Looking for BBQ tips, tricks, and general good times

I’m a terrible cook. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, probably poisoning my guests bad.

Alright, not that bad, but I am trying to learn- hence this thread!

My one area of unadulterated badness is BBQing; I just. can’t. do. it. I can never tell if stuff is cooked, I am terrible at seasoning, and everything ends up pretty icky.

To make matters worse: this Sunday, I’m throwing a birthday party for a friend and have agreed to BBQ burgers for 6-8 people. :eek: I’ve heard everything from flip once, to flip every five minutes. I’ve been told to season with various sauces, ground up herbs, and onion soup . . . to no seasoning at all. Do I form the meat around an ice cube or do I make it thinner in the middle and BBQ like normal? As you can see, my head is about to explode- something that should never occur when we’re talking about ground beef. Oh, there’s another one: ground beef, ground sirloin, ground chuck, ground turkey, ground pork, ground monkey? Which is best?

So, although I’m mostly looking for burger advice, I’d love tips, tricks, and recipes for everything else. I’m willing to learn- MOLD ME! :wink:

I also figure this is a handy thread, considering the season. Hopefully many Dopers can be helped from my tremendous ignorance!

First off, DiosaBellissima, anyone grilling, or even attempting grilling,something is by definition, NOT a terrible cook.

As for the rest of your questions, my gawsh! I do not claim to be an expert, but will try to help…FWIW.

Meat: I have found ground chuck is the best overall. It is not so fatty that it shrinks to the size of a quarter while grilling, nor is it so lean (like ground sirloin) that the result is so dry it is like eating cardboard.

Having said that, if you want a healthier burger, you could try what I do: mix ground chuck 50/50 with ground turkey. Less fat, less flare-ups, and almost as good as ground chuck.

Dryness is an issue when grilling.

As to what you put in with the meat, that is a very personal decision and depends on your audience and your own personal tastes. Go with what you prefer; the guests will either like it or they won’t. But, ou will not achieve stardom unless you follow what you like and grow it from there.

Langinappe: You didn’t ask this, but for an easy side dish to the burgers, try my mom’s recipe for English baked beans…dice half of a small onion, throw this in with a half pound of ground chuck, and brown the meat. Drain. Add a big-ass can of pork and beans (we like Busch’s), 2 tablespoons of ketchup and 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar, simmer for 10 minutes.

By the way, I keep saying grilling for a reason. What we’re talking about is not BBQ, that is whole different thing. Please don’t think I am being a snarky person. But as a Memphis In May certified BBQ judge, I can promise you I know what I am talking about, no disrespect intended.

Others will, hopefully, give you further guidance and better advice than my own poor efforts.

Here’s my advice:

(1) Buy some turkey dogs and grill those with your burgers. This way you don’t have to cave in to the turkey nazis when it comes to your burgers. Turkey is too lean to make a good burger. These things come pre-cooked so all you want to do is get them hot and give them “pretty” grill marks. Some people like 'em a little burnt. That should be easy.

(2) Buy GOOD accompaniments. This means fresh lettuce, fresh onion, fresh tomato, etc. Vidalia onions if you can get em - the sweet really works with the burger. Make sure you have ketchup, mustard, and mayo - as well as pickle slices on hand. Chop all this stuff up beforehand and arrange it really prettily. This stuff counts.

(3) Ok - on to the burgers. Buy ground chuck. It’s got the most fat, so it will keep moist while you’re cooking it. How do you season it? You can create a blend of things like worchestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and papper, etc. However, it’s easy (and pretty good) if you just mix in one (1) packet of Lipton’s Onion soup (the dried kind). It comes in a blue box. Whatever you do, don’t overhandle the meat - mix it in and form the burgers without working the meat into a paste.

(4) Cooking - get your grill hot. Then drop the burgers on it. Let them sit until one side is browned. If they are getting a little fire-kissed (flare-ups, etc.), that’s okay. If your grill looks like a flamethrower, move them away from the direct flame. When one side is browned (2-3 mins) - flip the burger. Brown the other side. Then just flip and drink beer and flip and drink beer until you feel like they’re done. That will be NO MORE THAN 10 MINUTES. If they seem like they’re holding together and they’re starting to get a little black - check em. More on that later.

(5) Ok, so you think they’re done? The kids are screaming they’re hungry, and the adults are beginning to get woozy with drink and need something to soak up the alcohol. What do you do?

(Professional grillers - please do not kill me for this advice. She needs help, not grilling perfection.)

Pick out a medium sized burger. Then CUT THAT BURGER IN HALF.

Just take your spatula and do your best David Copperfield. Examine the burger. If it’s brown all the way through then scoop all the burgers up and serve. If it’s not then keep grilling. If it’s just a little pink then give em another minute or so. If it’s red and mooing, give it another 5.

You get to eat the halved burger.

Good luck.

(6) Oh yes - one other thing. Your guests are only permitted to eat regular Lay’s potato chips with your burgers. Maybe Ruffles in a pinch. But no goddammed BBQ flavored chips. That is all.

The Doctor

I think simpler is better when it comes to burgers. My usual burger mix is just ground round (or chuck), a little Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning, and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce.

Five ounces is a decent size for a burger. Either use a scale (if you have one), or just divide a pound into three burgers. Make it out a little bigger than the bun, and press a little dent into the middle. When it’s nice and charred on one side, flip it over and cook it until it’s nice and charred on the other side. Ideal for me is charred on the outside and a little less than well done on the inside, but people tend to get nervous about pink in hamburgers.

Heat over a grill is measured in "Mississippi"s. Put your hand over the cooking surface and count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”, etc. Two MSs is really hot; six is pretty low. 3-4 is about right for burgers. Remember that your grill (even a gas grill!) has hot and cold spots, so a 2MS fire in one spot can be 6-7MS someplace else. (Once you know this, you can use it to your advantage.)

If you’re nervous about it, cook a “test burger” or two so you can gague inside doneness vs. outside doneness. Hamburger is cheap, and extras probably won’t go to waste.

Remember that everything else is at least as important as the burger. Find nice, fresh buns, fancy mustard, good leaf lettuce, good cheese. Brush some big red onion slices with olive oil and get some grill marks on them. Put some thought into drinks, side dishes, and everything else, and even if the burgers themselves are unremarkable people will be raving.

I agree. When it comes to hamburgers, the less you handle the meat, the better the final texture. I just put salt and pepper on mine and only handle them enough to shape them into patties. Once you start putting too much crap into your burger, you’re straying away from the realm of hamburger into the domain of meatloaf. Which is not bad, just not hamburger. If you’re adding binders and stretchers like egg and bread(crumbs), then you’re definitely no longer making hamburgers.

Grilling is easy once you get the hang of it. Keep it simple, stupid, as they say. Don’t press down on your burgers with your spatula when they’re cooking. I generally aim for only one flip, but you’re not going to ruin the burgers if you do multiple flips. Don’t overcook the burger. If you don’t know how long to cook your burger, then do what any sensible person should do: sacrifice a patty and taste it. Still too rare? Leave it on for a couple more minutes. That’s all there is to it. At least for burgers, it’s just a matter of grilling over direct heat, flipping, and taking them off when they’re at their desired doneness.

And, absolutely, chuck is the best for burgers. Sirloin sucks. Way too lean. Turkey sucks too for the same reason. If you want to blend meats, I would recommend lamb. a 50-50 combo of ground chuck and lamb is delicious. Pork works, too. You’re sort of straying away from hamburger purity by mixing meats, but I can look the other way.

You can make a really nice burger with finely chopped fresh thyme (leaves, not stalks), seasoning, egg for binding and a grated onion, I add garlic too, but that’s up to you. Buy the best quality minced (ground) meat you can. I use my palm to judge the size of the burgers- if they’re smaller, they’re less likely to fall apart. You can try chilling them in the fridge for an hour or two- that should get them to hold together a little better.

If you’re willing to move away from burgers to other meat options, marinades are your friends. If you don’t want to up the cost, try chicken legs or wings.

Easy honey and mustard- honey, wholegrain mustard, a little olive oil and a dash or soy sauce, and that’s that!
Vary the quantities to suit your palate and the amount of meat you’re cooking. It’s especially good if you marinade some chicken breasts (fillets) in it, wrap them in foil and put them on to cook in their juices for a bit (you can finish them off over the coals without the foil if you want some colour).

Other good marinades- lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary is nice for white meats and poultry. If you don’t like rosemary, use thyme or another woody herb- if you use rosemary, you can even skewer the meat on the rosemary twigs.

Harissa works well with lamb, pork and chicken.

If you like barbequed fish, try wrapping it in foil with a simple herb butter.

You can make a good sticky BBQ sauce with tomato concentrate, molasses, honey or treacle, tabasco sauce and soy sauce.

Yakitori chicken is nice- mix mirin (or sweet white wine or sherry) with a little grated ginger, soy sauce, garlic, seasoning and a pinch of sugar (again vary quantities to suit your taste and the amount of meat)- marinade your chicken for an hour or two, thread onto skewers and BBQ, brushing with marinade every so often.
Also consider stuffing- if you’re doing steaks, lamb or pork chops or chicken breasts, cut the meat to form a little pocket (you can keep it closed with toothpicks) and stuff with whatever you think will be nice.

Steak- peppercorns and fried onions
Chicken- mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes; parma ham and parmesan; brie and bacon
Pork chops- sage, lemon juice and anchovies, apple (slices or sauce) and mustard
Lamb- garlic and rosemary

Anything acid will tenderise your meat- pineapple juice, vinegar, lemon juice, wine, whatever you like, you can use it as a marinade or brush it on during cooking.

If you’re really worried about cooking things properly, may I suggest an extra sacrificial burger- one you can cut into to have a look at the middle- it won’t change the taste, although it might be a little more dry, and you can always serve it to yourself (or one of the less fussy kids).

I have to disagree with this a bit. Ask your guests how they like em cooked, and don’t assume everybody wants them this well done. Most people I know would be very disappointed and might not return on your next invitation.

I don’t frig around with burgers too much.

Grab the meat, form it into a patty, and add generous amounts of salt and pepper. You don’t need onion soup mix, or sauces or anything in it.

If you form a burger into the shape a classic burger looks like, it will come off the grill looking more like a golf ball. They compress and puff up. Some people just say to make an indentation in the center, but I just like to make a wider, flatter burger before putting it on the grill. Let it compress and puff up to the “classic burger”.

Don’t use ground turkey in your burgers. Even if people THINK they want a turkey burger, I bet they’ll be glad to say, “oh well, I guess I didn’t have the choice”.

Also, don’t handle your burgers too much. Some people think you need to basically pulverize them in your hand, roll them into a ball, and then mash them down. NO. When they come off the grill, you should still be able to identify that they were ground. The inside of your burger shouldn’t look like meatloaf. I basically just grab a handful of ground beef and then squish it between my hands, and then try to form the edges into a circle. That’s how Julia Childs makes burgers.

In summary:

Don’t handle too much
Make a little flatter than you think
Just salt & pepper
No ground turkey
Hot grill. If you need to flip them more than once, it means you did it wrong the first time. I don’t want to say a time. I do that by feel and appearance and experience, and it changes depending on the heat.

There’s a decent chance that someone coming over is a “griller.” Just ask - “anyone here like to drive the grill?” Then let them do what they really enjoy and play in the fire. You can help and get pointers.

If you are having a BBQ, burgers are a bit of a nuisance – just go for the traditional steak, sausages and onions. Burgers are too fiddly – having to prepare buns, beetroot, sliced tomato and lettuce … and then construct them.

Here are the steps for a successful BBQ:
Adjust the tilt of the BBQ so the oil can drain down the hole - you may need to chock it up at one end.
Make sure the plate is clean.
The meat should be room temperature, not just out of the fridge, before cooking.
Heat the plate very hot before starting– as hot as you can get with gas.
Drizzle oil on the plate.
Put the sausages on first – they keep the plate oiled. DON’T poke the snags - keep the juices in.
When the snags are almost done, put them over to the side and then throw the sliced onions on the hot plate. Keep turning the onions and sprinkle on some beer as they cook – this keeps them from burning and adds flavour.
When the onions are cooked put them on top of the snags off to the side.
**Steaks **– these cook the quickest
Heat the plate up until it is very hot again.
Recoat with oil.
Put on the steaks and leave them until the blood just starts coming through to the up-facing side.
Turn them once.
You can drop them on the grill section of the BBQ to get the lines on them before serving.
Clean the BBQ when finished and wipe down with oil to prevent rust.
Dont put sauces or seasoning on the meat - this can be done on the plate whilst eating.

I don’t think you’re talking about the same thing as the rest of us, antechinus.

For starters, there is no “plate” and there’s no “tilting of the BBQ”.

And there’s no beetroot on burgers either.

And, if she’s asking for starter questions for a cookout, she’s not cooking steak.

And, sausages are considerably more difficult to grill properly than burgers.

:: ahem ::

Uh, she’s asking for tips on making burgers. If she wanted to make steak, she’d ask for steak cooking pointers. I personally think steaks are much harder to cook properly, given everyone’s individual preferences; it’s also a lot more expensive to buy decent grilling steak than it is to buy a few pounds of ground chuck.

And I seriously am wondering what on earth a BBQ is for you. Tilt the plate? Plate? Oil? A grill 'round these parts is either gas or charcoal (I prefer charcoal) and has, well, a grill.

True, true. I tried to game it a little bit in my reply. I asked her to chop into half a medium-sized burger. My reasoning being that the larger/fatter burgers will not be as done. And the smaller burgers will be more cooked.

But, I agree with you that you should ask your guests and whatnot - I was just trying to simplify everything for a self-admitted “terrible” griller. You should absolutely make sure that nobody wants hamburger tartare before you start cooking.

Hehe. Get new friends. Seriously. :slight_smile:

I could serve up charcoal on tinfoil to my friends and, as long as I didn’t forget the 17 cases of PBR light, they would be back just as soon as I asked 'em.

The Doctor

Antechinus, these are grills. Mistakenly called “BBQs” by some. What is the blazes are you talking about? :confused:
Grilling Rule #7 - Never take grilling advice from someone who would put beetroot on a hamburger.

Sorry for the delay in replies, my computer was on the fritz all night.

Let me first say: thank you to everyone who responded. I didn’t expect such long, detailed, and helpful replies! Muchas gracias! And now, from the top!

LiveOnAPlane, thank you for the initial compliment! I suppose there is truth in your statement, but try telling that to my friends who have had to stomach my charred food :smiley: . Actually, I’ve improved greatly! I can now make: fajitas, spegetthi and meatballs, baked rigatoni, and chicken parmigiana. Oh, and now hopefully hamburgers. Anyway, I’m getting there. Hopefully my future children wont have to starve now.

Also, I’ve noted the “grilling” vs “bbqing” point. I ‘spose I never differentiated because most around here (Bakersfield) don’t. Your point is valid and has been filed within my lil’ mind-- somewhere between that half naked picture of Ricky Martin I saw the other day and how to say good morning in Arabic. Yup. There it is. Grilling it shall be.

Oh, and I’m digging your bean recipe. I’ll make that up Sunday! Thank you for the rec!

Doctor Who, I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that there wont be any Turkey Nazis around on Sunday- the party is for one of the kid’s I coach in debate’s 18th Bday. So, my guest list will be: one 23 year old (a guy that’ll eat anything),one 21 year old (another guy that’ll eat anything in front of him), two 20 year olds (myself and my friend who will eat anything), one 18 year old, one17 year old, one 16 year old, and possibly one 15 year old. Us older folk (ha!) couldn’t care less about Turkey and I know the kids (18 and under) don’t care either. I do happen to have some chicken dogs and turkey sausages in the freezer that I planned on cooking up anyway, though.

As far as the accompaniments, I planned on setting up a Burger Bar of sorts up on the counter: all the usual (fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.), fresh guacamole, some previously fried up bacon, and any other good stuff that may be suggested.

Everyone says to get the grill hot and other than the later mentioned Mississippi method, any suggestions about what exactly is hot? We’ve got a gas grill that’s got “Low” “Med” and “High.” Of course, such temps probably very from grill to grill, but what range am I aiming for? Medium? Medium High?

I’ll do the cutting thing this time, but what do you guys do? Just remember the times? Ah! So much work! :wink:

And of course: how the hell can you say plain Lays to Ruffles? Sir, everyone knows Ruffles are the ideal cookout chip due to their versatility. Do you need a chip for snackin’? A nice Ruffle. You need a chip for dippin’? Ruffle? You need a chip to throw into the eyes of ninjas that are assaulting you? Ruffle, naturally.

No need to worry about your cookout anymore…

Swords! At! Dawn!


Oh, I can totally spell spaghetti. I swear.

Anywho, moving along!

DoctorJ, thank you for the Mississippi method, I’ll def try that out. I also really like the grilled onion idea, why hadn’t I thought of that? :smack: Yet another addition to my Burger Bar.

pulykamell, you (along with everyone else) have convinced me that chuck is def. the way to go. Now, I know this is a really, really dumb question but. . . can I get chuck prepackaged at the grocery store? Or do I need to specifically ask? The meat counter can be an overwhelming place for me (especially when my grandmother sends me asking for veal, but they don’t have any. Then they have to look in the back. And then they offer me alternatives. Then my head explodes).

irishgirl, thank you for the suggestions! I am always so confused as to what type of seasoning goes best with what or which marinade to use! I’m also digging the stuffed idea- I’ll try that later this week (stuffed chicken is probably the tastiest thing in the world).

wolfman , no worries! I planned on making them half medium and half well. Personally, I feel well is an abomination of the highest degree, but I know others don’t share my love of red, still mooing cow :stuck_out_tongue: . I prefer my burgers somewhere between medium rare and medium, but yes- I plan on attempting a half and half mix.

Trunk, thank you for the shaping advice. Honestly, that’s something that I really wouldn’t have thought of. What’s the ideal size for burgers? Do you agree with **Irishgirl’s ** palm theory? What about thickness?

China Guy , although I would normally dole out grilling duty to someone who knows what’s up, I’d really like to learn this stuff myself. I figure this is as good of a time as any, as I don’t have a particularly picky audience.

antechinus, as others have pointed out, do you mean something else by BBQ? I, of course, mean grilling. Steaks are def. a step harder than burgers and much more costly too. Too expensive to waste on teenagers. :wink:

silenus , no worries! I don’t even know what the hell beetroot is. Well, I mean, besides the root of a beet. I couldn’t point it out to you in a store if ya held a gun to my head.


And by it, I mean some tasty side dish. You can’t have a duel without a preduel cookout, duh! :smiley:

I’ve grilled hamburgers for 20 years. I’ts just regular old “experience” based on the heat of the grill, and the size of the burgers.

There’s also the method of poking the burger, but that’s an acquired skill, too. You do that to see how much “give” there is. Very soft indicates rare. Hard indicates well-done.

Oh, also don’t do the rookie move of squishing down the burger with the bottom of the spatula. Never has a better method of destroying meat been devised.

on size: If you took one of my burgers RAW and placed it on a bun, it would extend past the side of the bun by about 1/2 inch all the way around.

That way, when you cook it and it compresses, it fills the bun. I make it about the thickness of my hand.

People make the mistake of sizing the burger to the shape of the bun. When it’s done cooking, there’s a half inch of bun extending past the burger on all sides. Some people do this their whole lives and never realize it.

I also make about 5-6 oz. burgers. Three patties for a pound of meat. If you’re being economical for a big cookout, maybe 4 to a pound, but I wouldn’t go smaller.

Palm of hand is the size I want a cooked burger, not a pre-cooked burger.