Build a Better Burger: Ready-to-Cook Grocery Store BurgersBy Todd • Sep 23rd, 2011 • Category: How To Cook Burgers
There’s nothing like an autumn afternoon with a football in the air and a batch of burgers on the grill. And while we hope our Build a Better Burger series has helped you improve your burgermeister skills in time for tailgating season, we realize that there are occasions when buying ground beef and hand-forming your own patties simply isn’t practical. Such was the case for me last weekend. A quick getaway with the family found us in a log cabin surrounded by tall pines, with a small campground-style charcoal grill cemented in the ground just outside the door. A run through the grocery store for supplies took care of a bag of charcoal, buns, and basics… but when it came time for the beef, I had to settle for these:
Yeah, those shrinkwrapped burgers at the meat counter. I grabbed the three varieties offered: the bacon-and-cheddar stuffed burgers pictured, plus some blue cheese burgers, and “steakhouse seasoned ground round” patties. Quick and convenient? You bet. Worth eating? I’d soon find out.
Things looked promising as they hit the grates with a satisfying sizzle. The bacon-and-cheddars, at top and bottom left, weren’t so much “stuffed” Jucy-Lucy-style as they were “studded,” but that’s semantics. I certainly liked the grated cheese mixed throughout the patties, a method I’ve had great success with in my own experiments. The blue cheese burgs at middle top and bottom also used the “studded” approach. All four of these burgers were half-pounders and made from ground chuck, with its ideal 80/20 fat blend. The “steakhouse seasoned” burgers at top and bottom right were only third-pounders, and made from ground round. (I’m assuming that the smaller size was to balance out the slightly-more expensive 85/15 meat, allowing this shrinkwrapped package to be in the same pricing ballpark as the others.)
Once flipped, the burgers displayed fairly nice griddle marks, my hopes still riding high as my team engineered a 4th-quarter comeback. It was at this point that I also started to appreciate just how spoiled I have become with the grill in my own backyard. I know its hotspots, I know how to tweak and adjust everything on that grill to maximize airflow and keep a bed of charcoal glowing hot. On this unfamiliar grill, I was losing the fire fast and had to lower the cooking grate to its bottom position to eke out every last bit of heat from the dying coals.
I wish I could say that the taste of these burgers was on par with their convenience factor. Or even close. It wasn’t. All three varieties were bland and boring. The strands of meat were much more tightly-packed than I would have ended up with had I formed the patties personally and resulted in dense, dry beef. None of the promised flavors shone through. In fact, if I hadn’t known which was which, I couldn’t have told the difference. No bacon flavor whatsoever in the bacon-and-cheddar, and not nearly enough cheddar. Zero discernible blue cheese taste. And the steakhouse burgs were unevenly seasoned at best. (Go back at look at that photo of when they first hit the grill. One half of that patty at top right is completely devoid of seasonings.)
Yes, if you’re on your way to the campground or the stadium, picking up these pre-made patties from your grocer’s butcher case is easy. But don’t expect them to score any touchdowns on taste. These are a Hail Mary play at best, so be ready to add some much-needed razzle-dazzle with extra toppings and fixins.