Even though astronomically the first day of summer is several weeks away, it unofficially began on Monday, May 25, 2015. Memorial Day. For most Americans, this means firing up the grill and grilling hamburgers. This year, I traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, to spend the weekend with Laura, her family, and some dear friends from our college days who now live in the ‘Burg.
Most of my readers should know by now that I am an inveterate menu planner, and this year was no different. I wanted to go whole hog—Southern hog that is. Menu version 1.0 consisted of fried chicken, potato salad, Southern style green beans, grilled corn, and brownies. Version 1.0, however, never made it out of Beta. After taking into account food allergies and a general consensus that I should try and cook a tad pit healthier, I developed Version 2.0.
My friend Andrew would bring over pork shoulder and grilled vegetables; I would grill bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with chimichurri sauce, grilled corn with chili-lime cilantro butter, and kale salad. Dessert would be mango mousse (essentially pureed mangos folded in with Chantilly cream). Unfortunately, poor logistics meant that the corn never hit the grill. But we had plenty nonetheless.
©2015 Andrew Langer
Here’s the recipe:
(Courtesy of Andrew Langer & Jorge Jimenez-Rojo)
1 head cabbage (about 2 lbs)
1 package bacon
1/4 cup Barbecue Sauce
1/2 stick butter, sliced into six pieces
1. Cut bacon crosswise into small pieces. Sauté until cooked, drain, and set aside.
2. Core head of cabbage, leaving the rest of the head intact, so that there is a cavity 3-4 inches across and several inches deep.
3. Take aluminum foil, crumple and make a ring, 3 inches in diameter (see picture).
4. Mix cooked bacon and barbecue sauce together. Lay 3 slices of butter in cavity, add bacon mixture, then lay three more piece of butter on top.
5. Turn grill to high and pre-heat until temperature reaches 300+ degrees. Put aluminum foil ring on grill, put cabbage on ring. Close grill..
6. Cook cabbage for 60-90mins [though I think 45 mins to 60 mins is plenty], rotating cabbage head with tongs every 15 mins. When cabbage is soft all the way through, it's done. Don't worry if exterior leaves start to char—they will fall off when you take the cabbage off the grill.
As I mentioned earlier, Memorial Day Weekend is when a lot of folks fire up the grill for the first time. Now Laura has a grill (charcoal), but the discussion Saturday morning quickly moved to whether she needed a new grill—a gas grill. I know there are a lot of purists who will not use anything but charcoal. But you can’t beat the convenience of a gas grill. I’ve had both, and I’ve found that I’ve grilled a lot more with a gas grill than with the charcoal version. Besides, Laura’s place in the ‘Burg is a second home, and things should be as convenient as possible. So, after a quick trip to the local Ace Hardware and some haggling, we got a real good deal on a Weber floor model. The new grill worked beautifully, notwithstanding a major flame-out in the grease trap which was a bit too close to the propane tank for my tastes!
So let me get back to burgers because that’s where this blog post started. Despite the fact that my fried chicken and potato salad got nixed, I did get to make hamburgers Saturday night and again on Monday afternoon before heading to the airport.
I have several rules when it comes to making hamburgers. First, always buy 80/20 beef if you can find it. It’s getting harder and harder. Your best best bet is the local Piggly Wiggly or Wal-Mart. But honestly, 80/20 makes the best burgers. Period. Besides, it’s not like you eat these things every day. I then put a generous amount of kosher salt and ground black pepper on each burger. Sometimes I will put a bit of onion powder on as well. I then place the burgers in the fridge for at least an hour. Cold hamburger meat holds together better while grilling and allows you to get a good char on the outside without overcooking the inside.
But most importantly don’t overcook the burgers. Start on one side with the lid open. (If you close it, you will start to cook the burger before you can get a good char.) Once you have a good char on one side, flip. You will only flip once! At this point, place your cheese of choice on the burger and close the lid. Personally, I prefer blue cheese. Dress the burger anyway you like. I like to keep it simple—lettuce, red onion, tomato, ketchup, and mustard. But sometimes I like to chop up some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and add that to the ketchup for an extra kick.
Finally, toast your buns dammit! Melt some butter and brush it onto the outside and insides of the buns and toast them on the grill. Your guests will thank you.
And that’s it. Another Memorial Day weekend for the history books. While I think the healthy option was a good idea, I’m glad I got my burger fix in because Memorial Day without burgers is like New Year’s Day without luck and money. And just like a good burger can’t be improved upon, neither can a Memorial Day with wonderful friends and family.