Hamburgers, or Why I Now Own an Infrared Thermometer

One of my little life missions right now is to understand how to correctly create a delicious hamburger, and I am having a hell of a time getting it right.

I did the burgers on Monday, and while they were damned good, I got lucky because the meat was good, not the cook. Despite my better knowledge, I did a lot of things wrong.

I worked the meat too hard in the bowl when I was seasoning. I used garlic powder. Bleh. I packed the individual burgers into a plate, working the fat in the meat way too hard and making the patties too thin. I likely ended up with an overheated cast iron skillet and left them on too long, concerned that the cheese would not melt correctly in time.

They were still delicious. But that spoke to the quality of the meat, which came from a fresh cow purchased by my household and stuck into their freezer. The meat was sublime. The cook did not fuck it up but did not add skill and grace and patience to the program to elevate that food even higher.

I’m learning though. I figure if you’re going to bother to cook with cast iron, you should take the time to figure out how to use it most effectively. So I went to Home Depot and bought an infrared thermometer. This is, I figure, the only way to learn better how to control the temperature of your cooking surface. And I do not figure that burgers require a 600-800 degree cooking surface, as might a nice steak. Burgers can likely do best at 350 to 400, I figure. You want to cook them hot and fast, true, but this is not a solid piece of muscle and bone you’re slapping down. It’s meat that was run through a grinder. It’s a bit soft and will not require immense temps to be perfect.

Thus, the temperature Gatling gun. I want to know what surface heat will cook that sucker the best and to learn how to gauge my times appropriately. I think if you’re cooking with cast iron, there’s a whole ‘nother set of rules about temperature than if you’re used to you usual aluminum anodized skillet or whatever. Because cast iron can get to 350 in like ten minutes at a setting of about 3 on the gas.

This is, you might say, way too much hand-wringing about a damned hamburger. But if I can get a method down to consistently lay down a perfect juicy burger each and every time, I can understand more about other kinds of cooking. Cooking is learning. Eating is learning. And right now, I seem to be fixated on the hamburger.

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