Memorial Day ushers in the start of two important seasons in Colorado: camping and grilling. The best summer weekends include both.
For some grilling pointers, we turned to Dan MacDonald, co-owner of Colorado BBQ Outfitters, 6850 N. Academy Blvd. This is definitely a place to go when in need of anything related to grilling or barbecuing. And MacDonald is more than a little knowledgeable on how to get great results when cooking over embers — especially when preparing burgers.
Meat of the matter
Before you even light that grill, though, consider your meat purchase. MacDonald’s advice: Find a meat shop or talk to the butcher at your favorite grocery store.
“I tell my customers never, ever buy meat labeled ‘hamburger’ for ground beef,” he said.
He says if it comes from a USDA-inspected plant, “hamburger” can have fat scraps in it, while “ground beef” does not.
Hamburger can come from miles away and often it has been thawed for days. Meat handlers will add ammonia to the meat to kill the microbes.
“They do not even have to label it (ammonia) as an ingredient,” he said.
For that reason, although more expensive, MacDonald recommends buying beef at a meat shop, like The Butcher’s Block, 2817 Dublin Blvd., or Andy’s Meat Market, 2915 E. Platte Ave., and having the meat ground right there. Or look for Ranch Foods Direct ground beef. The meat should always have at least 20 percent fat in it for better flavor.
Mix ‘er up
Some folks opt to keep burgers simple, letting the meat speak for itself. These cooks will season the patties with salt and pepper and call it a day. MacDonald goes a few steps further.
“There has always been a controversy over putting ‘mix-ins’ with your ground meat,” he said. “Personally, I like to do it.”
Here’s what he does: For 1 pound of ground steak (with 20 to 30 percent fat), he folds in ¼ teaspoon each of freshly ground black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder (not garlic salt). Then he shapes them into patties.
“There is an art form to making a burger patty,” he said. “Never use wet hands, as that will cause wet meat and it won’t crisp up when cooking. Pack the patties loosely to allow for pockets to hold the juices.”
Then he puts the patties in the freezer for about 15 minutes while he heats the grill. The outside of the patty will be colder than the inside, which makes for more even cooking, he said.
Charcoal is best
MacDonald says there’s nothing quite like the taste of a burger grilled over an open flame.
“I flip my burger frequently to allow the juices to flow through the meat and not subject one side to being overcooked,” he said. He initially cooks burgers over indirect heat, using water-soaked wood chips to create a smoky flavor.
“Gas grillers can achieve this by only turning one burner on and leaving the others off,” he said. “Place some wood chips designed for barbecuing in a foil pan and poke some holes in the bottom of the pan. Set the pan directly over the burner that is going. Cook the burgers just off to the side of the direct heat.”
When the burgers are about 20 degrees under the desired done temperature, MacDonald moves the patties to the direct heat. He showers them with a generous sprinkle of salt and paints them with veggie oil to seal in the flavor.
“The result will be a nice salty taste on the outside, undertones of smoke in each bite and a juicy center,” he said.
Serve ‘em up
MacDonald recommends using a digital thermometer to check the internal temps of burgers. “Never, ever cook burgers with an internal temp of less than 120 degrees.” That is is rare, he said, “and it goes up from there.”
He recommends serving burgers on toasted buttered buns. Decorate as you please with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, onion, tomato and cheese. Bacon is a must for MacDonald. He cooks several strips on the grill alongside his burgers.
The biggest craze right now, according to MacDonald, is to “stuff” the burger, using a burger stuffer.
“These are products where you place a patty in the bottom with an indentation in it,” he said. “Fill the patty with whatever the person would like (cheese, pizza fixings, sauces, veggies). Another patty is then placed on top, and the burger stuffer is pressed together, making one burger with the items in the middle, and then placed on the grill.”
Stuffed or not, burgers are what’s for dinner this weekend and throughout the summer.
Recipe: Classic Bacon Cheeseburgers
Yield: 6 servings
6 slices bacon, 2 pounds ground chuck (80 percent lean), Kosher salt, Freshly ground black pepper, 6 slices extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 6 hamburger buns, split 6 leaves crisp lettuce, 6 slices tomato, Ketchup (optional), Mustard (optional)
In large saut?pan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer bacon onto paper towels to drain.
Gently shape ground chuck into six burgers of equal size and thickness, each about ? inch thick. Season both sides of burgers with salt and pepper. With your thumb or the back of a spoon, make shallow indentation about an inch wide in center of each patty so centers are about ? inch thick. This will help the patties cook evenly and prevent them from puffing on the grill.
Prepare grill for direct cooking over direct high heat (450 to 550 degrees).
Brush cooking grates clean. Grill burgers over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until cooked to medium doneness, 8-10 minutes, turning once. During last minute of grilling, top each burger with slice of cheese and toast buns over direct heat.
Serve cheeseburgers hot on toasted buns with lettuce leaf and slice of tomato, topped with a slice of bacon. Serve with ketchup and mustard, if desired.
Source: Weber's Big Book of Grilling