On the Grill: The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition

By PAUL SIDORIAK

There are quite a few ways to make a good burger. Some are newer and innovative, while others are adaptations of timeless methods.

Whether grilled, broiled, steamed, seared, deep fried, re-hydrated or microwaved, the methods and variations are seemingly endless. Most of us have a memory of the best burger we have ever eaten, or at least the best place to get a burger.

Yes, I am on a quest to sample, if not create, the perfect burger. I have tasted, impersonated, read about, and salivated over some of the most acclaimed burger recipes and restaurants of recent applause.

Some of the grilling and cooking websites I get my inspiration from routinely sing the praises of Sous-Vide cooking, which is French for cooking “under vacuum.” Wikipedia refers to Sous-Vide as, “A method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for a long time—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately determined temperature much lower than normally used for cooking… The intention is to cook the item evenly, not overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same ‘doneness’ and to keep the food juicier.”

It’s pretty basic. Seal your food in a zip-top bag or in a food sealer, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible, and then heat the food at a set temperature until you are ready to serve.

In theory, your food will hold at that temperature and not become overdone regardless of what time dinner guests end up getting served.

I have read that the Sous-Vide method really shines when you cook meats like beef, lamb, and duck where the color of the doneness is as important as the temperature to discerning voyeurs and discriminating palates. I have seen photos of steaks that have sat in the warm Sous-Vide bath for hours and, after a quick sear, come out looking as succulent and pink as a tropical grapefruit.

Sous-Vide machines don’t come cheap, though, and I have yet to find one under $300. I have read that a more frugal, practical, yet still functional, cousin to the Sous-Vide cooker is a cooking method that has been referred to as the “hot-tub” method. Instead of putting your sealed protein in an expensive contraption, you immerse it in a water bath surrounded by solid insulation, like a Styrofoam cooler or a crock pot.

I thought that a burger challenge would be a formidable arena to put the Sous-Vide method or, in this case, its community-college educated cousin, the “hot-tub” method to the test. The acclaimed, newcomer – burger-in-a-bag method – would battle against the incumbent and seldom disputed burger-cooking method – direct heat over lump charcoal.

I was fortunate to have some local, grass-fed ground beef for the challenge. To keep the contest fair, I made four three-ounce patties and seasoned each of them with a favorite blend of spices.

The plan was to cook two burgers in the “hot tub” at a controlled temperature of no warmer than 135 degrees and charbroil the other two on the grill with nothing but my intuition to tell me when the grilled burgers were done. The hot tub burgers would soak for two hours and then get a quick sear on a cast iron skillet for 90 seconds a side.

The results were surprising. Both burgers looked almost identical with a mild pink center and a solid amount of natural juiciness. This shocked me! They looked like they were cut from the same cloth.

Taste was another thing.

Both burgers really tasted fantastic. Aside from the challenge, either of these burgers would get rave reviews at a tailgate or weekend gathering. The hot-tub burger had a richer, more concentrated beef flavor that was noticeably unique. The grilled burger – if it had any flaws – could have been a tad pinker.

Although I have not tried all the available methods for making burgers, in this experiment, the caveman method prevailed.

 

The seasoned burgers, ready for the grill-off.
The seasoned burgers...
The two burgers in plastic will be prepared sous-vide and then skillet-grilled; the other two will go straight on the grill.
The two burgers in p...
An exact temperature is essential to sous-vide done right.
An exact temperature...
After sous-vide cooking.
After sous-vide cook...
Old-school burger cooking over an open flame.
Old-school burger co...
The contenders side-by-side on the grill.
The contenders side-...
A nice, healthy char for the caveman burgers.
A nice, healthy char...
The skillet burgers charred up nicely, too.
The skillet burgers ...
The final test subjects, covered in cheese.
The final test subje...
Perfectly done!
Perfectly done!
The results: A delicious meal from the grill.
The results: A delic...

 

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Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Spatch Cock Grilled ChickenGrilled Shrimp & Veggies on Rosemary Skewers, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!

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Paul Sidoriak, grill masterPaul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.

Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.

You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.