The headline from a food magazine at the checkout line couldn’t have been more direct: “Don’t go, summer!” leaped off the page in bold red letters. You can’t get more direct than that. Despite a silent acknowledgement that the writer probably doesn’t live in the south, I bought it anyway. Inside, elaboration continued on the lingering days in which grilled burgers can be enjoyed. Turns out, many feel Labor Day weekend is the last blast for burgers. Our weather accommodates year-round grilling, and even better, there are numerous ways to dress up burgers baked in the oven.
More about grilled burgers in a minute, but first, here’s a tip for freezing and defrosting ground beef, chuck or turkey, which many supermarkets will have on sale this week. Buying in bulk, using what is needed and freezing the remainder just makes sense. However, defrosting a large chunk of frozen meat when a last-minute cookout or burger crazing emerges is a tedious task.
To counteract this problem, section meat into one-pound portions, place inside a large freezer bag, and roll out with a rolling pin to remove air and flatten to a manageable size. Seal, stack, and place in the freezer. The next time a burger craving hits, meat is ready to use within a few minutes.
But back to burgers. A reoccurring question from readers during summer months revolves around new ways to change up “the same old burger.” Ground meat lends itself well to a number of additions, including onion soup mix, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings. One of the most inventive ways to add interest to the burger buffet is by hiding the ketchup and instead, serving a variety of burger sauces.
One of my favorites actually came from the back of the Heinz ketchup bottle. To make it, combine a cup each of ketchup and mayonnaise, quarter cup of sweet relish, tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, two teaspoons sugar, tablespoon and a half of jarred minced garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper. It’s delicious spooned over burgers and hot dogs and in a pinch, and serves as a backup dip for chips and crackers.
And of course, nothing’s more impressive than making your own barbecue sauce. An easy recipe calls for a cup of chopped yellow onions to be sautéed in a little oil, then combined with a cup of ketchup, quarter cup of water, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, tablespoon each of brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and chili powder, and half teaspoon of garlic powder. Boil gently for about 20 minutes and serve over burgers or grilled chicken.
Despite northern friends’ warnings about burgers’ last hurrah, the arrival of Labor Day doesn’t mean it’s time to place burgers on the back burner. So, enjoy a juicy burger during the long weekend while making plans for many, many more.
Extra Beefy Labor Day Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Secret Weapon Sauce
1-1/2 lbs ground chuck
Approx. 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules, dissolved in hot water to make at least 1/2 cup of beef broth
4 hamburger buns
4 lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved, and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons each: Dijon mustard and prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Dash each of salt and freshly ground pepper
In large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil, then add onions and dash of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add vinegar and brown sugar and continue to cook until onions are soft and golden, about same amount of time.
To make sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
To make burgers, mix ground chuck, 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef broth mixture (more to taste), Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Form into four patties, about 3/4-inch thick. Make a small indentation on top of each one to prevent a dome from forming during cooking.
Grill patties over direct heat with lid closed until cooked to 160 degrees, about 10 minutes. Turn only once. During last minute of cooking, place buns, cut side down, on grill to toast.
Build each burger by lightly coating each side of the bun with sauce, then adding lettuce leaf, burger patty, and caramelized onions.