Great burgers are the foundation of a classic backyard barbecue (along with the backyard, of course). But they can go horribly wrong. The challenge is to make sure your burgers stay juicy and flavourful, and don’t become dried-out pucks that taste like cardboard. Building a better burger isn’t about what’s piled on top, but rather (like people) it’s what’s on the inside that counts, no matter if you’re using ground beef, turkey, pork, or chicken. With our trade secrets in mind, anyone can become a true burger king (or queen).
In a nutshell, burgers put you in a bind because they must be cooked to fairly high internal temperatures (140°F to 165°F). Those high temps, however, can cook the juices right out of the meat. On the surface, that problem is solved by using high-fat ground meats. The more fat in the mix, the juicier the burger over the heat. However, all that fat adds SmartPoints® values, and you don’t want that. So to keep your burgers juicy and low in SmartPoints values, use lean meats and the following two secret ingredients:
Secret ingredient #1: Mushrooms
’Shrooms are so full of natural moisture that they’ll baste the patties from the inside out while they cook. Grind 1/4 pound of mushrooms in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade until the mushrooms are coarse like sand. Mix them into 2 pounds of lean ground beef, white meat turkey, white meat chicken, lean pork, or veal.
Bonus trick: Mushrooms add lots of moisture to ground meat, but they also add colour. With beef, veal and pork, use darker ’shrooms such as portobello, cremini, or shiitake mushrooms. With chicken and turkey, use white button, oyster, or porcini mushrooms.
Secret ingredient #2: Condiments
Instead of wasting the juice of your favourite condiments on the outside of your burger, cook them right into it! Along with the ground mushrooms, mix 3 tablespoons of any of these condiments into your meat before grilling, broiling, or frying:
- Mango chutney
- Bottled barbecue sauce
- Jarred salsa
- Dijon or deli mustard
- Honey mustard
- Worcestershire sauce
- Thai peanut sauce
- Chinese hoisin sauce
- Bottled sweet-and-sour sauce (sometimes called “duck sauce”)
Fire 'em up!
Once your 2 pounds of ground meat is mixed with the mushrooms and condiments, divide it into eight equal balls. Flatten each to about a 1/2-inch patty. Use your thumb to make an indentation on one side of the center of each patty. This little well will keep the patties from balling up over the heat.
Heat your grill to high, or preheat your broiler to high, and set the rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Set the patties directly over the heat on the grill or on a large, lipped baking sheet to go under the broiler.
Important note: There’s no point in pushing down on burgers as they cook unless you’re a pyromaniac who likes to see flames shoot up. You’ve worked to keep the juice and flavours in your burgers, so leave them be until you’re ready to turn them, unpressed.
For beef and veal, cook the burgers until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the center of one patty registers 145°F, about 8 minutes, turning once.
Cook chicken, turkey and pork burgers until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of one patty registers 160°F, about 12 minutes, turning once.
It’s burger time! Make sure you’ve got lots of chopped lettuce, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots and sprouts to go on whole-wheat buns with the patties, and an ice-cold beer at the ready.