July 3, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Grilling the perfect burger for July 4

We chatted up some local burger kings for the lowdown on how to make sure the beauties coming off your grill on Thursday set off fireworks.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you've got friends and family coming over for the Fourth of July, chances are you're going to be grilling some hamburgers.

click image to enlarge

The Red, White and Bleu Burger, the creation of Ben Berman and Jack Barber, owners of the Mainely Burgers food truck, is topped with pickled red onions, bleu cheese and thick-cut bacon.

Gabe Souza

click image to enlarge

Jack Barber of the Mainely Burgers food truck slides a Red, White and Bleu Burger onto its bun.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


CHANCES ARE you won't be going out for a burger on July 4. But when the cook-outs are over and the calendar moves on, there are plenty of unique and delicious burgers to choose from on menus around town:

BACK BAY GRILL: Chef Larry Matthews' Back Bay Burger has become so popular with his customers he has to bring it back every few months. Made with 8 ounces of naturally raised beef, it's served on a brioche bun and topped with shredded romaine dressed in Stilton and creamy garlic dressing.

CAIOLA'S: Chef Abby Harmon sells about 200 of her Caiola's Burgers every week. It's made with 85/10 ground beef from Caldwell Farms, topped with Sunset Acres bacon and Cabot cheddar cheese and served on bread from Southside Bakery. For a Southern flair, Harmon might add pimiento cheese and a bacon jam.

PETITE JACQUELINE: This bistro's "French Attitude Burger" is topped with gruyere, caramelized onions and house aioli. It's called "French Attitude" because you have to eat it the way it's served to you, with no substitutions.

PO' BOYS & PICKLES: Need a good alternative to a factory-farmed fast-food burger? Try this sandwich shop's Cheeseburger Po' Boy. The toppings are simple and traditional -- tomato, mayo, mustard, ketchup, onions -- but in taste and freshness, it beats a Big Mac.

TWENTY MILK STREET: The restaurant's Piedmontese Burger is made from Piedmontese beef, known for its high protein content and for being lower in fat and cholesterol than turkey. It's served with crispy fried onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and a side of the restaurant's secret sauce. Add an egg for $1 more.

NOSH KITCHEN BAR: It sells for $20, but Nosh's Apocolypse Now Burger lives up to its name. The generous burger is topped with American cheese, crispy pork belly, bacon, foie gras, mayo and cherry jam, and it's served on a brioche bun.

EAST ENDER: The Surf & Turf Burger served here is topped with Maine lobster, brie cheese, lettuce, and chive mayo.

DiMILLO'S: The restaurant's Fiery Calamari Burger is topped with cornmeal-dusted calamari, srirachi aioli, lettuce, tomato, quick-pickled onion and pepper jack cheese. It's served on a butter-grilled challah roll.


Servings: Six

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

6 sesame seed sandwich rolls, split, toasted

1 cup watercress or mixed spring greens


1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon Caribbean jerk seasoning

1 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons grated lime peel

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine ground beef and seasoning ingredients in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Shape into six 1/2-inch thick patties.

Place patties on grill over medium ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 8 to 10 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 7 to 9 minutes) until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 degrees, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in small bowl; set aside.

Spread sauce on cut sides of rolls. Place one burger on bottom half of each roll. Top evenly with watercress. Close sandwiches.

Source: Dave Zino and



Ben Berman and Jack Barber will be serving burgers from their food truck, Mainely Burgers, on the Eastern Prom on July 4. Featured on the menu that day will be their Red, White and Bleu Burger, which is topped with pickled red onions, bleu cheese, and thick-cut bacon. If you'd like to try this at home here's the burger boys' recipe for the pickled red onions:

For a pint jar:

3 red onions, thinly sliced in rings

2 garlic cloves, minced

11/2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 teaspoons of kosher salt

1/2 cup of vinegar

Combine ingredients and fill rest of way with water. Shake well and make sure ingredients are dispersed. Refrigerate and let sit for 24 hours.

"This is biggest week of the year for hamburger patty sales, right before the Fourth," says Dee Dee Caldwell of Caldwell Farms, an organic beef producer in Turner. "Not everybody can afford to buy ribeye for 10 people, but they generally can buy hamburger patties."

The last thing you want to do is serve your guests a dried-out, tasteless burger off the grill. To help your July 4th celebration go off without a hitch, I asked some experts for advice on how to grill the perfect burger. Who better to learn from than some beef producers, a pub chef, the owners of a burger-centric food truck, and a butcher?

Here, in addition to Caldwell, are the folks who offered some great tips for making unforgettable Fourth of July burgers:

• Gabe Clark, owner of Cold Spring Ranch, a grass-fed beef operation in New Portland.

• Ryan Campbell, executive chef at Bull Feeney's in Portland.

• Jarrod Spangler, butcher at the Rosemont Market on Brighton Avenue.

• Dave Zino, executive chef at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

• Ben Berman and Jack Barber, owners of the Mainely Burgers food truck, who estimate they've sold about 10,000 burgers.


Most people like a juicy burger, and that starts with buying a quality meat with the right fat content.

The burgers you buy at Mainely Burgers have an 80/20 meat-to-fat ratio. If you want "decadent burgers," Zino of the cattlemen's group says, that's the blend to choose.

If you'd rather go leaner -- say, 93 percent lean -- add a quarter cup bread crumbs and an egg white to the mixture, and that will help you form the patty, Zino added.

If you choose grass-fed beef, Gabe Clark says, you'll get great flavor, but you'll also have to be more careful cooking it because grass-fed beef tends to cook very quickly.

"Our grass-fed beef is not as lean as others," he said, "but grass-fed beef can be very lean, and every lean beef will cook much quicker because all those juices are in part a byproduct of the fat. So the leaner the burger, the more you have to be careful of overcooking."

Spangler recommends finding ground beef in the 70/30 to 75/25 range. Anything leaner "tends to get a little too dry for my taste." At Rosemont, he sells a "burger blend" made of two parts brisket and one part de-boned short ribs that falls into that range.

"The fat transports the flavors," Spangler said, "and if you get a little more fat in it, you're going to get more of that flavor out of your burger."



Season the beef with a little coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and anything else you might want to throw in -- some chopped garlic, paprika or even cayenne if you'd like a little more spice.

Almost all of our experts said to be careful not to overmix the ground beef when you're mixing in seasonings and forming patties if you don't want it to have the texture of a hockey puck.

"All that really does is make your burger tougher," said Ryan Campell. "Season the burger properly, but don't season too soon because a lot of times, when you put the salt in it cooks the meat a little bit -- another thing that makes it tougher."

Burgers should be seasoned no more than an hour before cooking.

"Make the burgers uniform so it's easy to finish them at the same time, rather than guess and burn half of them," Campbell said.

(Continued on page 2)

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