American Grilling 101: How to Grill the Ultimate Burger
The burger is easily one of humanity’s greatest culinary achievements. It’s delicious, it’s easy to make, and it’s 100% American (well, the Germans gave us the word “hamburger,” so maybe 95% American). Though burgers are good all year round, they’re especially tasty during the summer. Having complete creative control over your burger is a beautiful gift — to make your backyard barbeques as successful as possible, we urge you to read on and learn how to grill a burger from a seasoned professional. We were lucky enough to tap into the burger wisdom of Kevin Schantz, Executive Chef of RingSide Grill in Portland, OR. Here’s what he had to say:
GRINDING THE MEAT
If you’re going to grill a mediocre burger, go ahead and buy frozen patties or ground beef from the store. If you’re going to make the perfect burger, however, you’ll want to buy a USDA Choice ribeye steak with ample marbling, then grind it yourself. “I’ll cube up my ribeye, and I’ll grind it,” says Schanz. “I’ve got a KitchenAid — most people have a KitchenAid or some kind of a KitchenAid-style tool. We just bought a grinder attachment for the thing.”
PREPARING THE PATTIES
Once the ribeye is ground up, add some Jacobsen Sea Salt and cracked pepper and massage it into the beef. “I’m heavy handed with the salt,” says Schanz. “I like to know that there’s salt on that sonofabitch.” After you’ve salted the bejesus out of the meat, just patty it up. Schantz recommends 6 oz. or 8 oz. patties; of course, you can make your burgers as big or as small as you want. If you’re a stickler for perfectly shaped patties, you might try a patty press like this one.
Related: How to Cook Ribs By Instinct
MOMENT OF DESTINY: GRILLIN’
Now is when your burger achieves greatness. Schantz is partial to grilling his burgers over mesquite rather than plain ol’ charcoal or on a gas grill. You might consider setting up a two-zone fire by shifting the mesquite charcoal to one side of the grill. After you light up your mesquite and get it going nice and hot, then it’s time to make the magic happen. Here’s a quick rundown of the grilling process.
- Grill burgers for about 2-3 minutes
- Rotate each patty 90 degrees (to get those killer hash marks)
- Grill for another 2-3 minutes
- Flip the patties and repeat the process to get those hash marks on the other side
- Key factor: Take the burgers off the grill and place them on a resting rack for a couple minutes. This helps lock in some of the moisture.
- Put a thick slice of swiss cheese on top. (Oh, you don’t want cheese? In that case, we suggest you read a guide on how to grill a near perfect burger).
- Put the burgers back on the grill and put the cover on. Grill for another minute or two, or until the cheese is literally dripping off the burger.
Game changer: Put some grilled red onion beneath the cheese and let the cheese melt over it. This can help secure your onion, which might otherwise fall off mid-bite.
Schanz is partial to potato or brioche buns. He’s particularly enamored with Grand Central buns, available here in the Pacific Northwest. “In my world, you always have to grill the bun,” says Schanz. “I think having the char on that bun adds to the overall flavor of the burger.” Grilling the bun is simplicity itself — just slap ‘em on there for about 10 seconds and you’re good.
INGREDIENTS AND CONDIMENTS
When it comes to toppings (or innings?), lettuce, onion, and tomato are American classics — just make sure all your ingredients are as fresh as can be. That shouldn’t be too hard during the summer — just hit up your local farmer’s market or natural foods market. And don’t forget that pickle spear!
Don’t overthink the spreadables. “I’m kind of a classic guy, I like a little bit of mustard — some dijon or something like that,” says Schantz. “Unless you’re trying to take it to the next level — then you might throw a little bacon on there, maybe have a bacon and blue cheese burger.” Use ketchup if you must, but really, the ultimate burger should taste amazing sans ketchup.
“For me, that, with a tall boy PBR, and a shot of Basil Hayden, or Blanton’s bourbon, is exactly where I want to be on a Saturday afternoon,” Schantz says. Of course, we have no desire to curb your burger ingenuity. If you have a hankering for something crazy, go ahead and do it. And if you have any burger suggestions, lay ‘em on us!
RingSide Grill has an absurdly delicious menu. If you happen to be in the Portland area, we highly recommend you sink your teeth into a RingSide burger.
Updated 7/15/16 by Chase McPeak