Tips for the Best Backyard Burger

By Fabiana Santana

Being a foodie is about more than just eating out these days. Especially if you’ve got an iPad. With all the food focused apps out there, it can be hard not to get sucked into a world of animated cooking and online recipes.

One app in particular, though, is doing things the right way. Gourmet Live is a digital content experience from the makers of the Gourmet magazine. Fans of the now defunct magazine will appreciate the in depth exploration of food and and culture and. of course, the recipes and tips that will help you create the perfect dinner party menu. In addition to the recipes, there are videos and slide shows that are all food focused, as well as stories and articles like Kemp Minifie’s tips on how to make your Memorial Day BBQ burgers perfect – and safe.

“Too many magazines, websites, and books gloss over the topic,” she says.”
Sure, you may not want to think about it, but your guests will appreciate that you went to the trouble of making sure your backyard burgers were prepared with not only their taste buds, but their safety, in mind.

So here’s the beef on eight tips from Kemp that you need to know before you fire up your grill.

Download the free Gourmet Live app to get this story and more.

The Instant Read Thermometer – A Great Father’s Day Gift

Treat Dad to the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. The only way to tell if your burger has reached a safe temperature is to use an instant read thermometer. Go for the digital ones; they are best at getting readings in burgers and thinner pieces of meat; the sensors are in the bottom ½-inch of the stems. (Avoid the dial-style because their sensor is about 2-inches up the stem.)

The thermocouple-style reads the fastest: two to five seconds, but they’re pricey. We recommend the thermistor style; it takes about 10 seconds to read, which, hey, is still really fast! When shopping, look for one that can be recalibrated.

The Magic Number is 160°F.

That’s the internal temperature your burgers have to reach in order to be food-safe. The days of the medium-rare hamburger have been over since the 1993 discovery of a super-dangerous strain of E. coli,  0157:H7 at a Jack-in-The-Box restaurant that sickened many and killed 4 people. E. coli isn’t the only nasty pathogen; there are plenty of others and likely new ones we don’t yet know about.

If you are serving anyone who is or might be pregnant, the elderly, or someone with a compromised immune system, it’s essential you cook your burgers properly— that means until it registers 160 F. on an instant read thermometer. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Cut and Peek Won’t Cut It with Burgers

The USDA considers a 160°F. beef burger to be cooked to “medium.” But what does medium look like in a burger? Logically, medium is the halfway point between raw and well done, and pink is halfway between the red of raw meat and the brown of cooked through, so why wouldn’t you expect a medium burger to be pink in the middle?  At 160 F. however, you might find a few with perfect pink centers, but you’re much more likely to find them brown all the way through.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting: According to USDA research, one in every four burgers turns brown before it reaches 160°F. The upshot is, you can’t judge burger doneness by its color.  Again, you need a thermometer.

Keep That Thermometer Clean

Picture this: You’ve just tested your burger and it isn’t at 160 F. yet. Don’t stick that same thermometer into your burger a few minutes later without cleaning it first; otherwise you’re just dragging uncooked juices back into the burger. Keep a small container of hot soapy water and a clean towel near your grill station.

Tongs: Two Are Better Than One

Cross-contamination is something to watch out for with tongs as well.  When you first place your burgers on the grill, your tongs are in contact with raw meat. That’s fine while the meat is still partially cooked. Once the outside is pretty well cooked, though, you need to clean your tongs before getting near those burgers again. Better yet, invest in two pairs and color-code them so that you know which one to use when.

The same is true of platters. Don’t put your cooked burger on the same tray you used to bring the raw ones out to the grill. Make a habit of bringing out two trays, one for the raw and another one for the cooked. That way, when the pressure is on and the burgers are ready to come off the grill, you’ve got a clean place to land them right at your fingertips.

When to Mop and When to Stop

If you want to flavor your burger with a barbecue sauce or other topping that’s on the sweet side, then wait until the last few minutes of cooking before mopping it on. Why? If you put it on in the beginning, the sugar in the sauce will burn before the meat is cooked through.

If you plan on serving extra sauce on the table, keep it away from the mop sauce, in its own bowl, with a separate, clean spoon for serving.

If, however, you plan on basting your burger from the very beginning with a sauce or some spare marinade, then stop basting 3 to 4 minutes before the hamburger is done and make sure you turn the burger over at least once or twice to cook and destroy any bacteria that’s either gotten on your mop brush or into your sauce/marinade when the burger was raw.

If Steaks Can Be Cooked Medium-Rare, Why Can’t My Burger?

According to the Institute of Food Technologists, the bacteria on whole pieces of meat, such as steaks—those which have not been cut into, mechanically tenderized, or injected with anything— is on the outside surfaces. When you grill a steak you kill the bacteria on the outside.

But if you take that same raw steak and grind it in a grinder, any harmful bacteria or pathogens get spread throughout the meat. If the grinder itself isn’t clean, that’s another source of potential trouble. That’s why you need to cook your burger to 160° F.

DIY Grind It Yourself

There’s a growing movement to grind your own meat for burgers. Many bloggers consider it a possible way to get to the medium-rare burger they crave. The thinking is: If they buy the meat from a rancher/farmer they trust and they know the small- scale processor, they feel the risks are reduced to a reasonable level.  There are too many variables for the USDA to give their blessing. “E. coli can be anywhere,” said Diane Van, Manager of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. It’s up to you to figure out what risks you are willing to take.

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