By PAUL SIDORIAK
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, seldom is an excuse required to fire up the grill and enjoy burgers and hot dogs with friends and family. And for good reason.
They are yummy, affordable, and are widely acceptable, regardless of the occasion. I did a quick web search and found out that Americans on the average consume about 68 hot dogs annually. Burger consumption laps hot dogs in comparison, with the average American eating a burger about three times a week, scoffing down about 150 burgers annually.
As a kid, it just did not seem to get any better than a backyard pool party and the smell of burgers and dogs cooking on the grill. I may not have had all my adult teeth yet, but I did have strict standards if I was going to enjoy the grillables without a fuss.
My burger would need to be consistently cooked through no less than medium well, trending to well done. The bun would have to be relatively proportionate to the size of the burger because I did not care for burger meat without the training wheels of a nice bun, preferably lightly toasted on the grill. If I had to use a condiment, ketchup was acceptable, but mustard was out of the question.
If we got a bag of burgers from the drive-through, they had better not make the mistake of adding such things like vegetables of any kind to my burger or I would contemplate pitching a fit if I thought it would do any good. Otherwise, I would scrape the toppings off as best I could, but as a kid, it’s virtually impossible to scrape off the taste of unwanted mustard.
I was no less fussy about hot dogs. My parents would order them (or make them) with “the works.” Apparently, “the works” was something everyone knew about, but I must have been absent that day when it was taught at summer swimming lessons.
In New England, the works turned out to be simply mustard, relish, and sauerkraut. I did not learn until later in life, but my hot dog condiment of choice – ketchup – was almost sacrileges to order on a dog. Fortunately, my parents protected me from ridicule at the hot-dog stand from the guys on the grill with paper hats.
I am not as fussy anymore about the toppings of my burgers and dogs. But I am still nostalgic about the fun memories that the simple meal evoked. I wondered how I could put the fun back into burgers and dogs and this is what I came up with:
I was never a fan of cheeseburgers as a kid, but do enjoy them today. I thought that if I put the cheese on the inside of the burger it would make for a fun surprise. I tried to make stuffed cheeseburgers a few months ago, but somehow I did not get the effect I desired.
This time, I tried a new method for stuffing the burgers that I kind of improvised. I took freshly ground beef and weighed it out into quarter-pound portions. I could not figure out how I would stuff the burger while keeping the traditionally round shape. Scouring my cabinets for anything that resembled a burger shape, I robotically grabbed a medium-sized ramekin, and packed half of the burger meat into the bottom of it without thinking. I must have figured I could form two patties that way and then make a meat sandwich around the cheese.
Somehow, a better solution rose to the top. I just put the cheese in the ramekin toward the center of the meat and then pressed in the other half of the ground beef down on top. I pressed down firmly, hoping that it would surround the cheese and get out any air bubbles. This being my first time trying the method, I had no idea if it would work. It seemed to seal up evenly into what resembled an ordinary burger without too much bother.
Getting it out of the ramekin was another story. I had not sprayed any non-stick spray on it before molding. Be sure to do so or line it liberally with plastic wrap if you plan on trying this. After a little hand shaping and some seasoning it sat in the on-deck circle before it stepped up to the grill.
I attempted to fashion the hot dogs into sort of a curly dog where it could expand a bit to allow relish and other items something to nestle into. I took a wooden skewer and slipped it through the center of the dog from end to end. Using the skewer as a template for where not to cut, I ran a knife through the dog in a circular motion spinning it around and around until it was severed from end to end. I thought the dog was cut into millions of mystery meat parts, but much to my surprise, it was fully intact when I removed the skewer.
I cooked the burgers and dogs on the grill for the same amount of time, about 10 minutes. The burgers were directly grilled on the grate just like any other burger. The dogs were cooked a little higher off of the coals on a rack and roasted indirectly until golden brown. Just before they were done, the burgers leaked a little bit of cheese from some tiny holes I must not have compacted well enough.
When I cut into the burger, I was happy to see a volcano of pepper jack cheese ooze out onto the bun and plate, creating the surprise I was after. The dogs also did not disappoint, as the curly shape was conducive to holding all the condiments I had shunned as a kid.
Even though I still dislike mustard on my burgers, the nostalgia of eating burgers and dogs brings back fond memories of backyard barbeques.
Now if I could just figure out the best way to get the ketchup to come out of the bottle, maybe I can convince someone that it can be acceptable to put on a hot dog.
Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Chinook Salmon with Grilled Rice, The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!
Paul 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.
Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill, available in Missoula at the Axmen.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.