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.

5. Brush the 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 as desired.

Per serving (made with ground sirloin): 565 calories; 33g fat; 17g saturated fat; 150mg cholesterol; 38g protein; 27g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 1g fiber; 395mg sodium; 115mg calcium.

— Adapted from "How to Grill," by Steven Raichlen

(Workman, 2001)

'BELLO BURGER

Yield: 4 servings

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ 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

1. At least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before you plan to grill, prepare a marinade by combining the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, ¼ 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.

2. 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 pureed. Refrigerate until serving time.

3. 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.

4. 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 saturated fat; 5mg cholesterol; 8g protein; 38g carbohydrate; 6g sugar; 3g fiber; 935mg sodium; 65mg calcium.

— Adapted from "Born to Grill," by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, 1998)

TUNA BURGERS WITH WASABI SLAW

Yield: 4 servings

For the slaw:

2 tablespoons wasabi powder

11/2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups finely shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the burgers:

1 pound sushi-grade tuna, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely diced shallots

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (colored portion of peel)

4 hamburger buns

1. Make the slaw. In a small bowl, mix together wasabi powder and water, forming a paste. Add mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon ginger and garlic; stir until well combined.

2. Place cabbage in a medium bowl. Add wasabi mayonnaise and toss until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. Make the burgers. Place tuna in a food processor and chop until coarsely ground. Do not overprocess: The tuna should be minced but not pureed, similar to the texture of ground beef. Transfer the tuna to a large bowl.

4. Add mustard, garlic, shallots, 1 tablespoon ginger and lemon zest; gently stir to combine. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions. Being careful not to overwork or compact the meat too much, pat each portion into a patty about ¾-inch thick. Cover; refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.

5. Preheat a clean grill to medium-high for 8 to 10 minutes with the lid closed. Open the grill and lightly brush the grates with vegetable oil.

6. Place the burgers on the grill. Close the lid and cook, turning once, until the desired temperature is reached, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. About 1 minute before the burgers are done, place the buns, cut-side down, on the grill and cook until lightly toasted.

7. To serve, place each burger on the bottom half of a bun and top with wasabi slaw. Add bun tops and serve immediately.

Per serving: 500 calories; 30g fat; 5g saturated fat; 55mg cholesterol; 31g protein; 27g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 2g fiber; 590mg sodium; 95mg calcium.

— Adapted from "Simply Grilling," by Jennifer Chandler

(Thomas Nelson, 2012)

BISON BURGERS

Yield: 4 servings

1 egg

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon minced shallot

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound ground bison

4 hamburger buns

1. Preheat a grill for direct heat.

2. Combine egg and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl; beat with a fork until well combined. Stir in shallot and salt and pepper to taste. Add bison; with your hands, mix gently but well. Form into four patties. Season again with salt and pepper.

3. Brush oil on the grill grate. Cook burgers over direct heat 4 to 6 minutes per side. If desired, rotate the burgers 90 degrees halfway through cooking each side for an attractive crosshatch of grill marks. Cook until an instant-read meat thermometer reads 125 degrees for rare, 135 degrees for medium-rare or 145 degrees for medium. Cooking beyond medium is not recommended as bison can dry out easily.

4. Place each patty on a bun, garnish as desired and serve.

Per serving: 330 calories; 17g fat; 7g saturated fat; 115mg cholesterol; 22g protein; 22g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 1g fiber; 370mg sodium; 75mg calcium.

OPEN-FACED TURKEY BRUSCHETTA BURGERS

Yield: 6 servings

1 slice whole-wheat bread, crusts removed

2 tablespoons milk

1¼ pounds ground turkey breast

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Ground black pepper

2 ripe medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

¼ cup minced fresh basil

Salt

3 tablespoons shredded low-fat mozzarella

3 whole-wheat English muffins, split and toasted

1. Tear bread into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Pour milk over bread, stir to coat well and allow to stand 10 minutes, stirring and mashing bread frequently until the mixture is almost smooth. Add ground turkey, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape into 6 patties.

2. Mix together tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes for flavors to blend.

3. Meanwhile, preheat grill to medium-high or allow coals to burn down. Lightly oil grill grate or spray with nonstick spray.

4. Grill patties about 5 to 6 minutes per side or until lightly browned and internal temperatures registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Sprinkle each with 1 <0x00BD> teaspoons shredded mozzarella cheese and allow to melt.

5. Place one patty, cheese side up, on each English muffin half. Spoon tomato mixture generously over the top of each patty.

Per serving: 235 calories; 8g fat; 6g saturated fat; 57mg cholesterol; 24g protein; 18g carbohydrate; 3g fiber; 318mg sodium.

— Recipe developed for The Kansas City Star

Dist. by MCT Information Services