Good Burgers and the Art of the Barbecue (and the Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Game)
Since we’re having the worst summer in living memory here in Ireland this year, for today, whilst I listen to the wind howl through my house and the pitter-patter of the unceasing rain ricocheting against my window. I thought that I’d cast my mind back to happier sunny times when the odd ray of sunshine occasionally peaked out from behind those ominous grey clouds that us Irish have become so accustomed to, and oh so sparingly, blessed me with the opportunity to stoke up a barbecue.
There are few culinary delights more satisfying than barbecued meat on a sunny day coupled with an ice cold bottle of beer, or a glass of chilled white wine to wash all that tastiness down. The reason that barbecued meat is so superior to your run of the day seared animal flesh is the overt presence of a much enjoyed, though little understood cooking proccess called the Maillard reaction.
Whenever I watch cooking programmes on TV (which is admittedly a lot), I’m often unreasonably annoyed by chefs constantly telling people to sear their meat to “seal in the flavours” (I’m the kind of pedant who cares about such things). Searing meat doesn’t actually seal in any flavours whatsoever, instead: (and I’m quoting Heston Blumenthal here)
“When protein-rich foods like meat are exposed to a high heat, amino acids begin to react with other compounds to create a huge range of different flavours. The characteristic roasted flavours of coffee, chocolate, bread crusts and pan-fried meat all come largely from such reactions, which are called Maillard reactions, after the French biochemist who first identified the process in the early part of the twentieth century.”
So there TV chefs! If you’ve gotten the opportunity to cook in front of millions on the telly, the very least that you can do for your viewers is stop misinforming them about the basic processes of cooking, thank you very much.
Alright, now that we’ve got the science and the ranting out of the way, let’s get to the barbecuing….
I’m going to focus on barbecuing burgers today, because it ain’t all that hard, but by jove does it taste good. The tricky thing about barbequing, especially when you spend your time barbecuing on the cheap disposable charcoal barbecues that are all that I can afford, is that it’s so hard to have any idea if your meat is cooking evenly. Therefore, the wisest plan of action is to have your meat as thin, or with a small a surface area as possible, so that you don’t have to worry so much about the unevenness of the heat that’s distributed across your grill.
And so, the smart barbecuer should get thinly sliced or relatively small pieces of meat from their butcher if they want to avoid burnt exterior pieces of meat concealing raw meat within. If I’m doing a steak burger, I personally favour a relatively thinly sliced piece of sirloin (but not too thin if you want it bloody on the inside!) flipped over about every minute or so to keep an eye out for any exterior burning. After a couple of flips your steak such be nicely seared on the outside with nice pink tender meat within. Mmmmm….. taste those amino acids reacting with sugars. Nice.
If I’m doing burgers, after much trial and error, I’ve discovered that the really smart barbequer should make their patties as small as possible in order to get as much exterior meat exposed to that delicous charcoal flavour as possible, without leaving a lot of interior meat for the heat to penetrate. This way you’re not left with raw mince in the middle of your burger. So unless you’re a fan of steak tartare, or you’re the kind of risk taking personality that enjoys dicing with salmonella on a sunny day, then keep those patties small!
Turning your little patties into delicious slider mini burgers is guaranteed (not an actual guarantee (I’m not here to vouch for your culinary skills)) to turn out delicious for everyone involved. I bought my mini burger buns in Marks and Sparks, and encased each of my mouth-watering pieces of meat within, alongside a selection of complimentary condiments.
This method of eating burgers also allows you to experience the excitement of playing the Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Game (the title may need some work). To play, simply add a different sample of each of your favourite condiments to each mini-burger and then carefully conceal your mischief by placing a bun atop. Do this with a different condiment to each of your mouthful sized morsels and ask a good friend to mix up the arrangement of the burgers on the plate whilst your back is turned. Then do the same for your friend while his back is turned. When you are both facing the burgers once again with your eyes wide open in anticipation of the feast that lays before you, it’s time for the fun to begin! Pick up a random burger and prepare for your taste buds to be tantalised by the delicousness of that tasty meat coupled with the mystery of an unexpected condiment within. You can literally spend minutes enjoying yourself in this manner. However, keep a keen eye out for the kind of joker who thinks it’s funny to put strawberry yoghurt on top of a perfectly good burger in pursuit of tomfoolery. Such renegade jokers should be banned from partaking in all future Super Fun Summertime Shooters Eating Lottery Games. Their loss. Some people….
Alright, I seem to have wandered slightly off track from my recipe and my humble celebration of the barbecued burger, so I’ll leave you all to get out into the sunshine and get cooking and tasting. Let me know how things turn out!
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