Building better burgers: you can grill a great burger using beef, but why stop there?

By Joe Bonwich

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 5:56 p.m. MDT

Try a bison burger for an alternative to beef. Bison is leaner and can use a little extra fat, say from eggs. (Erik M. Lunsford/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

Erik M. Lunsford, Mct

We'd have liked to provide some burger-making tips to coincide with the start of grilling season, but as everyone knows, this year that ship sailed with La Nina. And even when we do get a normal transition from winter into spring, many of you have been firing up the grill all year round.

Nonetheless, 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, however, 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.

And finally, for our fourth and fifth suggestions, consider dropping the meat altogether. Make a burger out of fish — a tuna burger, for example — or take advantage of the fact that a portobello mushroom cap cooked on the grill looks a lot like burger patty.

HAMBURGERS WITH HERB BUTTER

Yield: 4 servings

4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh herbs (any combination of parsley, chives, basil, oregano and tarragon)

1/2 clove garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, at room temperature

11/2 pounds ground sirloin, round or chuck

Coarse salt

4 slices pancetta, optional

4 slices white Cheddar cheese, optional

4 hamburger buns

2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Place herbs, garlic, ¼ 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.

2. 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.

3. Set up a grill for direct heat and preheat to 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.

4. 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.