Better burgers are about the blend

Elizabeth Karmel

AP – There was a time when I liked burgers based mostly on their toppings. I might order a Swiss cheese and beef burger, or one topped with blue cheese and caramelised onions, and that, I thought, was where the flavour was.

Then I realised I could make my own burger blend with better quality cuts of beef. This changed the way I make and eat burgers.

When I am making my own blend, I choose bits of short rib, brisket, hanger steak and rib-eye. All the rich cuts. Add a bit of aged beef too, and you get a swoon-worthy, slightly funky, slightly nutty aroma and flavour.

Today, you can buy these specialty burger blends already made and conveniently packaged in one-pound “bricks” or pre-made burgers. When you are shopping, follow the advice of meat scientist Diana Clark from Certified Angus Beef: For a thick, gourmet-like burger, look for a blend of 80 per cent lean, 20 per cent fat. “The extra fat is going to melt and make a juicy, tasty burger.”

There are many butchers who sell burger blends online and at grocery stores. I have purchased the pre-made burgers, but I prefer the bricks because I can make my signature square burgers from them easily.

To get the best tasting burger, try making your own blend with better quality cuts of beef. PHOTO: AP

The meat is vacuum-sealed, which means it is as close to fresh as you can buy without grinding it yourself. With vacuum-sealed meat, the oxygen is almost eliminated, so the rate of deterioration is much slower. Fresh meat wrapped in brown butcher paper will last a maximum of three days refrigerated, while vacuum-sealed meat will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator and much longer in a freezer.

To make square burgers from the bricks, carefully remove the meat from the packaging and, using a fine serrated knife, cut it into four equal, quarter-pound shares. I round the sharp edges of each square in my hands, as I would soften a lump of clay, being careful not to make it too round. I want to keep the thick square shape. After it is smooth and even, I make a depression in the centre so the burger will cook evenly and not puff up like a meatball.

Because you are buying premium ground beef blends, you don’t need to add anything to make it taste great. A generous sprinkle of fresh-ground black pepper and coarse kosher salt is all you need. My ratio is one teaspoon Morton Kosher salt to a third teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Mix the salt and pepper together and season both sides of the burger.

I like to place my burgers on the grill for about three-four minutes per side for a thick patty like this one. You will get great grill marks, and the middle will still be medium-rare to medium. If you buy the pre-made patties, cook them a little less because they are not as thick as my homemade square burgers.

If you don’t have a grill, or you run out of gas, these are equally good made in a cast-iron pan. Preheat the pan on your stovetop over medium-high heat, and the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t put anything in the pan – no butter, no oil.

Once it is hot enough for a drop of water to dance across the surface, place the four patties on the hot cast-iron skillet and let cook for two minutes or until the burgers develop a good crust. Flip them and let cook on the stovetop for two more minutes. Then place the skillet with burgers in the pre-heated oven for five minutes.