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Remember the real reason for Memorial Day…but still grill

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 By Kara Kimbrough

     If Americans can start decorating for Christmas in October, there’s no reason we can’t begin planning for Memorial Day. In all actuality, May 29 and the accompanying long weekend for many will be here before we know it. There’s just something about the first holiday of summer – Memorial Day - demands an outdoor cookout. And here in the south, we know that grilling gets a little challenging as temperatures soar during summer months. So, that first weekend of grilling is really the best.

     First, a history lesson...and here's something we can all agree was a great Congressional act. In 1971, Congress established Memorial Day on the last Monday of May to honor Americans who served and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. I have to remind myself that Memorial Day is not really about burgers and homemade ice cream – it’s about remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

   However, we still have to eat – and eat Americans do, spending over $500 million annually (and probably more this year due to food prices) on Memorial Day meal supplies.

    Besides enjoying a delicious burger with all of the trimmings, keeping family and friends safe and healthy is a major goal of anyone hosting a backyard cookout. Here are a few tips from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to remember before striking up the grill:

1.   Prevent grill fire flare-ups and excess smoke formation by grilling by trimming any excess fat from meat and poultry.

2.   Marinades add flavor to meat and poultry and can tenderize less tender cuts of meat. Marinades with little or no sugar may help protect meat from charring and have been shown to reduce HCA formation. Before cooking, remove meat from marinade and pat dry to promote even browning. Avoid sugar glazes and sauces, if possible, as they often cause meat to burn. 

3.  Use medium heat while cooking to ensure delicious, flavorful meat. High heat can overcook or char the outside of meat while the interior remains underdone.

4.   Cook burgers to medium (160°F) doneness, until no longer pink in the center and juices are clear. Insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally into the side of burgers to check doneness. Place the thermometer in the thickest part or center of the burger.

5.  Turn beef occasionally for even cooking and browning. Use a spatula to turn burgers. Do not press, flatten or pierce the meat — flavorful juices will be lost.

     Instead of trying one of the fancier burger versions featured in every magazine and website this month, I’ll stick with The Great American Hamburger from Steve Raichlen's "The Barbecue! Bible.” 

   I’m also including my favorite marinade for any type of meat, but especially steaks. Some of you will remember the Steak and Ale restaurant in Jackson from many years ago as "the" steakhouse. Their French onion soup was also legendary. Getting their famous marinade was a real treat. As Memorial Day approaches, I’ll share my favorite sides, salads and desserts.

 The Great American Hamburger

 For the Burgers

2 ¼ pounds ground round, chuck, or sirloin

6 slices (1/2 inch thick) Vidalia or other sweet onion (optional)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 hamburger buns

For the Toppings--Any or All

Iceberg lettuce leaves

Sliced ripe tomatoes

Sliced dill pickles or sweet pickles

Cooked bacon (2 slices per burger)

Ketchup, Mustard, and Mayonnaise

Step 1: Divide the meat into six equal portions. Lightly wet your hands with cold water, then form each portion of meat into a round patty, 4 inches across and of an even thickness.

 Step 2: Set up the grill for direct cooking and preheat to high.

Step 3: When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate.

Step 4: If using onion slices, brush them on both sides with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Place the onion on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side, then transfer to a plate.

Step 5: Brush one side of the meat patties lightly with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the burgers, buttered side down, on the hot grate and grill until the bottoms are nicely browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Brush the tops lightly with some of the melted butter and season them with salt and pepper. Using a spatula, turn the burgers and grill until they are browned and cooked to taste, 4 to 5 minutes longer for medium. Meanwhile, brush the cut sides of the buns with the remaining melted butter and toast them, cut sides down, on the grill during the last 2 minutes the burgers cook.

Step 6: Set out the toppings. Put the burgers and onion slices on buns and serve.

 Recipe from Steven Raichlen's The Barbecue! Bible

 Steak and Ale Meat Marinade (copycat version)

 3 1/2 cups pineapple juice

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons Garlic, minced fine

Simply mix all together. You can let the meat marinate up to 24 hours. Recommended for grilling pan-frying of meat of your choice. Add a little bit of butter to the pan if you are going to cook it in a skillet.