Better Burgers

Whether it’s take out, fast food, home cooked on the grill or in the oven, the “all beef patty” burger has become more of an all-American culinary icon than apple pie. But beef no longer holds the monopoly as the chosen meat from which a burger is made.

Fish and wild game such as venison, elk, turkey and rabbit are turning taste buds with burger classics far superior to typical burgers made with a thin piece of ground beef. As important as the patty is, there are a few basics to keep in mind for creating burgers worth bragging about.

Burger basics

Supermarket meats are finely ground, which makes for a dense patty. The finer the grind, the easier it is to pack the meat when making patties. Ask your butcher for a coarse grind, or grind it yourself in a food grinder or food processor. Don’t over process the meat. Ground meat should look chopped — not pureed.

Lean meat lacks the fat that gives burgers their natural juiciness and flavor. (Meat with about 15 to 20 percent fat is ideal.) Avoid a dry burger by adding moist or fatty ingredients to wild venison, turkey and other extra lean meats. A few options include olive oil (add 1 tablespoon for every pound of meat), coconut milk, Greek yogurt, salsa, barbecue sauce and applesauce.

Mix it up

Onion, zucchini, spinach or other veggies add moisture and a nice flavor accent to a burger. Make sure the ingredients are finely chopped before mixing them with meat as large pieces can make the patty unstable.

Always use a light hand when blending added ingredients, mixing just until combined. Keep it light when forming your patties, as well. Over handling the meat can result in a dense, dry burger.

Burger cookery

Cooking time varies depending on the meat, thickness of the patty, whether it’s cooked on the grill or in the oven, and the cooking temperature. Most burgers cook in four to 10 minutes on the grill if you start with a hot grill. (Extra-lean meats are best cooked slowly over medium heat.)

Wait a few minutes or until the first side releases its grip on the grill before flipping the patty. The burger initially sticks to the grill, so if you flip it too early it will fall apart. The tool of choice for flipping patties is a spatula.

Top it off

Just as icing on a cake transforms it from good to grand, fresh fixings on top of a burger can take it from simple to sensational. Get creative and discover your next burger crave. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

•Mix your own specialty spread. Combine mayonnaise with one of these mixtures: cumin, lime and chipotle pepper; wasabi, soy sauce and cooked pureed spinach; pineapple and stone ground mustard; or roasted red pepper and garlic.

•Top your burger with pesto, guacamole or salsa instead of ketchup. Use shredded red cabbage, fresh spinach or basil leaves in place of lettuce. Try feta cheese, smoked Swiss or goat cheese instead of cheddar.

•Think beyond tomatoes and pickles. Try nontraditional toppings, such as marinated artichoke hearts, roasted eggplant, zucchini slaw or fresh sliced mangos. Create a burger worthy of your imagination. 

Fajita Turkey Burgers

These burgers go together fast. Top it off with fresh guacamole and lettuce or shredded red cabbage.

Ingredients

• ½ cup cooked black beans, mashed 

• 1 egg

• ¼ cup cooked rice (black, brown or white)        

• 1 teaspoon fajita seasoning blend

• ¼ cup diced roasted red pepper*     

• 1 pound ground turkey**

• 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced              

• salt and pepper, to taste

* In place of roasted red pepper, sauté diced fresh pepper in 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until tender.

** Add 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil to extra lean or wild turkey.

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine black beans, rice, red pepper, garlic, egg and fajita seasoning. Mix in ground turkey using damp hands.

Divide the turkey mixture into four equal portions and shape into patties. Patties will cook in about four minutes on each side; on an indoor grill with closed lid cook about four minutes total or until done. Season with salt and pepper, then top each patty with guacamole and toppings of choice.

Recipe courtesy of Rick Wetherbee

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