How does a big, fat, juicy bacon burger sound for lighting up your Fourth of July? It’s the ultimate burger, and we have three ways to get the job done: beef burgers topped with strips of crispy bacon, beef patties topped with flavorful bacon jam and, our personal favorite, a beef-bacon burger.

We’ll start with the simplest: beef topped with crispy bacon.

The key here is the bacon. We like Tender Belly Bacon, which is available at Cherokee’s of Manitou in Manitou Springs. Go for the thick-cut, dry rubbed uncured cherrywood. Or for some spice, try the dry rubbed uncured habanero style. Either is hearty and delicious.

The bacon is baked in the oven, not fried in cast-iron skillets where you have to fight all that spattering grease. Cooking bacon in the oven allows you to make large batches at once, with every slice evenly cooked and as crisp as you want.

The method is easy. First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a large, rimmed baking sheet and line it with foil for easy cleanup. Then set an oven-safe rack on top of the foil. Spritz with cooking spray and arrange the slices in a single layer. The slight elevation of the rack allows the heat to circulate around the bacon, which allows for even cooking and crispness.

Shove the pan into the oven and try to be patient as your kitchen fills with the tantalizing aroma of hot bacon. The time will vary depending on the bacon’s thickness and the desired crispness — as short as 12 minutes for regular thin-cut bacon or as long as 20 minutes for thicker bacon.

When the bacon reaches your crisp-o-meter level, devour it off the rack, or cool and store in a Ziplock bag for up to a week in the refrigerator.

And now, the second bacon burger option: a beef patty topped with bacon jam.

We credit Brother Luck — owner of Four By Brother Luck and Lucky Dumpling and a “Top Chef” contender — with putting this concept on the local map. When he opened his first eatery, Brother Luck Street Eats, he wowed diners with his version of a bacon jam burger. He shrugs at how simple the recipe is: a combination of cooked bacon (use a good one like the recommended Tender Belly), shallots, garlic, brown sugar, chile powder and a few secret ingredients, all cooked down into a jammy mixture.

You can find dozens of bacon jam recipes online. We chose an easy one with ingredients similar to Luck’s recipe. This one calls for cooking the bacon in a skillet, but you can do it in the oven too. The jam can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to make a bacon burger, slather a grilled beef patty with the jam and other toppings of your choice.

We saved the best for last: the beef- bacon burger.

But first, a little background. When Joe Campana and Jerry Flesher opened The Rabbit Hole in 2011, a signature dish once on the menu was a bacon burger, made completely of bacon. Head chef Jared Wilkerson (who concocted the burger for today’s photo) walked us through the process used back in the day to make the burger.

“We put the bacon through a meat grinder to get a fine, even bacon mixture,” he said. “Then we incorporate eggs and panko crumbs into the bacon. The mixture is portioned into 7-ounce patties and refrigerated for about an hour to firm them up.”

The patties are cooked in a deep-fat fryer set at 350 degrees for about seven minutes. Then they’re placed on a toasted brioche bun with lettuce, tomato and a poblano orange jam. And since we’ve tempted you with a photo of Wilkerson’s bacon burger, he’ll offer the famous dish through Sunday, June 30.

The bacon burger recipe we selected, from Cook’s Country magazine, mixes ground beef with the bacon. The result is bacon goodness in every bite. The recipe also includes caramelized onions for topping the burger and blue cheese crumbles — another winning flavor combination. The burgers can be cooked on a charcoal or gas grill.

To wrap them, we like Wilkerson’s idea of using brioche buns for extra buttery tastiness. The French Kitchen Culinary Center, 4771 N. Academy Blvd., is a good source for these. Place orders ahead at 528-6295 to be sure they have them when you are ready to whip up some crazy-good burgers.

Grilled Bacon Burgers with Caramelized Onion

Yield: 4 servings

8 slices bacon

1 large onion, halved and sliced thin

Salt and pepper

1 ½ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled and chilled (1 cup) (optional)

4 hamburger buns, toasted

Procedure:

Process bacon in food processor to smooth paste, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until lightly browned in spots but still pink (do not cook until crispy), about 5 minutes, breaking up pieces with spoon. Drain bacon in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate and let cool completely. Reserve bacon fat.

Add 2 tablespoons reserved fat to now-empty skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook until well browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Spread beef in even layer in rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle bacon, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt over beef. Gently toss with two forks to combine. Divide beef mixture into four equal mounds. Gently shape each mound into 3/4-inch-thick patty about 4 ½ inches in diameter. Using your fingertips, press center of each patty down until about 1/2 inch thick, creating slight divot. (Patties can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

For charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Season patties with pepper. Cook patties divot side down, uncovered, until browned, about 3 minutes. Flip patties and top each with 1/4 cup blue cheese, if using. Cover and continue to cook until burgers register 125 degrees (for medium-rare) or 130 degrees (for medium), about 2 minutes longer. Transfer burgers to buns, top with onion, and serve.

Source: Cook’s Country

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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