BASIC BEEF BURGERS (for four)
1-½ pounds 100% ground chuck (about 80% lean)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
vegetable oil for grill rack
buns and desired toppings
1. Break up chuck to increase surface area for seasoning. Sprinkle salt and pepper over meat and toss lightly with hands to distribute. Divide meat into 4 equal portions (6 ounces each). With cupped hands, toss one portion back and forth to form a loose ball. Pat lightly to flatten meat into a ¾ inch thick burger that measures about 4-1/2 inches across. (Do not over-handle meat or your burger will be tough). Pressing down with your thumb, or with the back of a measuring spoon, make a ¼ inch depression in the center of each patty, creating a shallow well. (This makes them come off the grill flat, not puffed in the center). Repeat with remaining portions of meat.
2. To cook burgers on the stove: Heat a well-seasoned large cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat until it is hot, sprinkle it evenly with the coarse salt, and when the skillet is hot enough that the salt begins to color slightly, add the patties. Cook for 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare meat.
3. To cook burgers on the grill: Prepare the grill for cooking. If using a charcoal grill, open vents on the bottom of the grill, then light the charcoal using the “Szego Method”. Loosely ball five sheets of newspaper and put them in the bottom of the grill kettle. Place the lower grill over the newspaper and make a mound of charcoal in the center of the grill using about 20-25 briquettes. Light the newspaper in three or four places and monitor the flames, making sure that no pieces of burning paper fly out of the grill and checking to see that all the paper has burned and the center of the charcoal mound has ignited (it should have an orange red glow). Scrape the cooking rack and scrub with a wire brush to remove any previous grilled food. When the coals are all ignited and covered with a layer of fine gray ash (about 15 minutes after lighting), spread coals evenly over bottom of grill (one briquette deep) and hold your hand about 5 inches above the grate. The fire is medium-hot if you can hold your hand there for just 3 to 4 seconds. If more heat is needed, add 5-10 more briquettes evenly distributed over the burning coals. Oil the cleaned cooking rack lightly and put it in place above the burning coals.
3. Grill burgers, without pressing down on them, until well seared on first side, about 3-4 minutes. Flip burgers with a wide metal spatula and continue grilling, to desired doneness. On a charcoal grill that will be about 2 minutes for rare, 3 minutes for medium-rare, 4 minutes for medium or 5 minutes for well done. (A gas grill will require a minute more to reach each level of doneness). Serve immediately.
NOTE: For those who like their burgers well-done, poking a small hole in the center of the patty before cooking helps the center to cook before the edges dry out. If you are unable to grill outside, hamburgers can be grilled indoors in a heavy, well-seasoned ridged grill pan over medium high heat, turning once, for the same time period.
from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook & Chef Paolo