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Duke's Food Obsession

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The Noble Hamburger

Is there anything more satisfying than a great burger? I love all foods, and am especially fond of higher-end treats like caviar, foie gras, sushi, etc., but are they better than a great burger? Different, yes, better, no. A good burger can be your friend, there in good times and bad. Broke up with your boyfriend? Have a burger. Hung-over? Burger and chocolate shake please. "Hillary Swank, you just won the Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, where are you going now?" For a burger. In fact, if I had to choose between a burger and sex, after 19 years of marriage, it might be a close call. (Kidding, dear.)

For something seemingly so simple- a ground beef patty on a bun with assorted condiments, the landscape is littered with mediocre burgers and burger joints. Overcooked or pre-cooked meat. Wilted lettuce. Untoasted or stale buns. A fifteen year old fry cook wearing flip-flops texting his girlfriend while cremating the patties on the grill. The list goes on. It’s time to stand up for the noble hamburger!

So what makes a great burger? Many things- but fear not grasshopper, I will walk you through them:

Meat: It must not be too lean (just writing this makes me feel dirty). I prefer ground chuck with an 80-20 meat to fat ratio. Extra lean, ground bison and the like at the supermarket are great for casseroles where you drain off the fat, but not acceptable for a great burger. Also, I recommend pre-salting the meat, as Judy Rodgers notes in her great Zuni Café cookbook. Mix in one teaspoon of Kosher salt for every pound of meat and let it sit overnight before forming the patties. Obviously, the meat you use should be of top quality. If you can, grind it yourself; but if not, seek out freshly ground beef at the store and use it as quickly as possible. Finally, when forming your patties, try to handle them as little as possible- too much forming can make the meat chewy.

Bun: This is simple: fresh and white. Wheat? Give me a break. Toppings? Whatever floats your boat, cornmeal, sesame, onion roll? Sesame for me please and toasted. Restaurants commonly brush butter or margarine on the buns and "toast" them on the griddle- a dirty little secret we never share. But, it makes a damn fine bun.

Innards: I recommend using iceberg lettuce for crunch, although Boston lettuce is nice as well. Buy organic tomatoes if you can, or at least let the tomatoes ripen on the counter for a week. Onions should be sweet, and pickle chips should be the cheap neon-green variety.

Condiments: Many people and burger joints fail this test, fouling up the crucial liquid-to-bread-to-veggie-to-meat ratio. Since it’s your burger, you know best. I used to be a mayonnaise and salt kid, but have fully evolved into a mayo/mustard/ketchup Renaissance man.

Now! HOW TO COOK IT. Yes, all caps. Very Important. The two best ways are: grill over live charcoal or wood, or pan frying. For grilling, don’t even talk to me about gas grills. While I own a gas grill, and use it often in the winter time, for serious grilling, you must use charcoal. And think of all the calories you’ll burn lighting the stuff and checking on it. The second way, different, but just as good, the humble frying pan, allows our burger friend to have a nice crust while mingling happily with its liquid(ok, grease) yielding a juicy burger.

Cook your burger according to your own degree of doneness. Since this is your home, the FDA police can’t stop you from cooking it rare. You go, girl. (Just don’t call me if you get sick from e-coli or come down with Crutzfeld-Jacob - as I said, it’s your call.) After you flip it, toast your bread, or be sinful and put it in the frying pan after you take the burger out, since meat benefits from a brief rest before serving and since you have all of those wonderful liquids in the pan anyway. Load up your burger, grab some fries or potato chips and enjoy. To drink? A nice cold one of your choice, or a robust young red wine. This, dear reader, is a noble hamburger!

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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