GRASS-FED BEEF OVER COALS AND CAST IRON
The grill, for some, is a more heavily featured appliance in this spring and summer, even in the face of 100-degree and higher temperatures. My preference is to feature the grill when the weather permits. But when the burger cravings hit, we have a reliable indoor alternative.
The New York Times has a great side-by-side comparison of two burger styles, both cooked in cast iron. This, along with a stop at CJ’s in Russellville started us on our quest to conquer our own skillet burgers.
We often cook burgers with our Grass Roots grass-fed beef. Below are the Adams top tips to cooking burgers, on the iron and on the grill.
Collect your ingredients:
For the Burgers:
1-2 lbs Grass Roots grass-fed beef
Salt & Pepper
For the Fries:
Salt & Pepper
Lesson #1: Less is More
When making burgers from the ground beef, manipulate the beef as little as possible. Our house like 1/3-pound burgers. With two adults and one toddler, we usually can pinch off enough for a wee burger from the three to appease Em’s appetite.
Lesson #2: Size Matters
Press your burgers flat on the cutting board. Try to match the final size of your burger to the size of your buns. After eating burgers that were wonderfully thick, but 1/2 the size of the bun, we have learned it is a much better burger when every bite has meat and bread. Once you have shaped the meat, season one side generously with salt, and tenderly with pepper.
Lesson #3: Turn it up to 11
Whether you’re cooking on the grill or inside on cast iron, kick the heat all the way up before you throw the burgers on to cook. In the skillet, you’re ready after about 1 minute of smoke from the pan. Once the meat is on the grill or in the pan, turn the heat down to medium. In the cast iron, this will make sure you get a good Maillard reaction. On the grill, this will help produce burgers that hold together and have the grill marks we all love to see.
Lesson #4: 4 minutes means 4 minutes
While the first side cooks, do not flip, fiddle, fuss, or otherwise bother the burgers. We’ve got this one down. Trust the meat. Trust the heat. When your timer goes off, flip the meat and set the timer for 4 minutes once again.
Lesson #5: Accessorize
Once the second side is cooking, it’s time start assembling the burger, even as it still cooks. Place cheese directly on the burgers if desired. Butter your buns, and place them either in a cast iron pan to toast, under a broiler, or on the grill just off the direct heat. Buttered and toasted buns are an often overlooked element in a great home-cooked burger.
Lesson #6: Vegetables are for salads and side dishes
I grew up with a salad bar buffet of toppings and condiments for burgers. But lately, my burgers are meat, bread, cheese, and mayo. The rest only pulls focus from the main attraction. Julie just posted some great sides for grill night. The first photo below is our final cast-iron burger. The second photo is our final grill burger.
Who won? Cast-Iron or Grill
Each method produced a great burger, but a few details tipped the scales for Cast-iron in our house.
1. The Buns: Toasting on cast iron beat out toasting on the grill. There was more even browning and more moisture was retained on the surface and throughout the bread.
2. The Cheese: The grill definitely beats out the skillet for melting cheese. With the lid closed during the 4-minute cook time, the circulating heat vested the open skillet.
3. The Meat: Tough call here, but the crisp, caramelized crust from the skillet will always trump the smokey charring from the grill. The grill burgers certainly bring some heft and depth that the flame and smoke can only provide. But the skillet produces such a wonderful contrast to the juicy, inner burger. No contest win for cast-iron. *Special note: for the same reason cheese melts much better on the grill, your meat may cook a bit more quickly as well. If you prefer a more medium burger, cut the time per side down to 3 minutes.
We don’t do fries in-house very often, but when we do, we hand-cut potatoes, season with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and bake at 400 degrees until desired doneness is reached.
Fire up the grill! Or don’t