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Chef Pete Loren from Nino Salvaggio shares his secrets for perfect burgers on the barbecue

Watch Chef Pete on The Ford Fireworks Monday at 8 p.m. on Local 4 for more tips

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Chef Pete Loren from Nino Salvaggio shares his secrets for perfect burgers on the barbecue this summer.  For more tips and tricks, watch Chef Pete during the broadcast of The Ford Fireworks on Monday, June 24th at 8 p.m. on Local 4.

No offense hot dogs, but nothing is more “American” than the hamburger.

And while, like the hot dog, its ancestral “roots” may lie across the “pond,” we’ve not only made the hamburger our own, but turned it into an industry and a global obsession.

So, if Americans created this “Burger Monster,” you’d think that as a “people” we should have this thing down pretty tight, that the “expert” cooking of one of our country's signature foods should be as natural, intuitive and instinctive as just about anything we know how to do.

Unfortunately, just as our birth comes with no “owner’s manual,” it also doesn’t come with a cookbook. Some things, we just must figure out on our own.

Thankfully, in this case, we’re only dealing with a recipe of a few ingredients…meat, a bun and some condiments.

That sounds easy enough right?

And therein lies the real problem. In “theory” it’s easy to make a hamburger. In truth, it’s hard to make a good one.

The other “problem” is that most any burger tastes good enough, especially when you are hungry. The same can probably be said of pizza.

Unfortunately, when “good enough” is accepted, “great” becomes an orphan.

BUT, if you really love your burgers, whether in “Jimmy Buffet’s paradise” or on your backyard patio, we’ve got some tips for you to unlock the “pearly gates” of burger heaven.

Pete’s 10 Burger Cooking Tips

1. Purchase the best meat possible but that doesn’t mean the reddest, leanest either. Ground chuck (from the shoulder) and Ground Round (from the hind leg) is most popular. Regardless of which you choose, (and you may not want to hear this) a GREAT deal of a burger’s flavor is really in the fat. Fat is also a huge contributing factor to how juicy a burger will be and if cooked over a grill (charcoal or otherwise) the fat and juices that drip down on the hot embers or surfaces also create a smoke which flavors the burger. Fat is where it’s at, and the prevailing best answer of how much lean meat to fat is about 80% to 20%. Go leaner if you like but be careful to follow the remaining steps more carefully to avoid a dry burger.

Less…is More

2. From a “beef lover’s” perspective, most burger lovers love beef, not eggs, not bread crumbs, not highly seasoned “flavor packets”. Save that for your meat loaf or Salisbury steaks. If you DO want a burger with an additional “kick” or flavor, consider adding a teaspoon of Worcestershire or Soy Sauce to your burger meat before pattying or, why not buy Nino’s Seasoned Burgers, which have some terrific flavors minus all the “fillers.”

The Patties, Fresh or Frozen?

3. The answer is that BOTH can make great hamburgers.

If you are making your own patties out of fresh ground beef, don't over-handle the meat, (meaning don’t knead it in a bowl) and don’t compress it and compress it and compress it into a dense patty. Over mixing and over compressing only makes the burger tougher and tougher. Believe it or not, an 80%/20 % burger will hold together nicely on the grill if not mixed at all and then only given a modest shaping.

If you purchase frozen burger patties (and Nino’s makes and sells both fresh and frozen patties for your convenience), choose patties that are freshly ground then frozen, the right size and thickness and the right mixture of lean to fat. In the case of Nino’s all the answers are YES!

You can use frozen patties as still frozen or thawed, the only difference is that if you are using a frozen patty, hold the patty off to a cooler party of the grill for a moment longer on each side to ensure your burger is cooked to your desired doneness. Other than that?, no changes.

Size Matters…

4. Regarding patty thickness, everyone has their own preferences, from thin to thick, and all can have a degree of success if you follow the suggestions below. We recommend a patty of between 3/8” and ½” thick to optimize flavor and juiciness. If you want a “thicker” burger, use 2 patties instead of one to build your masterpiece.

5. When shaping the patties, consider that ground meat shrinks when it cooks, therefore, you’ll want to do two things to make a better burger. 1.) Shape the patty 25 % bigger than the bun diameter and 2.) Depress a modest “dent” in the center of each patty so that each patty will swell up less in the middle and therefore cook more evenly.

Grilling Success, It’s a Matter of “Degrees”…

6. Ok…here we go! We’re ready to start grilling! Now, keep in mind, that “Burger Experts” will tell you that the perfectly grilled burger is turned over only once. This will give you a moister burger. To do this, you have to have MAXIMUM control over your heat (either a gas grill or a charcoal grill with extra space to move your burgers over to a cooler area.

Your burgers should start on high heat, then be moved to a less hot area of the grill until juices begin to gather on the surface, then, turn over your burgers back onto the hot part of the grill to get color and marks once again (this time on the opposite side), then you side over the burger to a less hot part of the grill to finish them to your desired doneness.

Seasonings and Salts, the Dos and Don’ts

7. IMPORTANT TIPS WHILE GRILLING YOUR BURGERS!

a) It’s not recommended to salt your burgers on both sides as you are grilling. Salt tends to extract juices from meats as they cook and can make your burgers dryer and tougher. You have two options:

  • Salt them after they’ve been turned over, therefore the underside will be seared and sealed and the salt can dissolve into the top side juices and stay there. Of course, if you turn the burger over once again, this method has lost its benefit.
  • Salt the burgers as you are taking them off of the grill. This is the preferred method.
  • b) Don’t, DON’T press down on your burgers or stab them with a fork, it squeezes out the juices and makes them dry and tough.

    c) If you decide to make your burgers thicker than ½ inch, you will need to adjust your temperatures to be slightly lower, starting with medium high and moving the burgers over to an even lower temperature area before flipping them over. This will allow them to have enough time to cook properly to the center without burning the exterior of each first.

    d) If you’re adding cheese, do this JUST after you’ve turned over your burgers onto the “hot” side and as you are moving them to the less hot area.

    e) If you’re adding bacon, pre-cook it to almost crisp and add it when you are adding your cheese making sure you keep the bacon strips within the diameter of the meat patty to prevent the edges of the bacon from burning (unless you like that sort of thing…)

    Get Your “Buns” Over Here!

    8. A quality burger deserves a quality roll. Find one that suits your taste and of the right size and consider lightly toasting it on each side. Toasted buns make a difference.

    What If I Really Want to Make Seasoned Burgers?

    9. If you “really must” add seasonings to your burger meat (like Worcestershire sauce, garlic, beef broth or other seasonings) use this tip.

    a) Keep the meat WELL chilled

    b) Place your ground beef on a cutting board and add your ingredients while chopping in with a sharp knife. Do not knead with your hands.

    c) Place the mixture back in the fridge for 1 hour to relax,

    d) Shape your patties gently and without compressing.

    How About Pan Frying?

    10. Lastly, if you like to pan fry your burgers, you can use the same general method and tips as grilling, Of course, you would have to use 2 pans (one hotter than the other) to be perfectly in sync with all of the suggested method therefore, a medium high pan throughout the process is your best bet.

    There you have it, my own personal Burger Owners Manual, 10 tips to follow to ensure burger success the next time you fire up the grill or range to cook one of America’s favorite foods!