The Iconic Burger

Nicely charred, juices dripping from every bite, cheese oozing down the side, and a smoky taste.  The simple act of grilling a homemade burger can be as pleasurable as any fine-dining experience.

This is not the burnt, dried-out patty you may remember from backyard BBQs, flames shooting up from the grill.  Now every celebrity chef is hawking a signature burger.  No longer lunchtime fare, these two-hand sandwiches are appropriate for any dinner table.

And with prices for burgers reaching upwards of $30, why not experiment at home?  Fewer meals are faster and tastier.  And the options are endless.  Different bread choices, cheese types, toppings and condiments.  You can find something to satisfy the pickiest eater or biggest gourmand.

I like to use meat with some fat in it, which mostly cooks off and keeps the meat moist.  Less fatty meat tends to be too dry and dense for my tastes.  Below is a recipe I tried recently and wouldn’t hesitate to make again.  Next time with bacon.

Don’t skimp on the smoky mayo!

Grilled Blue Cheese Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Smoky Mayo
Serves 2.

Ingredients

Approx. 1 lb of ground chuck (80% lean)
1 Large yellow onion
2-3 tbsps of butter
1/4 cup of blue cheese, large crumbles
1/2 cup of mayo
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
A few dashes of hot sauce (Cholula chili garlic or chipotle is good)
1/8 tsp of lemon juice
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 slices of any ripe or seasonal tomato
2 Ciabatta rolls

Directions

First caramelize the onions.  Slice the onions and saute them in butter over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Add a few dashes of salt and pepper to taste during cooking.  Stir the onions every few minutes or so and adjust the heat as needed so they do not burn.  (My stove runs hot so I’m always cautious.) When they reach the golden-brownish hue, you’re done.  (If you want, add some balsamic vinegar for extra sweetness.)  The onions can be made in advance and saved.  You should have extra with this recipe, but they won’t go to waste.  These can be added to a ton of dishes.

Note: some recipes call for oil; some use a combo of butter and oil.  I prefer only butter because it gives a sweetness without adding sugar and is less greasy than the oil.

Next make the smoky mayo.  Stir the paprika, cayenne, hot sauce and lemon juice into the mayo.  Taste.  Once it sits for awhile, it will pick up more heat.  As always, adjust according to your level of spice.  And if it’s too thin, just add more mayo.  This can also be made in advance and will keep for several days.

Now you’re ready for the burgers.  Start by preheating the grill on high.

Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper to the ground beef.  If feeling adventurous, mix some cheese directly into the meat (I added some flecks of aged gouda that would be sure to melt slowly, or you could put in some parmigiana, or add a chunk of feta or blue cheese in the middle of the patty).

Try not to handle the meat too much.  It should be firm and round but not packed too densely.  Divide meat evenly for 2 large burgers.   If you’re a little under a pound, that’s ideal.  (I like a thick, rarish burger.  With the fat in the meat, it will cook down some, but this burger is big enough that you don’t need a side dish to be satiated.)  If you want smaller burgers, you can divide the meat into 3 or 4 patties but watch the cooking times.  Smaller burgers will cook faster.  I’m sure you get the idea.

When the grill reaches about 500 degrees, place your burgers on the grill over direct heat.  This will give them a nice char on the outside.  Grill for about 1-2 mins.  Then without flipping, move the burgers to indirect heat for slower cooking.  (2-3 mins for med-rare, 4-5 mins for medium)  Flip the burgers over and place back onto direct heat for another minute or so for the char on the other side.  Then return to the indirect heat for another 2-5 minutes depending on your desired rareness level.  You can put your cheese on top now if it’s particularly slow to melt or wait till finished cooking, and then let the cheese slowly melt with the grill closed while the burger rests on a top rack.  I used an American blue here, but gorgonzola or roquefort will melt nicely too.  In the meantime, cut the rolls in half and place on the grill to warm and toast a little.

When done, spread some spicy mayo on the bottom, burger on top, caramelized onions, sliced tomatoes (I used Kumato but Beefsteak or Jerseys are my preference when in season) and some more mayo on top.  Add bacon if you like.  I was trying to keep it simple this time, but everything is always better with bacon.

Then pop open a frosty brew of your choice to wash down each perfect bite.  Honestly, nothing goes better with a burger than a beer.

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