Hamburger Heaven

In Birmingham, Alabama, there is a Mom 'N' Pop hamburger joint called "Hamburger Heaven" where all the patties are made fresh daily by hand, and cooked to order when you walk in the door. We're not sure if it's just the heady romance of a freshly made-to-order hamburger, the quality of the ingredients, or the country-style ambiance, but we find it pretty heavenly, alright.

When we expend time and energy on a great meal, we want everything to be special, too - so here is a basic burger recipe, followed by some examples of how to tailor this grilling classic to your family's tastes.

The best ground beef for hamburgers is not the one that is lowest in fat. It's the fat that actually gives the patty the moist mouth feel, so if you lose that, you might as well be eating the vegamite, mate. If you have dietary restrictions, or just an aversion to the 80/20 grind, use the leaner selection but add to the mix (for every pound): one cup of stale white bread, coarsely crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup milk until it's absorbed. You can add this mix to any of the following recipes - but do NOT add it if you use the higher-percentage-fat beef, or your patties will fall apart on the grill.

For every 3-4 people, depending on appetites, use

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 Tbs soy sauce

2 Tbs Lea & Perrins Worchestershire Sauce

dash of Crystal Hot Sauce

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs

dash of milk, if needed to moisten

Kosher salt to sprinkle patties

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with your hands. The debate on kneading hamburgers rages on - we like ours pounded out pretty hard, then shaped into big, flat disks, about an inch thick. Sprinkle the finished patties with Kosher salt - this will eventually help develop a nice crust - and put them back in the fridge until you are ready to put them on the grill. These cook up fat enough to make an impression on the plate without being so big that we can't fit it in our mouths....

We always splurge on the best cheese we can buy, and top it with our favorite condiments. For more ideas on flavoring hamburgers, see the sidebar....

Cuban Burger

Using 1 lb of ground pork, make the standard Girls on a Grill Hamburger recipe, omitting the soy sauce and bread crumbs, but adding 1/2 tsp each: paprika and cumin. Use a french or hoagie roll, and butter it on both sides — then toast the insides. When the burger is cooked, top it with two slices of rolled ham and provolone cheese and a couple of dill pickle sandwich slices. Put the whole thing onto the toasted buns and press with a cast-iron tortilla pan with a foil-covered brick. Grill until the bread is toasted, flip and toast the other side.

Southwestern Style

Use 1/4 pound of ground pork, and 3/4 pound of ground beef. Omit the soy sauce and bread crumbs, and add 1 Tbs Girls on a Grill Texas Barbecue Rub. Add one canned chipotle in adobo (with sauce), chopped very fine, or processed in a food processor.

Top with grilled peppers and onions, cooked in a cast-iron tortilla pan on the grill and throw in a Tbs of the Girls on a Grill Texas Barbecue Rub. Spritz with fresh lime before serving.

Lite 'N' Easy

Use 1 pound of ground chicken or turkey, or 1/2 pound of each - avoid the "all white meat" if you can. Use the white bread and milk addition to add moistness - but delete the seasoned bread crumbs. To the standard seasoning recipe, add 1/2 tsp each: celery seed, dry ground mustard, dry ground ginger and a big pinch of parsley (dry or fresh).Top this cooked burger with a chiffanade of green and purple cabbage and sweet Vidalia onions.

Buffalo Burger

Use ground turkey or chicken for this burger - or both, but avoid the all-white meat if you can. Use the bread and milk trick to keep the patties moist. Stick with the standard seasoning recipe, but instead of a dash of hot sauce, use 1 Tbs Crystal Hot Sauce. Baste the burgers when they are almost done with Crystal Wing Sauce. Top with Girls on a Grill Bleu Cheese Dressing and celery and carrot slaw.

Smoked Brisket

Grilled Tenderloin

Hamburger Heaven

Flank Steak

Braised Rack of Ribs

Mongolian Beef

Chipotle-Rubbed Filet Mignon with Bleu Cheese

Braised Beef Chili

Grilled Porterhouse

Bleu Cheese Burger

Make the standard GirlsonaGrill Hamburger Recipe, then divide the meat for one burger in half. Pound it out to the size of your hamburger bun, but make it very thin. Top it with about 1 oz of high-quality bleu cheese, such as Maytag. Use the other half of the meat to make another thin patty, and top the first one and the bleu cheese with the second patty. Go around the edges pressing the patties together to keep the cheese inside. When cooked, top with shaved red onion, more bleu cheese, and walnuts.

Middle-Eastern Style

Use 1/2 pound of ground lamb, and 1/2 pound of ground beef. Omit the soy sauce, hot sauce, bread crumbs, and add 1/2 tsp each: paprika, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.

When cooked, top them with very thinly sliced cucumbers and red onions. Spread the top bun with a schmear of hummus, then dip into feta, which is crumbled on a small plate. The hummus will help hold the feta on the burger!

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