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How to make the perfect hamburger

The finished product
The finished product

Frequent articles in The Miami Student this semester have documented unsuccessful attempts at cooking. May is National Hamburger Month, so it is the perfect time to learn the proper way to cook a burger at home that is tastier and healthier than fast-food options.

As an undergraduate, I didn’t know how to cook when I moved from a residence hall to an off-campus apartment. My mother gave me a book called “After Hamburgers, What?” that was more like a child’s science picture book than an adult cookbook, with page after page of illustrated steps for a novice trying to make a burger. I’ll try to include some of the key instructions here.

The first step is to buy good-quality ground beef. The best option I’ve found in Oxford is from Jana and Skyp Harmon’s Caraway Farms at Oxford’s Farmers Market. By “best,” I refer in part to the quality of the Caraway Farms ground beef, but more to the point of this column, I find that it works best for the steps needed to cook a proper burger.

To thaw a frozen brick of ground beef, keep it in the refrigerator overnight. If that’s not possible, place the frozen brick in a container with a lot of ice cubes and water, and it will thaw in about an hour. Don’t thaw frozen ground beef in the microwave because that makes it harder to shape it into hamburgers, and the outside is already cooked while the inside remains raw and wet.

Divide a one-pound brick of ground beef into several pieces. Four pieces of raw ground beef, of course, yield quarter-pounders minus some shrinkage when the fat melts. Place around one and a half teaspoons of Dijon-style mustard on top of each chunk of raw ground beef and sprinkle with a small amount of garlic powder and as much ground pepper as you prefer. Yellow “ballpark” mustard doesn’t work as well. Do not sprinkle with salt.

Photo by Provided by Jim Rubenstein | The Miami Student
Ground beef being divided and seasoned for the perfect hamburgers.

With your hands, carefully mix the mustard and spices into the ground beef chunks and shape them into patties. Don’t overwork the beef. Reiterating what I wrote earlier, I find that Caraway Farms ground beef holds the patty shape better than other sources of ground beef in Oxford. The reason may be that the cattle spend much of the day outside, where they feed on grass and corn grown on the farm. As a result, Caraway Farms beef tends to be relatively lean and full-flavored.

Heat a thin film of oil in a pan. An oil with a relatively high smoke point, like grapeseed or avocado, lessens the likelihood of burning the burgers. A cast-iron skillet works better at high temperatures than a nonstick pan.

When the oil is hot, place the patties in the pan, cook for five minutes, turn them over and cook for five5 minutes more. Be careful not to be splashed by the hot oil. If a medium-rare or medium burger is preferred, turn the heat to low or completely off and let them sit in the hot pan for a few more minutes.

Ground Beef from the Oxford Farmer's Market being cooked to perfection

A burger made from top-quality ground beef does not need to be covered with condiments like tomato and lettuce. A simple roll with Dijon mustard is sufficient. I hope this helps readers who think they can’t cook.

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Jim Rubenstein is Professor Emeritus of Geography. At Miami, he was Chair of the Department of Geography and Adviser for the Urban & Regional Planning major. He now writes human geography textbooks and consults on the auto industry at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. In Oxford, he is Treasurer of the Board of Directors of MOON Co-op Market.