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Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s grilling season. We’ve rounded up some of the city’s grilling experts to tell us their secrets to perfect burgers, every time. Try these tips to ensure your next cookout doesn’t fizzle out.
Get great meat
Great burgers start with great meat. There are butchers on just about every corner in Prague, but they’re not all created equal. And don’t even think about buying pre-made burgers from the supermarket. Honza from Crush Street Food, a pop-up grilling van that makes one of the city’s tastiest burgers, likes to keep it simple, saying the secret to the perfect hamburger is “quality raw materials.” If only it were that easy!
Everyone seems to agree that The Real Meat Society is one of the city’s best butchers for top-quality grass-fed beef. Other high-ranking butchers include Naše maso, Robertson Fine Foods, and Pampas Market. Lori Wyant and Dean Selby at The Tavern suggest starting with 100% ground chuck with no additives, fillers, or seasonings. But that’s only the beginning.
Choosing the best meat for burgers comes down to the size of the mince and the fat-to-protein ratio. Using a mince that doesn’t have enough fat means your burgers will be dry. The meat should also be aged rather than fresh, otherwise it will leak water on the grill and taste boiled. Jeff Cohen, head chef and owner at Bad Jeff’s Barbecue, suggests an 80/20 mix of protein to fat and is adamant that you should never add anything to the burger meat, like breadcrumbs or eggs, which will produce a texture closer to meatloaf than a proper burger.
David from BBQ U Davida recommends a three-millimeter mince for meat with a lower percentage of fat, and a four-millimeter mince for chuck roll or chuck flap. A mince that’s larger than four millimeters will be dry and fall apart on the grill.
Simplify the spices
So you’ve got some great ground beef. What next? Many home grillers might be tempted to add exotic spices to the meat to give it a little extra flavor. This is a definite no-no, according to our experts. A great burger lets the flavor of the meat come through, without sauces or fancy spice blends.
“The only seasoning needed is coarse ground salt and pepper applied right before the meat hits the grill,” says Jeff Cohen.
Scott Van Wagenen, chef at Black Dog Bar & Grill in Beroun, suggests salting the meat one hour before grinding.
“Use 10 grams of salt per kilo of meat. This will produce the enzyme myosin which will bind the proteins in the meat,” he says.
Some chefs recommend forming and seasoning the patties the day before grilling. The point is to make sure the meat sets before you put it on the grill, so it doesn’t crumble.
Grill it right
Once you’ve got your burgers together, it’s time to put them on the grill. This is the most important step and it’s also the place where most mistakes happen. A good sear is perfect, but you don’t want a hard crust. Max Munson, owner of Jáma and Jáma Steakhouse, says “it’s a sad thing to see delicious-looking meat have all the flavor and juiciness grilled right out of it by leaving it on the grill too long.”
Gas grills can’t compare to charcoal grills for flavor. Van Wagenen even suggests mixing charcoal with wood, which gives “some nice fruit wood smoke on the meat” and is easier to control than wood alone.
“The coals should be grey and glowing nicely, and evenly distributed so that you get about 20 minutes of good even heat,” he adds. “Oil the grill well with a kitchen towel or paper and make sure it’s clean. Use a digital thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the meat. You want to pull the burgers when they are around 52C, put them on a plate and tent them with foil, and let them rest for about five minutes.”
Take it easy
If you’re still unsure about your grilling skills, a grilling class from from Sale and Pepe might be just the thing. Owned by judges from the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Sale and Pepe is a great resource for this quintessential summer activity. After all, it’s much easier to have fun at the grill if you aren’t stressed about the results.
And that’s just the thing; burgers are probably the most controversial food on the city’s culinary scene. But home grilling should be fun. As Van Wagenen says, “Do it with friends. Drink some beer or wine and enjoy yourself. Don’t stress. It’s just a burger.”
Munson agrees, saying, “there is no better way to enjoy a beautiful day than hanging out with good friends and firing up the grill.”
Aside from you after reading this article, who makes the best burgers in Prague? Vote in our poll now!