With fall officially arriving in less than a week and colder weather approaching, I’ve been making sure to take advantage of the dwindling summer days by using the crap out of my grill. The grill has always been one of my favorite cooking methods because – with the lack of a gas burner in my kitchen – it is one of the easiest ways for me to cook on obnoxiously high heat and give food a nice char (I’m a fan of a slight crunch and a tinge of burnt flavor on certain items).
One of my biggest food weaknesses is, of course, the burger – a staple of the grill and arguably an icon of American cuisine. Habitual hamburger cravings are devastating for your palate, as restaurant menus will never cease to lead you away from their potentially better offerings to the safer, ever-tantalizing burger option. This makes experimentation difficult, as the classic appeal of red meat, salty cheese, and a starchy bun stacked together will never not be tempting, except in circumstances of distinct specialties, such as an Italian restaurant or Endless Shrimp (I am shamelessly coming to you soon, Red Lobster). But the multiple biological attractions of the burger will always be familiar and thus alluring, especially when at a new restaurant.
Unfortunately, the track record of restaurant burgers is never as stellar as your taste buds’ memories would have you believe. A succession of “medium-rare” burgers overcooked to brawny toughness will eventually cause you to question the reliability of your beloved burgers and choose another option; perhaps you will once again experiment or, searching for new dependability, you will find solace in a simple pasta dish. Inevitably though, you will return to the burger, and the fate of your dining experience will once again seem to be at the whim of a coin flip (unless you can return somewhere you trust to restore your faith in burgers; for a casual restaurant I recommend 5 Napkin Burger, as they actually know what medium-rare means, and their standard burger with gruyere cheese is delicious).
Because I tend to distrust restaurant burgers, I often must satisfy my cravings by cooking my own burgers from scratch, and with the typical grill season coming to an end, I decide it is time for some minor experimentation. I pull out the ground beef in my fridge, along with anything else I think I could use to make a complete meal.
In addition to the ground beef, I grab an assortment of veggies, some sliced cheese, and eggs. The onion, garlic, and peppers (a mix of jalapenos and mini bells) catch my interest; I usually top my burger with sautéed onion, but I could easily see how mixing them into the meat would work just as well. Instead, I’ll top off the burger with an egg – I love a nice fried egg on my burger. The sweet potato and squash will be great cubed and then steamed on the grill, while I can simply wrap up the petite potatoes and set them on the grill’s rack. I leave out the mushrooms; there is already going to be enough in and around the burgers, and I prefer mushrooms with Swiss cheese anyway (I have muenster).
I chop the onion and garlic first, as I’m not a fan of them raw (onion is one of those items I prefer with a slight crunch) so I want them cooked before I mix them with the meat. Both possess naturally strong flavors, so I simply sprinkle some salt on them and toss them into the skillet on medium-high.
I cut up the sweet potato and the yellow squash next, because along with the potatoes, they are going to take longer to cook than the burgers, and I want to get them on the grill before I start forming the patties. I wrap up everything in tin foil (making sure to keep the sweet potato separate from the squash, as I would be putting the squash at a slightly lower temperature) and throw them onto the grill somewhere around low heat.
I cut up my mix of peppers next and toss them into a saucepan on medium, along with plenty of chili powder in case the jalapenos aren’t spicy enough. I like mixing my sweet and spicy peppers together (the general theme, I suppose, of the burgers I was crafting), but hitting the right balance of spiciness always seems tricky. If you’re brave, you can take a bite out of your hot peppers before you use them to get an idea of how hot they run (I usually pass; I like spicy, but recklessly biting into unknown peppers can occasionally lead to massive regret).
Once the peppers are done, I dump them into a bowl with the cooked onion and garlic, then pull apart clumps of ground beef and throw them in piece by piece. I imagine most chefs probably blend their burgers, but since I don’t have a food processer, I have to make due with hand mixing (besides, I’m not a chef anyway). Once I have a few patties made (these suckers are big), I place them onto the grill and let that do its thing.
Short side-story here: I found these really neat rolls at my local bakery, and I love them for burgers. They’re supposedly whole grain and have a really earthy look to them, which I dig, and despite the crusty appearance, they are super soft. I probably wouldn’t use them for sandwiches much because they’re a tad too small for my preferences, but for burgers (and for egg sandwiches), they’re perfect.
Speaking of eggs, while everything else is finishing up on the grill, I fry up one egg at a time to plop right on top of the burgers once they’re done. I’m really just an egg nut and would probably put one on any burger, but I think they work well here with the pepper and onion (probably is why these are popular ingredients for omelettes). The extra protein is always a nice perk as well.
With everything done, I fill up my plate and add in some green with celery that was in the fridge (just look at the juxtaposition of those celery stalks). I throw a pinch of rosemary onto the potato (rosemary and potatoes are such a great couple) and bam, I’m done. The final result is slightly starch-heavy, but I am a fan of the color spread I was able to achieve.
As far as taste goes, I think I could have done better with the burger. After finally testing it out, I can now definitively say I would rather have the onion on top of the burger rather than in it. The pepper wasn’t a poor choice, but it could do with a good deal more spice, so next time I’ll be sure to swap out the sweet peppers for an entire set of hot ones. I could even preserve the sweet-n-spicy theme by caramelizing the onions with some sugar, or by making a sauce and marinating the burgers beforehand. Regardless, it’s something to try for next time.
If anyone is interested in an amateur-cooked dinner, I’m available on Wednesday evenings. I promise you a meal that looks “pretty good” and tastes somewhere between “better-than-mediocre” and “mind-blowing.” I would also have you know that my desserts have won the hearts of a few, so it’s best to prepare yourself accordingly. If you try to recreate this meal because for some reason you felt inspired by this post, do your body a favor and add in more greens (I recommend asparagus). Enjoy.
If you would like to read about some relevant food news and fun food stuff, check below.
Molly Reily’s Presidential Candidates Are Silent About Food Policy. This CEO Wants To Change That; a bit political (obviously), but a look into how food issues aren’t being addressed by (arguably)) the most relevant politicians.
Dennis Green’s Sat Bains is a big personality in the restaurant world – just don’t criticize his cooking; a little tidbit about a one-day Shake Shack burger.
Allison Aubrey’s It’s Time To Get Serious About Reducing Food Waste, Feds Say; a quick read on food waste in the U.S.
Julian Humphrey’s The History of the Hamburger; title says it all.