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Burgers should never be boring

BURGERS ARE America's favorite food. According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, we eat billions of them annually. They are also the nation's most popular barbecued food.
Plump, juicy burgers have become such a staple that when you can't decide what to fix for dinner, a weekend lunch or a Sunday night supper, you can usually get a chorus of agreement when you suggest burgers.
There is probably no food as truly American as hamburgers. But to ensure that you'll never be bored with this old standby, no matter how often you eat them, consider other ground meats such as fish and poultry to create sensational burgers.
One of the reasons burgers please everyone is that there are endless variations. You can mix and match the meat, seasonings, the bread on which you serve burgers, and the accompaniments and toppings to customize them to anyone's taste.
Here's how to breathe new life into your burger repertoire.
Get acquainted with the other ground meats. Some of the more common ones are ground pork, lamb, chicken and turkey, as well as tuna, salmon and crabmeat. You can use canned versions of the fish, but today with fresh fish readily available, many people prefer to buy fresh tuna or salmon and grind it themselves for a distinctive, elegant burger. Less lean cuts of meat will make juicer burgers, and much of the excess fat cooks out before serving - which is one of the reasons barbecuing is such a healthful cooking method.
Additionally, less expensive and leaner cuts pack in lots of flavor to make excellent burgers that are lower in fat calories. If the meat has little fat, it could dry out on the grill. So mix in a tablespoon or two of liquid - such as water, pickle juice, red wine, fruit juice or even buttermilk - before shaping the patties. You can also combine meats. For instance, adding a quarter pound of ground pork sausage to a pound of lean ground turkey adds moisture. If you're feeling adventuresome, ground duck, rabbit, venison, buffalo and shrimp can be turned into exotic gourmet burgers, suitable even for entertaining.
Don't stop at hamburger buns. Use your imagination to add wonderful flavor by altering the bread you put the burgers on.
You've probably tried bagels or English muffins as an alternative to regular hamburger buns. But have you used pita bread, crusty French baguettes, focaccia, sourdough rolls, rye, pumpernickel or cheese bread? Cover slabs of Italian bread with garlic butter, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toast for a couple of minutes at the edge of the grill or on the warming rack. Don't forget cornbread, bran or corn toaster cakes and even flour or corn tortillas.
Today there are many interesting variations of bagels, such as sun dried tomato or spinach, which are great with burgers. Herbed breads and buns have become very popular in some parts of the country and make another food choice.
Any of these breads can be spread with your own savory butters made by blending softened butter with another ingredient such as mustard, blue cheese, finely minced shallots or chives, minced sun-dried tomatoes, chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives, sweet pickle relish, pesto or finely chopped pecans.
Editor's Note: This will be the final column by Donna Myers, a well-known promoter of the grill industry who has been sharing her expertise with Casual Living's readers since 2007. Donna has recently retired due to illness and has closed her business.
For a healthier approach, brush the breads with a flavorful extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs such as dill or basil before warming on the grill.
Grill-roasted garlic also makes a mellow bread spread to complement most burgers. Then there are combinations like honey mustard mayonnaise (3 tablespoons honey and 6 tablespoons spicy brown mustard to ¾ cup mayonnaise), or cream cheese blended with chopped pimiento, crushed pineapple, minced dried apricots, orange zest or finely chopped watercress.
Any of these will add an entirely new dimension when spread on the bread that holds your burger.

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