The summer days of my childhood fell into a pretty consistent routine. Mornings were spent splashing and playing in the pool or running through sprinklers attempting to cool off in the hot Las Vegas sun. Each afternoon the heat and bright rays would drive my siblings and me into the house for afternoon siestas. Of course, that didn’t last too long and soon the cool water called to us and we ventured back out to the pool playing until well past dark. Our large pool was often crawling with neighbors, friends, and extended family. And most evenings while we enjoyed the water, my father fired up the grill.
There is something about the combination of sunshine, chlorine, water games, and the smell of bar-b-q that has the power to make one insatiably hungry. And you would have to be really hungry to enjoy my father’s idea of a bbq. All summer long my parents would proudly lay out the frozen, pre-formed hamburger patties purchased in bulk to meet the needs of their many visitors. Dad would start the grill and work to get the flames high and hot. Then he would carefully place the patties on the grates where he would proceed to use his metal spatula to move, and turn, and squeeze the flame-engulfed patties until they achieved what was apparently his ideal finish- black outside, red in the middle, and completely void of whatever juicy flavor the cheap patties originally had. While my father mangled the meat, my mother busily worked in the kitchen prepping veggies which always (and only) consisted of iceberg lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, and pickles.
Eating blackened burgers served up on white Wonder buns, with a side of soggy store-bought coleslaw and runny grocery deli potato salad, I soon realized that this was a family tradition crying out for a serious upgrade. And so, armed with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, high quality meats, and tips from our favorite grill masters, my husband and I have set out to create the perfect grilling experience. Our grilling successes have included the untraditional such as kabobs, fish, and desserts, but today I am going to focus on our classic All-American bbq. Hopefully some of our tips and recipes will get you inspired to set aside the pressed patties and store-bought sides and get healthy and creative with one of my favorite summer traditions. Happy Cooking!
• Bobby Flay says that 80% lean ground beef chuck is best for juicy (but not greasy) patties.
• Steven Reichlin advises forming the patties loosely to ensure a tender texture. Don’t slap or pat the patties as this will toughen them up
• Reichlin also recommends using your thumb to make an indentation in the center of the patty. Cook indented side up first.
• All the experts seem to agree that salt will draw moisture out of the meat and should be added to the outside of the patty instead of in the mixture.
• Get creative with other seasonings. Dry herbs and spices can be mixed into the meat to bring out flavors. We like chili powder, finely chopped garlic, and pepper.
• Reichlin warns grill masters to leave the meat alone once it is on the grill. Moving it around, flipping too much, and pressing it will toughen the meat and leave you with a dry patty. You’ll know it’s time to flip when you see red juices rising to the top of the patty.
• Place cheese on the cooked side of the patty just after you have flipped it. To get cheese to melt evenly, close the grill lid while the second side cooks.
Meatless options– Patties of Portobello Mushrooms, black beans, chick peas, or even quinoa are all great options for your vegetarian cook-outs.
- 6 large Portobello mushrooms (each 4 to 6 inches across, 8 to 10 ounces each)
- 3 large cloves garlic, cut into matchstick slivers
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons A.1. steak sauce
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue sauce
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 fresh basil leaves, thinly slivered, or 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 6 thin slices Cheddar or Jack cheese (about 6 ounces total)
- 6 hamburger buns, lightly brushed with a little olive oil or melted butter
- 1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced (optional)
- Boston lettuce leaves (optional)
- Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, and/or relish
- Using a paring knife, trim the stems off the Portobellos. Wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel. Using a sharp object, such as the tip of a metal skewer, make a series of holes in the gill side of the mushrooms, about 1 inch apart. Insert the garlic slivers into these holes, dividing them evenly among the 6 mushrooms.
- Combine the mustard, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, vinegar, liquid smoke, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and whisk until the salt dissolves. Whisk in the olive oil and basil. Pour one-third of the mixture in the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish and place the mushrooms in it, gill side up. Swish the mushrooms around to coat the bottoms with marinade. Spoon the remaining marinade over the mushrooms. Let them marinate for 1 to 2 hours.
- Set up the grill for direct grilling using a two-zone fire. Preheat one zone to high, and the other zone to medium so you can move the mushrooms over if they start to burn.
- When ready to cook, drain the mushrooms over a small nonreactive bowl to reserve the remaining marinade. Place the Portobellos on the hot grate, gill side down, and grill for about 3 minutes. Turn the mushrooms over and spoon 1 tablespoon of the reserved marinade into each cap. Continue grilling until the Portobellos are browned and very tender, about 4 minutes more. The mushrooms are done when they can be easily pierced with a skewer. If they start to brown too much before they become tender, move them over the medium zone of the grill. After the mushrooms have grilled for 2 minutes on the second side, place a slice of cheese on each and cover the grill to melt the cheese. Lightly toast the hamburger buns on the grill, 1 to 2 minutes.
- To serve, place each grilled Portobello on a hamburger bun. Garnish with tomato and onion slices, and/or lettuce, if using, and the condiment of your choice
Topping Ideas- Go beyond simple lettuce and tomato- mix two or three of these suggestions for a burger with its own distinct flavor.
• Cheese- Pepper Jack, Swiss, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Feta, or spicy Nacho Cheese Sauce
• Veggies- Sautéed Mushrooms, Roasted Red Pepper, Avocado, Diced Cucumber, Jalapenos
• Sauces- Tomato salsa, Salsa Verde, Mango Salsa, Tzaziki, Mayo flavored with chipotle peppers or Cilantro
Sides- These are always better when made at home. My go-to recipes are from America’s Test Kitchen. The secret to crispy coleslaw is in the soaking- don’t give in to temptation and skip this step. The tip for perfect potato salad is to toss the potatoes in vinegar or dill pickle juice while they are still warm. They will absorb the liquid and the flavor while they cool keeping the salad from becoming too heavy at the end.
- 1 head red or green cabbage cored and shredded
- 1 cup Buttermilk
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- 3 T fresh minced parsley (or cilantro)
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 carrots peeled and grated
- Toss the cabbage with 1 tsp salt and allow to sit in a colander for at least 1 hour but up to 4. Rinse the cabbage then pat dry with paper towels. Whisk sauce ingredients together in a large bowl. Toss in the wilted cabbage and carrots. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Can be made a day ahead- just toss in a spoonful of mayo and a dash of vinegar to freshen up.
- 3 pounds red potatoes scrubbed and cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup minced sweet or dill pickles (do not use relish)
- 1 T Dijon mustard
- 2 ribs finely chopped celery
- 4 hard boiled eggs peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 T minced red onion
- 3 T minced fresh parsley
- Bring the potatoes and 4 quarts of water to a simmer and cook until tender. Drain. Gently toss the warm potatoes with the vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and refrigerate for 20 mins. Mix mayo, pickles and mustard together. Toss the chilled potatoes with the mayonnaise mixture, celery, eggs, onion, and parsley. Salt and Pepper to taste.