You've been grilling burgers for a couple of weeks now, and you're thinking it's about time to up your game, to move beyond the ketchup-relish-mustard rut.
It’s time to strut your stuff. But you don’t know where to start, right?
Many high-profile chefs have been playing with burger toppings, coming up with inventive approaches to the traditional so-so toppers. Some then have opened upscale burger restaurants and written cookbooks — Bobby Flay and Hubert Keller are among them — to showcase their creations.
Of course, they’re playing with the burger’s mix, serving up all beef, beef and pork, beef and sausage, turkey, fish and veggie patties. But in the toppings department, they’re mixing flavors and textures to maximize the eating experience.
“A burger is such a wonderful combination of taste and flavors and texture and temperatures,” said chef Jeffrey Starr, culinary director of the 20-year-old Sutter Home Winery’s Build a Better Burger recipe contest. “You bite through a bun that’s a little crunchy on the outside, then soft and then through the crisp lettuce, then the cold tomato and into the hot beef.”
His advice: “If you want to create your own burger, think of dishes that are not burgers that you love to eat. Chefs do this all the time — they deconstruct a dish and reconstruct it into something else. If you like moo shu pork, make a pork burger with hoisin sauce and fried vegetables on it.”
Spike Mendelsohn (the guy from the fourth season of “Top Chef”) is a firm believer in toppings. “I think that’s what makes the difference in burgers,” said Mendelsohn, who opened his burger-rich Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., two years ago.
“We have a really, really great blend of meat, but our chefs in the restaurant group came up with some innovative toppings to put on burgers — and we always try to incorporate texture and balance the flavors.”
Be inspired by these topping ideas from a trio of chefs. Some of the combos may be a bit overwhelming, but, like the fashions on Parisian runways, pick and choose what you like and try a few.
GRILL SMART; BE SAFE, TOO
Chicago chefs, local TV celebs and safety experts gathered recently on a patio at Aqua, a Columbus Drive skyscraper, with four gas grills and a few dozen pounds of ground meat, looking for “Chicago’s Safest Grill Master.”
The reason? The sponsor was Underwriters Laboratories, the Northbrook, Ill.,-based product safety group, which knows the dangers of bum igniters on gas grills and improperly stored propane.
So as burgers sizzled on grills, UL’s director of consumer safety John Drengenberg strolled among the contestants: Insulated flame-retardant gloves? (Good.) Wander away and leave the grill unattended? (Bad.) Use a spray bottle of water to control flare-ups? (Good.)
Drengenberg’s safe-grilling tips:
“Grill outdoors. And people say, ’What are you talking about, we always grill outdoors,’ ” he said. But people put grills in a garage when it rains. “You get a flare-up, and your garage is on fire.”
Don’t dispose of hot charcoal in the sand on the beach or in the corner of your backyard. “Charcoal takes a long time to cool down,” he said, and kids running barefoot can get burned. “If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, put the garden hose on (hot coals).”
Be sure a grill is a safe distance from buildings (about 10 feet), and keep flammable items away from the grill. Think he’s overreacting? “Common sense is not as common as you think,” he said, noting outdoor grills are responsible for 19,000 emergency-room visits and 7,900 home fires each year.