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Putting heat to meat

Updated: Aug 28, 2014 03:14 PM
© iStockphoto.com / Liza McCorkle © iStockphoto.com / Liza McCorkle
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By the Editors of Saveur


 
Among burger aficionados, no question is more hotly debated than that of which cooking method produces the tastiest results.

If you ask us, there are four great methods, each yielding a different look, texture, and taste. From the smoky kiss of a backyard grill to the satisfying char imparted by a cast-iron skillet, here are the whys and hows behind our favorite techniques.

See Saveur's Guide to Building the Perfect Burger »

Pan Frying

A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is the ideal tool for making old-fashioned thin, diner-style burgers because it mimics a restaurant's flattop griddle in generating a high, dry heat. George Motz, the author of Hamburger America, recommends the following technique, popular with short-order cooks in the Midwest.

1. First, heat a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it smokes slightly, about 2 minutes. Using an ice cream scoop for portioning, place a scoop of meat in the skillet.

2. Smash the meat flat with a metal spatula. Flattening creates a flavorful sear and crisp, uneven edges as the burger sizzles in its own fat. Cook the patties, flipping them once, until they're browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes total.

3. Place a slice of cheese atop each patty and keep the skillet covered until the cheese has melted, about 1 minute.

Broiling

This is our favorite rainy-day technique because it yields results similar to what you get with a charcoal or gas grill. We like to use an electric toaster oven instead of a regular oven broiler because the toaster's relatively compact cooking space concentrates the heat more intensely on the meat. Turn the toaster oven to broil and place the oven's rack as close as possible to the heating element.

1. Put two 6–8-oz. burgers on an aluminum foil–lined baking sheet fitted with a separate rack.

2. Broil the patties until the meat is nicely browned on one side; flip burgers and cook for about 1 minute more.

3. With this method it should take about 8 minutes to cook two 8-ounce burgers to medium rare.

Grilling

Cooking over an open flame creates a savory, smoky flavor. We like to cook burgers on a small charcoal grill, such as a hibachi or the Lodge Sportsman's Grill, because the grate sits close to the heat, making it easier to achieve an invitingly charred exterior.

1. Build a medium-hot charcoal fire (the coals are ready when they're fully ashed over but are still hot enough that you can't hold your hand an inch above them for more than 2 seconds).

2. Place burgers on the grill and cook, waiting for at least 4 minutes before flipping.

3. Cook until both sides are browned and the burger is cooked to the desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium rare for 8-ounce burgers. Let the burgers rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Steaming

At Ted's Restaurant in Meriden, Connecticut, owner Paul Duberek cooks hundreds of his famous white cheddar cheeseburgers a week in his patented steaming cabinets. It's a cooking style that hasn't found much of a fan base outside Connecticut, but steaming at home is easy and can produce winning results, as the meat stays moist while it cooks in its juices.

1. Place a rack in the bottom of a large wide-bottomed pot, pour in 1/2" water, and bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, press ground beef into each of 2 empty (and cleaned) 5-ounce tuna cans. Place 2 thick slices of white cheddar into 2 more cans. Transfer cans to rack and cover pot; steam until burger is cooked through and the cheese is gooey, 12–14 minutes (for medium rare). To remove cans, grip can edges with tongs.

2. Use a knife to release beef from can and transfer to a bun.

3. Pour the molten cheese over the burger.






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