider that you can spend $7-$8 a meal if you go to a fast food joint and order a specialty combo.

Going out to eat is all about the experience. The Copper Penny provided a great one, from atmosphere (they also offer a bar and high-top tables if you’re so inclined) to service to food. We will go back, and we recommend that you check this place out, too.

Copper Penny Grill

146 E. Main Street, Forest City, N.C.

copperpennygrill.com

Cheeseburger with Homemade Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce

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(By Matthew)

My favorite cheeseburger hands down is a basic burger: maybe something with cheese, lettuce, tomato, a little mayo. That’s usually what I seek out the first time I’m visiting a spot known for its cheeseburgers. Next on the list after the “classic” version is some version of barbecue cheeseburger. I love the combination of meat, bun, cheese and barbecue sauce.

My taste for barbecue sauce on cheeseburgers is why the “Bronco Burger” was an attractive option when we recently planned a cookout at our house.  The Bronco includes, among other delicious features, a homemade cherry cola barbecue sauce that offers a bit of a kick. The accompanying mozzarella cheese provides a cool down effect that pairs nicely with the sauce.

This burger recipe was a fun one to make alongside Molly. As I grilled the burgers in the backyard, she made the barbecue sauce in the kitchen. Let’s dive right into what you’ll need to make your own Bronco Burgers, along with the process for putting the burgers and sauce together.

Burger Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground beef of your choice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon prepared chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sandwich Ingredients

mozzarella cheese of your choice

hamburger buns

sweet onion slices

dill pickle chips

Barbecue Sauce Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1.5 cups ketchup

1.25 cups cherry Coke (or your preferred cola)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup cherry preserves

1/8 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

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Sauce Directions

1. Melt butter in pan

2. Add onion and garlic and saute.

3. Whisk in remaining ingredients.

4. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Cook until mixture thickens.

The sauce will take you about 45 minutes. It takes a while to thicken in some cases.

Serve warm.

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Putting your burgers in the fridge or freezer to get them nice and cool before putting them on the grill will help them hold together better as they cook. This is especially important if you’re cooking with fresh ground beef.

Burger Directions

1. Mix your cumin, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper into your meat.

2. Patty out into the size of burgers you’d like to eat.

3. Use your fingers to make an indentation in the centers of both sides of the burger patties to prevent them from forming a dome as they cook.

4. Refrigerate your burgers until you’re ready to grill them.

5. Grill until burgers are done as you desire.

6. Arrange burgers with cheese, pickles and onion on your buns and then top with preferred amount of barbecue sauce.

 

Molly’s Take: One step is left out of this phenomenal burger recipe: Enjoy! The sauce is killer and, despite the time it takes to cook, surprisingly easy to make. Drizzled on top of a perfectly-seasoned burger bursting with flavor and combined with the smoky taste and the texture of mozzarella, all sandwiched between a solid, fresh bun — this sauce is the microphone that makes that burger sing. Add in some pickles and onions and you’ve got a flavor explosion the likes of which I’ve never had at home in a homemade burger. In other words, if you’ve got a minute and a hot grill, try this and tell us what you thought.

Matthew’s Take: These Bronco Burgers are as tasty as any barbecue-sauced cheeseburgers I’ve had, and it’s all because of the barbecue sauce. The spice mixture that goes into the patties has its own role in this #FoodieScore experience, and the mozzarella cheese, pickles and onions create a nice mixture of textures and flavors, but it’s the homemade sauce that provides the lasting impression. And the best part? You can refrigerate the sauce and continue to use it on pork, chicken and other foods for a few weeks after making it. This is a winner if you like barbecue cheeseburgers. I give this one an A for taste, an A- for cost (you may have to buy some spices and items you won’t have on hand), and I give it a B for ease. The sauce took Molly some time and attention to cook. But hey, that’s the point. It wouldn’t be the same with a bottled barbecue sauce.

Cheese-Stuffed Juicy Lucy Cheeseburgers

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(By Matthew)

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.