There is an often told myth about Delmonico’s Steak House in New York City, a legendary restaurant in the Big Apple known for its, well steaks I guess. The restaurant claims to have a menu that dates back to 1834 and proves conclusively that it was the first eatery in the United States to serve Hamburgers. The claim is dubious on many counts but the most obvious one being that the supposed printed menu that dates to 1834 was not printed until later in the century and the printer was not in business until at least the 1880’s. Legends and myths aside, very little is known about the true origin of the great American dish. What is known is that German sailors brought over a recipe for a dish that was called Hamburg Steak as far back as the early 18th century and that there are recipes dating back to at least the late 1850’s that called for ground beef to be formed in a way that could be construed as a Hamburger. However, the inventor of the true American dish we call and recognize as ground beef served on a bun appears to be one Fletcher Davis who sold his fare somewhere in Texas and then brought it to the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Thus began a dish that would soon be synonymous with baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet, and while hot dogs got the credit in the commercial, it is hamburgers that have captivated Americans and defined who we are by what we eat.
I love hamburgers and always search high and low for the best ones. My purpose here is not to tell you what a good burger is or even how to prepare them. Everyone likes them different and many a backyard chef have their own recipes and tricks of the trade that they believe make it the best you will ever have. Far be it from me to say what is good and what is not. I can however, tell you some of the things I do like and perhaps make a suggestion or two that just may make you a better burger if not person altogether. Here are the rules I use when making burgers, use them at your own discretion.
1. I use 80/20 ground beef. Meaning 20% fat. There’s more flavor in this kind of beef and for the love of all that is holy remember that fat does not make you fat. Over eating does.
2. When using a grill, turn it to 75% capacity. It’s a slower cook but prevents charring and burning.
3. Clean your grill thoroughly before cooking.
4. Spice your burgers before you place them on the grill. I use kosher salt, ground pepper and garlic powder. A touch of olive oil on top too. Hey, I’m Italian I put Olive Oil on everything….well most things as I keep it out of yogurt.
5. Be creative with toppings. I make a burger topped with black beans, guacamole and mozzarella that is easy and tasty. Don’t overdo it though as there is nothing worse than a burger smothered with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
6. I make my burgers 8oz. or somewhere in that vicinity. Anything larger than that is bit of a challenge to cook and truth be told 8oz is more than enough.
The final thing I like to keep in mind when cooking a burger is to always cook it a little under desired temp as you can always throw it back on the grill if it is not to your liking. A good burger is one that you like, it’s really as simple as that. Put what you like on it and munch away, and that’s as American as baseball, hamburgers, apple pie and…well you get the idea.