When I made hamburgers—a long time ago—I simply took the meat out of the package, formed it into patties and threw it on the grill. While I still think there is a place for a plain burger, you can do so much more to make simple ground beef into something to write home about. Of course, fancy burgers require fresh buns.
Karl’s Barbecued Hamburgers
½ Tbs. active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2+ Tbs. sugar, separate uses
3+ cups flour, AP
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
½ cup butter, melted, separate uses
2 lb. ground beef (10% fat)
4 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. onion powder
1 tsp. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper, fresh cracked
¼ cup hot water
1 tsp. baking soda
Onions, sliced and/or grilled
1. Put the yeast in the warm water with a good pinch of sugar. Stir and let it proof for 10 minutes.
Tip: If your yeast is good there should be a good head of foam covering the mixture after this time. If there is not, discard and buy new yeast.
2. Sift the flour, salt, and two tablespoons of sugar together several times to get an even distribution of the ingredients.
3. Warm the milk slightly and scramble the egg into the milk.
Tip: You do not want the milk hot enough to start cooking the egg, you just do not want it to be cold from the refrigerator.
4. Make a “well” in the flour and add the yeast water, milk/egg mixture and ¾ of the stick of butter.
Tip: This is six tablespoons of butter. You may melt it before adding it to the flour or—what I have been doing lately—freeze the butter and grating it into the dry flour.
Note: The butter binds the proteins in the flour preventing some of it from forming gluten and produces a softer bread.
5. Pull the flour from the sides of the “well” into the wet ingredients.
6. When the flour in the bowl is mostly incorporated, turn the dough out onto a well-floured smooth surface.
Tip: Put about half a cup of flour on the board.
Note: The butter tends to make the dough less sticky and your will need only a little extra flour to knead the dough.
7. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Tip: If your dough has just a touch too little liquid it will become very difficult to knead the dough after five minutes. If this happens put the dough in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and let it rest for ten minutes.
Note: Several things will happen in that resting time. The strands of gluten that have already formed will relax and become more flexible. The yeast in the dough will do its thing of turning sugar into carbon dioxide. A by-product of that process is alcohol—which will evenly moisten your dough ball and make it easier to continue kneading.
8. Add one tablespoon of melted butter to the bowl you mixed the dough in and rub the top of the dough ball in the butter.
9. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a smooth, clean, damp, kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place for one hour.
Tip: If you use a terrycloth towel, the dough might stick to it as it rises and be hard to remove.
10. Mix the garlic, soy sauce, onion powder, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper to the raw ground beef.
Tip: Prepare your meat while the bread is rising.
11. Mix well and then let the beef marinate for 40 minutes.
12. Punch down the dough and divide it into portions.
Tip: How many portions you make with your dough is your choice. Three cups of flour makes 8 good sized buns or 12 small buns.
13. Pull in the sides the dough to push the cut sides of the portions into into the center to make eight dough balls.
Tip: This is a raised dough that depends on gluten sheets for its “lift.” When you cut your dough, there will be an outside surface—smooth—and several “cut” surfaces—covered in bubble holes. Stretch the outside surface around and push the cut sides into the center of the balls. Lay the balls down with the crimped side down.
14. Take a dough ball with the “crimped” side up and flatten it slightly into a disk about 3-4 inches in diameter.
15. Place the buns on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush the surface of the buns with melted butter.
Tip: Do not crowd the buns, leave them at least an inch apart or they will fuse together as they rise.
Note: If you like sesame seed buns, sprinkle the seeds on now.
16. Let the buns rise for 20 minutes.
17. Bake the buns for 30 minutes in a preheated 350º F oven.
18. Cool the buns on a wire rack and slice in half, crosswise.
19. Mix the baking soda and hot water. Add them to the meat 20 minutes before you plan to start barbecuing.
Tip: If you are using a charcoal barbecue you should start your coals now. With a gas barbecue preheat your grill for five minutes before you plan to start cooking.
Note: Do not add the baking soda too soon. While the chemical reaction cause by the baking soda slows down over time, it will eventually make your meat mushy if left in the raw meat for too long. Forty minutes would be OK, but an hour would be pushing it.
20. Form the beef into patties, about half an inch thick.
21. Barbecue the patties directly over the coals for about 8-10 minutes on one side, until crispy and well browned.
22. Turn the patties over and continue frying until well browned on the second side, about another 6-8 minutes.
Tip: Use a constant read thermometer to test the burgers. Cook to an internal temperature of 135º F. A ten minutes rest under foil will finish them off to a safe 140º F for medium rare burgers.
23. Tent the patties with foil to keep them warm and serve with the buns and your favorite toppings.