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Celebrate the Great American Holiday with a Great American Burger

Kara Kimbrough

The calendar says summer and its accompanying heat wave is officially here. But, there’s just something about the Fourth of July that demands an outdoor cookout. At some point during this weekend and next week’s official holiday, millions of Americans will pull out their grills, tongs, and every large platter in the cabinet and move their kitchens outdoors. Grilled steaks, ribs, and chicken are part of our culinary heritage, but juicy burgers reign supreme on this most important holiday of the summer.

If you took all the hamburgers Mississippians will consume this weekend and until midnight on July 4 and laid them end to end, they'd circle the globe a couple of times. Steaks, ribs, and hot dogs are popular items for the grill, but burgers account for a huge portion of the millions of pounds of meat that’ll be thrown on the grill this weekend through next Tuesday.

In fact, Nielsen reports that Americans spend over $442 million on beef for Fourth of July cookouts. Other popular foods ringing up million dollar sales include hot dogs, sausages, potato chips, ice cream, watermelon, baked beans, and apple pie.

Besides enjoying a delicious burger with all of the trimmings, keeping family and friends safe and healthy is a major goal of anyone hosting a backyard cookout. Here are a few tips from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:

  1. Trim, if Necessary. Prevent fire flare-ups and excess smoke formation while grilling by trimming any excess fat from meat and poultry.

  2. Savor the Flavor. Marinades add flavor to meat and poultry and can tenderize less tender cuts of meat. Marinades with little or no sugar may help protect meat from charring and have been shown to reduce HCA formation. Before cooking, remove meat from marinade and pat dry to promote even browning and prevent steaming. Sugary sauces and glazes can burn easily and cause charring. If using these types of products, baste during the last few minutes of grilling.

  3. The Heat is On… Medium! Use medium heat while cooking to ensure delicious, flavorful meat. High heat can overcook or char the outside of meat while the interior remains underdone.

  4. Determine Doneness. Cook burgers to medium (160°F) doneness, until no longer pink in the center and juices show no pink color. Insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally into the side of burgers to check doneness. Place the thermometer in the thickest part or center of the burger.

  5. Don’t Play With the Meat. Turn beef occasionally for even cooking and browning. Use a spatula to turn burgers. Do not press, flatten or pierce the meat — flavorful juices will be lost.

  6. Go Lean. There are 29 beef cuts that meet government guidelines for “lean” with less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and per 3-1/2-ounce serving.

Instead of trying one of the fancier burger versions featured in every magazine and website this week, I’m going to stick with The Great American Hamburger from Steve Raichlen's The Barbecue! Bible. Raichlen, best known for his beer can chicken, perfected burger cooking in the same way he cook plain chicken to a new level.

So, fire up the grill, throw The Great American Hamburger on the grill and have a great Fourth of July!

The Great American Hamburger

For the Burgers:

2-1/4 pounds ground round, chuck, or sirloin

6 slices (1/2-inch thick) Vidalia or other sweet onion (optional)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 hamburger buns

For the Toppings--Any or All:

Iceberg lettuce leaves

Sliced ripe tomatoes

Sliced dill pickles or sweet pickles

Cooked bacon (2 slices per burger)

Ketchup, Mustard, and Mayonnaise

Step 1: Divide the meat into six equal portions. Lightly wet your hands with cold water, then form each portion of meat into a round patty, 4 inches across and of an even thickness.

Step 2: Set up the grill for direct cooking and preheat to high.

Step 3: When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate.

Step 4: If using onion slices, brush them on both sides with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the onion on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side, then transfer to a plate.

Step 5: Brush one side of the meat patties lightly with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the burgers, buttered side down, on the hot grate and grill until the bottoms are nicely browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Brush the tops lightly with some of the melted butter and season them with salt and pepper. Using a spatula, turn the burgers and grill until they are browned and cooked to taste, 4 to 5 minutes longer for medium. Meanwhile, brush the cut sides of the buns with the remaining melted butter and toast them, cut sides down, on the grill during the last 2 minutes the burgers cook.

Step 6: Set out the toppings. Put the burgers and onion slices on buns and serve.

Recipe from Steven Raichlen's The Barbecue! Bible

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