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Build a Better Burger: Pork Burgers

By • Oct 13th, 2011 • Category: How To Cook Burgers

Change is good, or so I’ve heard. And sometimes when I’m firing up the grill for backyard burgers, I feel the need to shake things up beyond a gourmet cheese or crazy topping. While I’ve experimented with bison, turkey, and even ground chicken burgers, I was recently in the mood for something different. And when I turned on the TV for some early October college football, it was my own alma mater that provided the inspiration.

Iowa is pig country, and few things stir up that autumnal Hawkeye pride like the smoky smell of pork on the tailgate grill. For this installment of our Build a Better Burger series, we’ll tackle pork burgers.

Out of the shrinkwrap, it looks pretty similar to ground beef, if perhaps a rosier shade of pink. The stuff at my grocer’s was listed as 80/20, the exact same fat blend as ground chuck (and cheaper by over a dollar per pound), but dryness can be an issue with pork. That’s why most pork burger recipes call for some type of binder to help keep the patties intact as they cook.

Mine used soft bread crumbs and an egg. And to help season the meat, I added grated Parmesan cheese, dried parsley flakes, dried basil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Once it was all combined together, I was left with a mixture reminiscent of meat loaf, but not as moist (since no ketchup or Worcestershire sauce was added to the mix).

I shaped the meat mixture into burgers (0.4-pound patties, my personal preference for backyard grillers) and popped them in the fridge to chill while my charcoal got hot.

It was pretty much burger business as usual up until spatula time. Once the burgers were flipped, the differences between beef and pork were really starting to become noticeable. I had some decent griddle marks, but in between were stripes of a color I’m not used to seeing on Burger Night. The other white meat, indeed. The paleness of the meat was somewhat startling and had me scrambling for some technological backup.

I’ve grilled enough burgs that generally I know what to look for, color-wise. And while I always check my work with a meat thermometer, it’s critical when you’re flying blind, cooking a meat you’re not used to. By-the-book rules say that ground pork should hit 160 degrees, but porcine pros know that 140 results in much tastier swine. And thanks to carryover cooking- whereby the internal temp will continue to rise 5-10 degrees even after you pull the meat off the grill- I knew that 136 was close enough.

The binders in my meat mixture worked- all five patties stayed intact on the grill, with only minor cracking. I dressed my burger simply- just lettuce, tomato, and mayo- to really let the pork flavor come through.

While they certainly weren’t as run-down-my-arm juicy as beef burgers, these were not like eating a giant breakfast sausage, as my wife had feared. They were a really nice change of pace and fit the cooler weather of fall to a T. Some pork burger recipes call for other seasonings in the meat mixture: ground caraway seed, fennel, green onion, paprika, etc. I found myself wishing my pork burgers had a bit more bite to them; I’ll double up the pepper and maybe add some sage next time. If you’re looking to “beef” up your tailgate spread with a little razzle-dazzle this football season, try pork burgers with your home team. Pork: it isn’t just for Iowans anymore.

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