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Zen and the art of making burgers

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A good hamburger is hard to find but shouldn't be. It's one of the easiest things to make, but most cooks want to make it complicated. They think adding Worcestershire, a beaten egg or the entire condiment shelf will jazzercise the flavor, but really all a burger needs to taste lip-smacking is salt, pepper, olive oil and mindful restraint.

A few notes on those four ingredients:

Salt and Pepper: Use Kosher salt and use liberally. For every pound of meat, use one teaspoon of salt. Although less critical, pepper is best when freshly ground, as it yields more fire and flavor.

Oil: If you're grilling at the home of a friend who doesn't own measuring spoons, go by the glug method. Two healthy glugs (aka alcohol pours) will do. Extra virgin olive oil offers aroma and flavor that you won't get with less neutral options, such as canola or corn.

Mindful Restraint: This means minimal touching, fondling and fussing with your patties while shaping and grilling. Let the darn things cook in peace, especially during the first four minutes. Flip only once. You know that guy who likes to show off flipping and prodding those burgers? He's a misguided feller. Do the right thing and show him some burger Zen.

A Burger with Zen

1 pound ground chuck or sirloin, about 80 percent lean

1 teaspoon coarse salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat gas grill or fire up charcoal/wood-burning grill, about 20 minutes in advance.

In a large bowl, add all ingredients and mix with your hands until well combined. Tear a hunk of meat that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. (For estimated size, one pound of ground beef makes about four burgers.) Gently press and shape into a somewhat flattened ball.

Grill should be hot enough that you can barely place your hand 3 inches above the grate. Place burgers on grill and let cook for about 4 minutes, then with tongs, turn over onto other side.

For cheeseburgers, place cheese after turning. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes; a total of 8 minutes should yield medium-cooked burgers. For the most accurate (and safe) results, a medium burger reads between 135 and 145 degrees with a meat thermometer. More than 10 minutes of cooking will likely result in fossil-like burgers.

Toasted English muffins, rubbed with a clove of garlic, make sublime burger bookends.

- Kim O'Donnel
Culinary questions? Reach CL's Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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