Even though winter has only recently officially ended and there's not likely to be a lot more rain, we've been flipping up a storm at the backyard grill, making burgers from a variety of meats (and in one case, a vegetable).
Our first suggestion: Use high-quality, relatively low-fat beef, but add some fat, working from the inside out. Putting a pat of herb butter inside the uncooked patty makes the interior moist while adding flavor.
Our second suggestion: Skip the beef and go with bison for a full, meaty flavor.
Bison has about a third less fat than 90 percent lean beef, so it, too, can benefit greatly from some added ingredients.
We recommend adding one egg for every pound of ground bison and flavoring it with just a touch of shallot and Worcestershire. Other flavorings would work equally well, so experiment with your favorites.
Our third suggestion involves moving beyond red meat. Turkey burgers are generally lower in fat than beef burgers, but be careful: Not all ground turkey is created equal. Look for a label that specifies lean ground turkey breast, with no dark meat or skin added.
Finally, for our fourth suggestion, consider dropping meat altogether. Make a burger out of a portobello mushroom cap grilled to look a lot like a patty.
Hamburgers with herb butter
Prep time: 18 minutes, plus chill time for the butter
Cook time: 21 minutes
Adapted from "How to Grill," by Steven Raichlen (Workman, $20.95, 498 pages, 2001).
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh herbs (any combination of parsley, chives, basil, oregano and tarragon)
1/2 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin, round or chuck
4 slices pancetta, optional
4 slices white cheddar cheese, optional
4 hamburger buns
2 tablespoons melted butter
Place herbs, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and softened butter in a small mixing bowl; stir or beat to combine thoroughly. Place on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper, roll into a cylinder and twist the ends to compact the mixture.
Refrigerate or freeze until firm.
Cut the herbed butter into 4 slices. Wet your hands with cold water and divide the ground beef into 4 portions. Pat each portion of beef into a thick patty. Press an indentation into the center of the patty, filling it with a slice of herbed butter. Mold the beef to enclose the butter completely. Sprinkle burgers with salt and pepper to taste.
Set up a grill for direct heat and preheat high. When ready to cook, brush oil on the grill grate. Grill the pancetta, if using, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Place the burgers on the hot grate and season again with salt and pepper. Grill the burgers until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side for medium. If desired, rotate the burgers 90 degrees halfway through cooking each side for an attractive crosshatch of grill marks. If using cheese and/or pancetta, place a slice of each on each burger after you've flipped it, pancetta first. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read meat thermometer through the side of the burger into the center, letting the temperature reach 160 degrees for medium.
Brush buns with the melted butter and toast on the grill for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Assemble the burgers, adding toppings (lettuce, raw or grilled onion, tomato) and condiments.
Per serving (made with ground sirloin): 565 calories; 33g fat (17g sat.); 150mg chol.; 38g protein; 27g carb.; 3g sugar; 1g fiber; 395mg sodium; 115mg calcium.
Prep time: 55 minutes (including marinate time)
Cook time: 10 minutes
Adapted from "Born to Grill," by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, $18.95, 512 pages, 2004).
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 portobello mushroom caps (about 5 inches in diameter)
1/2 medium roasted red bell pepper, stemmed, skinned and seeded
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 pinch ground red (cayenne) pepper
4 thin slices mozzarella cheese, optional
4 large, crusty rolls, such as kaiser rolls
4 lettuce leaves
4 slices ripe tomato
At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to grill, prepare a marinade by combining the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, 1/4 cup olive oil and garlic in a medium bowl. Place the mushrooms in a plastic bag, pour the marinade into the bag, shake to coat and let sit at room temperature. Turn the bag occasionally to saturate the surface of the mushrooms with the marinade.
Cut roasted red pepper into several chunks and place in a food processor or blender. Add mayonnaise, the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil and cayenne pepper. Process until puréed. Refrigerate until serving time.
Prepare grill for direct heat at medium temperature. Drain mushroom caps, discarding marinade. Place mushrooms, gill-side down, on the grill. Grill uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the mushrooms twice. Top each with a cheese slice, if using, after the second turn. Meanwhile, toast the rolls at the edge of the grill.
Place the mushrooms on the bottoms of the toasted rolls and top with lettuce, tomato and dollops of the mayonnaise. Close the sandwiches with the top of the buns. Serve hot.
Per serving: 400 calories; 24g fat (3g sat.); 5mg chol.; 8g protein; 38g carb.; 6g sugar; 3g fiber; 935mg sodium; 65mg calcium.