The Basic, Perfect Hamburger


“Bob, stop pouring beer on the meat; the kids have to eat that,” my mother would yell to my Dad in the backyard, scolding him from the porch.

One of my earliest memories of a backyard family barbecue is the huge fireball that was sure to rise from the old, red, globe-shaped barbecue that my father half-filled with charcoal.

The charcoal was then liberally doused with lighter fluid, which could be substituted for aviation fuel, and subsequently detonated. NASA probably used that same lighter fluid to propel early rocket launches.

I have buddies who smoke fish with various wood chip combinations but, in the old days, the men used to smoke hamburgers for their families on the grill in a way that could only be described as ritualistic.

As a substitute for beer, you could always smother the meat in a really thick, dubious coloured barbecue sauce and have the sugar in the sauce burn to the meat, thus forming the “black stuff” that would give it that distinct smoky flavour.

You could get the same “black stuff” on a marshmallow if you held it on the end of a sharpened stick over the fire your Dad made while starting the barbecue earlier.

If you do feel the need for a barbecue sauce, a buddy of mine that likes to hunt as well as cook on the grill gave me a recipe for a sauce that is great for wild game as well as hamburgers.

In a small saucepan, sauté a small minced onion and a clove of chopped-up garlic in half a cup of butter.

Add a teaspoon of dry mustard, two tablespoons of chili powder, a cup of ketchup, a half cup of vinegar or lemon juice, a half cup of water, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and the essential dash or two of sugar.

Boil this mixture for about five minutes or until it’s as thick as you like it; you will end up with something over two cups of tasty sauce.

If you like it zingy, try using spicy ketchup instead of regular or add a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Modern Dads should not be afraid to read the “Use and Care” manual for their barbecues … they will not bite.

Note that charcoal has largely been replaced by propane, bringing a different set of challenges than those your father faced. These manuals will inform you that, once you are finished cooking, you should turn the tank valve off before turning the grill off. This way you will avoid that popping sound you will hear if you do it the other way around. Turning the tank valve off first prevents residual gas from being trapped in the system under pressure.

A few last tips: never barbecue frozen or semi-frozen meat; always barbecue thawed meat.

Nuke frozen meat in the microwave if you have to, or thaw it in the fridge overnight; whatever it takes. Also, once the meat is cooked, remember not to put it back on the same plate you brought it out on when it was raw.

Always keep fish and meat separate if you are doing a surf and turf.

And remember: buy locally when in season.

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