May is National Hamburger Month! What a great thing to celebrate! I must admit I am extremely picky when it comes to hamburgers. Growing up, Dad made hamburgers a lot. I remember Mom making patties out of the meat when I was younger and then I remember pat-tying a lot of meat myself as I grew up. We always buy the family packs of ground beef and patty the meat ourselves even to this day. Nothing else works quite the same. There is nothing I have ever found that can compare to my daddy’s hamburgers on a charcoal grill. Part of it is the meat, part of it is the seasonings, but a large part of it is Dad’s skill on the grill. Taking a bite of that hamburger, juices running down your arm, mmmmm, perfection. I can almost taste it as I write this column.
Hamburg, Germany was the birthplace of the hamburger although the original version was a bit different than what we know it as today. Originally, beef from German Hamburg cows was minced and combined with garlic, onions, salt and pepper, then formed into patties (without bread or a bun) to make Hamburg steaks, according to Parade.com. These were called Hamburg steaks and were considered gourmet and were usually quite expensive due to the quality of the beef. German immigrants coming to America opened restaurants and often served the Hamburg Steak. The Industrial Revolution really changed the game though. Factory workers were served the Hamburg steak from food carts so they could continue working. However, the Hamburg was difficult to eat while standing. Someone, whose name has long since been lost to history, sandwiched the meat between two slices of bread and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hamburgers are now a staple of American cuisine. You can find one in most any restaurant, diner or fast food joint. You can adjust it to your taste from the meat to the seasonings, even the bun can be changed. Beef remains the favorite to this day however. It is so popular there is concern there will not be enough supply to meet the demand. In 2013, the first ‘Petri dish’ hamburger was created. Cow muscle was created from stem cells then they ground it like hamburger, fried it up and taste tested it. The first version was lacking in taste and texture, but they have kept at it. It has garnered enough attention the FDA decided in 2018 to have a public meeting to see if they needed to start regulating the lab grown meat. Some believe, since it isn’t traditional meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should regulate it instead. Another point of contention is what to call it to distinguish it from beef in the more traditional sense. Some of the suggested names are craft beef, clean meat, in vitro meat, cultured meat and lab-grown meat, just to name a few. Some argue lab-grown beef would solve the greenhouse gases issues emitted by cattle farms. Could you eat lab-grown beef?
No one wants the patty to fall through the grates of the grill. First, keep the meat as cold as possible. Take it straight from the fridge to patty it and if possible, put it back in the fridge for an hour to cool it back down. Your hands heat it up more than you think. Second, don’t add any liquid seasoning until after it’s cooked. Personally, I believe a good burger doesn’t need anything but a little sprinkle of seasoning to begin with. If you just have to be sure, add an egg to the meat as a whole before you patty it. This will act as a binding agent as it cooks. This is completely unnecessary as far as I am concerned, but it is an option. One final tip, if you don’t care about the char marks from sitting on the grill, just cover the grill with aluminum foil when you cook. Poke holes all over the foil then cook as you normally would. There is no way for the meat to fall through this way.
Back in July of last year, I discussed the art of grilling and using charcoal so I am not going to go into how to do that again. If you need a refresher, pull out the July 6th edition of the Okmulgee Times or call me and I will send it to you. For this column, I am just going to assume you know how to get the grill started. I am a firm believer a good hamburger needs not much on it, but that wouldn’t give me a full column so I did some looking and played over the last weekend and found some really good burgers. I hope you will try them with me. Pick up some meat this weekend and meet me at the grill!