How to Grill the Perfect Burger With Executive Chef Jim Leiken of Cafe Boulud

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Memorial Day is just around the corner, which means for the most of the country--and Northern Hemisphere-- grilling season is here.

However, with our mild winters, South Floridians are afforded the opportunity to grill out year round-- meaning you should already be a master griller. Still, as simple as it seems, we bet you could probably use some advice for grilling the perfect burger.

As former Executive Chef of Daniel Boulud's most casual concept, DBGB in New York, Executive Chef Jim Leiken of Cafe Boulud, knows a thing or two about creating the perfect burger.

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Step One: Pick your meat. Choose ground beef--not patties--with a fairly high fat content. Leiken opts for a mixture that is 25% fat, but suggests looking for at least 80% fat in your grocery store. Also, he suggests staying away from pre-made burger patties. "Hand shaped patties tend to be looser than the ones found at Publix," says Leiken, "looser patties create a more tender finished product"

Step Two: Delicately form a patty out of the meat. Again, be careful not to overwork the beef. Cafe Boulud uses a 10 ounce burger, but feel free to make them as large or as small as you wish.

Step Three: Clean and season the grill. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point--definitely not olive oil. "A clean grill is important," he says, "Otherwise, things tend to stick."

Step Four: Bring the grill up to high heat. If you're using charcoal make sure the heat source is just under the grate. "You want to make sure you get a nice char," says Leiken, "You want the carbon from the grill."

Step Five: Flatten the burger to 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. "You want a nice thickness to char the outside without overcooking the inside," he says.

Step Six: Season the burgers. Cafe Boulud uses a Housemade Montreal Seasoning of coarse salt, cloves of garlic, fresh pepper, fennel seed, coriander, paprika, and crushed red pepper. Go for the store bought Montreal Steak Seasoning if you want, but according to Leiken, good salt and pepper is key.

Step Seven: Place the patty on the grill. After about 2 to 3 minutes, gently free the burger and rotate it 90 degrees. Cook for another 2 minutes. "You don't want to handle the burger too much," says Leiken, "Never squeeze or press it: that breaks the seal of moisture."

Step Eight: Gently free and flip the burger. Again, cook for 2 minutes and rotate 90 degrees. To achieve a medium-rare temperature for a 10 ounce burger, cook for a total of about 8 minutes. For rare, go for 5 or 6 minutes total. For medium, aim for 10 minutes. Adjust cooking times according to the weight and thickness of your burger.

Step Nine: Top with cheese. Cafe Boulud uses an aged cheddar, but Leiken suggests using any cheese that will melt well. In the restaurant they use a salamander--basically, an extremely hot broiler--to melt the cheese, but Leiken suggests moving the burger away from the heat on the grill and closing the lid for a moment. "The ambient heat will steam the cheese to the perfect texture," says Leiken.

Step Ten: Let it rest for 4 to 5 minutes. "At this point the juices are still flowing," says Leiken, "If you bite into it, you'll have the juices flowing down your chin, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but by allowing the juices to redistribute it keeps the meat moist and tender."

Step Eleven: Plate your burger. Cafe Boulud uses Brioche from Old School Bakery in Delray Beach--that's the French thing--but for an American style burger Leiken opts for a potato roll. "It's my favorite. It's sweet, soft, and squishy. And it has the substance to hold up to the burger."

Step Twelve: Add whatever condiments and garnishes you like. Cafe Boulud uses local beefsteak tomatoes, red onion, housemade aioli, homemade ketchup, secret sauce, cornichons, capers, and Boston lettuce. The sauce is placed on both of the buns with the lettuce just on top of the bottom bun. "We use Boston lettuce because it holds up well and is tender, but it doesn't dissolve," says Leiken, "That's the same reason we use whole leaf instead of shredded. The lettuce insulates the bun from the juices."


Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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