Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Father’s Day grind: Grandpa’s burgers

On Mother’s Day, Mom gets taken out to brunch, but on Father’s Day, it seems, everyone wants Dad to grill.

Maybe it’s to see him wear that cheesy new apron (“Stand Back, Dad is Cooking”) or to try out that rainproof grill fork with built-in thermometer ($34.95 at Sharper Image. Remind me why we’re grilling in the rain?)

Yet it could be because he’s just so good at it. I know that if I make it home for Father’s Day, I’ll be requesting my grandpa’s hamburgers, which were the hands-down highlight of my Memorial Day weekend.

I’m pretty strict when it comes to hamburgers. If they’re not homemade, I don’t eat them.

Not even those fancy-schmancy restaurant burgers appeal to me, although my husband, for his part, loves the Big Ass Burger at Roaring Fork in Scottsdale.

Like most prejudices, there’s no particularly good reason for this one. Still, my grandpa must have something to do with it.

Previously in this space, I’ve mentioned what a fantastic griller he is, and what a bang-up job he does with even the most ordinary of supermarket steaks.

Well, his hamburgers are every bit as special.

Some strange magic is at work on these patties, whether it’s the perfection of my grandpa’s charcoal fire, his pilot’s judgment in flipping them just so, or the incantations he no doubt whispers when our backs are turned.

He also takes the extremely unorthodox step of reaming the center of his hamburgers with a drinking straw as they cook, his logic being that they will therefore cook more evenly. It seems to work. These are no meat “doughnuts,” either: the resulting hole swells shut as the hamburgers cook.

Finally, he punches up the flavor with sweet vermouth and a seasoning salt from the Great American Land and Cattle Co. You can order this venerable El Paso steakhouse’s products on-line at www.grtamerican.com.

When I make hamburgers, I like to blend in one or two minced garlic cloves and a scant teaspoon of salt per pound of beef (reducing or omitting the seasoning salt accordingly).

James Beard, who made allowances for masterful grilling but generally preferred his hamburgers sautéed in butter, approved of a little Cheddar cheese, shallots, mustard and Worcestershire sauce mixed into the meat as well.

When you’re forming your patties, it’s important to work the meat lightly, or the cooked hamburgers will be tough. Don’t worry overmuch about it—just don’t compact your meat into tight balls.

Here’s another trick: form your patties thicker around the edges and thinner in the centers, sort of like a floppy Frisbee. Because the meat will contract as it cooks, you’ll end up with hamburgers that are flat and even rather than domed in the middle.

Some cooks swear by flipping burgers only once. My grandpa, however, flips his frequently as they cook. I favor the latter approach. A medium-hot fire is best; you’ll want a bit of char on your burgers but no thick crust.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my grandpa made hamburgers with wholesome local beef that my dad had helped raise. Wouldn’t that make a dynamite Father’s Day meal?

Add my Dad’s famous French fries—which he cuts with his all-purpose pocket knife—and naturally the family would want to eat in.

Just stand back. Dad is cooking.

Postscript: Grammar sticklers like my grandfather will notice that, throughout this column, not a single sentence begins with “or,” “and” or “but.” Typically, I rely heavily on such flagrant misuse of conjunctions, so common in today’s press. But it drives my grandpa crazy when I do it. Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa!