It's not too early to prepare for Labor Day grilling
By Kara Kimbrough
"Don't go, summer!" The headline from a food magazine at the checkout line couldn’t have been more direct: Big, bold red letters practically leapt off the page as I unloaded my cart. Despite a silent acknowledgement that the author of the article probably doesn’t live in the south, I bought in anyway. Inside, the food article brought home the message that the days in which grilled burgers can be enjoyed are coming to a close. I was surprised to read that many Americans feel Labor Day weekend is the last blast for burgers. They obviously don't realize it stays hot in the Deep South until Thanksgiving. In short, our weather accommodates year-round grilling.
More about grilled burgers in a minute, but first, here’s a tip for freezing and defrosting ground beef, chuck or turkey, which many supermarkets will have on sale as Labor Day approaches. Buying in bulk, using what is needed and freezing the remainder just makes sense. However, defrosting a large chunk of frozen meat when a last-minute cookout or burger crazing emerges is a tedious task.
To counteract this problem, section meat into one-pound portions, place inside a large freezer bag and roll out with a rolling pin to remove air and flatten to a manageable size. Seal, stack and place in the freezer. The next time a burger crazing hits, meat is ready to use within a few minutes.
But back to burgers. A reoccurring question from readers during summer months revolves around new ways to change up “the same old burger.” Ground meat lends itself well to a number of additions, including onion soup mix, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. But one of the most inventive ways to add interest to the burger buffet is by hiding the ketchup and instead, serving a variety of burger sauces.
One of my favorites actually came from the back of the Heinz ketchup bottle. To make it, combine a cup each of ketchup and mayonnaise, quarter cup of sweet relish, tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, two teaspoons sugar, tablespoon and a half of jarred minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper. It’s delicious spooned over burgers and hot dogs and in a pinch, serves as a backup dip for chips and crackers.
And of course, nothing’s more impressive than making your own barbecue sauce. An easy recipe calls for a cup of chopped yellow onions to be sautéed in a little oil, then combined with a cup of ketchup, quarter cup of water, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, tablespoon each of brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and chili powder and half teaspoon of garlic powder. Boil gently for about 20 minutes and serve over burgers or grilled chicken.
Despite northern friends’ warnings about burgers’ last hurrah, the arrival of Labor Day doesn’t mean it’s time to place burgers on the back burner. So, enjoy a juicy burger during the long weekend while making plans for many, many more. Labor Day Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Secret Weapon Sauce For burgers: 1-1/2 pounds ground chuck Approx. 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules, dissolved in hot water to make at least ½ cup of beef broth 4 hamburger buns 4 lettuce leaves For onions: 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced 1 teaspoon cider vinegar 1 teaspoon brown sugar For sauce: ¼ cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons each: Dijon mustard and prepared horseradish 1 tablespoon snipped chives Dash each of salt and freshly ground pepper
In large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil, then add onions and dash of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add vinegar and brown sugar and continue to cook until onions are soft and golden, about same amount of time.
To make sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
To make burgers, mix ground chuck, 3-4 tablespoons of beef broth mixture (more to taste), Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Form into four patties, about 3/4” inch thick. Make a small indentation on top of each one to prevent a dome from forming during cooking.
Grill patties over direct heat with lid closed until cooked to 160 degrees, about 10 minutes. Turn only once. During last minute of cooking, place buns, cut side down, on grill to toast.
Build each burger by lightly coating each side of the bun with sauce, then adding lettuce leaf, burger patty and caramelized onions.
Makes 4 servings, recipes double and triple easily. Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at email@example.com.