Good meat, good burger

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Best-practices hamburger: It's what summer demands and what happy, healthy hamburger meat deserves. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

We bought a cow. OK, not a cow. A boy cow, named Cowboy.

Not Cowboy, the actual cow. We bought a portion of Cowboy. Specifically, the portion housing the rump roast, pot roast, eye round, brisket, short ribs, stew cubes, New York strip, London broil, Delmonico, tenderloin, sirloin, soup bones and ground beef.

It's not nice to think about the location of steak, pre-steak. But it is nice to know that it was somewhere specific, healthy and happy. Thank you, cowgirl Laura. Thank you, Cowboy.

A cow, even one-eighth of a moderately sized cow, takes space. Specifically, all of my freezer. The ice cubes and the vanilla chip had to squeeze in; the bread crusts had to move out. Then we had to think of something to do with all those cuts.

In winter we roasted the roasts and stewed the stew cubes. In spring we sizzled the steaks. Our bone connoisseur, gnawing in his run, commandeered the soup bones. Leaving an awful lot of ground beef.

Fortunately, Memorial Day came around, and it was suddenly time to practice the best-practices hamburger. Which is a burger, constructed carefully. It's what summer demands, and what happy, healthy meat deserves.

Best-practices hamburger

Prep: 10 minutes plus wait time
Grill: 9 minutes
Serves: 4


1 pound ground beef chuck

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mild oil

4 1-ounce slices cheddar cheese

4 potato (or other soft) buns

Condiments, as you please

Gently divide beef in 4 and pat into 4 patties. The standard hamburger shape — low and wide — provides maximum sizzle surface. No need to make edges smooth; a little ragged is best. Mix together salt and pepper. Sprinkle evenly over both sides of burgers. Cover with plastic wrap and return to the fridge, up to 24 hours. One hour before grill time, pull out burgers and let them come to room temperature.

Build (or spark) a medium-hot fire (about 400 degrees or hot enough that you can hold your hand 2 inches above the grill only about 2 seconds). Clean the grill grates and oil lightly. Rub a little oil onto the burgers. Set burgers directly over flame. Close the grill and cook 4 ½ minutes (the stopwatch function on your phone might come in handy here). Flip. Cover and cook 2 ½ minutes. Set 1 slice cheese on each burger. Cover and cook 2 minutes (bringing total cooking time to 9 minutes). Pull burgers off grill. Let rest 1 minute.

Slide burgers onto buns. Pile on condiments. Chomp.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at

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