Let’s Fire Up the Grill & Make the Perfect Burger

May is National Hamburger Month, when we commemorate America’s favorite sandwich. Several sources online say Americans scarf down 50 billion burgers per year. Burgers are wildly popular, no question — but I call shenanigans on that 50 billion claim.

The total U.S. population is almost 318 million, according to the Census Bureau. The Census also tells us that 20.8% of us are either 5-and-under or 65-and-over. Preschoolers and seniors certainly eat some burgers, but not as many as the typical carnivorous teen or young adult. And Gallup polling says 7% of us identify as vegetarian or vegan; not a lot of burgers are being consumed by that crowd, either.

If we account for those groups (which, granted, would have some overlap), everybody else would need to average about four burgers per week in order to hit the 50 billion mark. That seems high as an average. Zagat did a survey in 2012 that pegged our average consumption at about one burger per week, which seems more believable.

Either way, there’s no question that we love our burgers by the billions. Restaurants are constantly trying to put a new spin on this American classic — even serving them between glazed doughnuts.  As each chain, restaurant and hole-in-the-wall fights for burger supremacy, the real winner is us (and the beef industry). Burgers are only limited by our imaginations.

But no matter how many great gourmet burgers and new interpretations arise, there’s always a place for a simple, delicious classic like this one that you can make on the grill:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck (80/20 mix)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Montreal steak seasoning
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 hamburger buns (split)
  • 4 slices cheese (Cheddar, American, Swiss, etc.)
  • Toppings and condiments (ketchup, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles, etc.)

Instructions

Combine ground beef and steak seasoning in large bowl and mix gently but thoroughly. Lightly shape into four patties, each about 3/4-inch thick. Use your thumb to put an indentation in the middle of each; this will help them maintain their shape while cooking.

Brush oil over the patties. Place the patties on a grill over medium, ash-covered coals (over over a preheated gas grill). Close the grill and leave the patties alone. You’ll lose juice by flipping them too much.

Grill covered for about four minutes, then flip them once. Grill for another 4-5 minutes, depending on how hot your grill is and how well done you like your burger. Food safety folks say burgers should be cooked to at least 160°F.

About two minutes before the burgers are done, place buns on the grill, cut sides down. Grill until lightly toasted. During last minute of grilling, top each burger with a cheese slice.

Line the bottoms of the buns with lettuce; that prevents the juice from turning the buns soggy. Then top with the burger and tomatoes, onions and other fun stuff, as desired.

A couple of flavor tips

When cooking burgers, remember fat is where the flavor and juiciness come from. That’s why we always go with 80 percent lean beef for burgers. If you try to use extra-lean beef in an attempt to eat healthier, you’ll just end up with dry burgers.

Cast iron skillets are also wonderful for making hamburgers. If you use one for bacon at breakfast, save some of that grease and cover it until you’re ready to cook burgers in your skillet. This will add amazing bacony goodness.

— P.J. Butland