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There is nothing like a perfectly prepared burger, preferably medium-rare on a toasted whole-wheat bun, but with no mayo. Instead, stout and stone ground mustard, a thick layer of crisp dill pickles, lightly caramelized red onions still warm from the pan, fresh tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt, a few leaves of butter lettuce and more ketchup than I would like to admit.

This is precisely the problem. I love the hand-packed, well-seasoned and grass-fed beef burger that I make at home; a far cry from the conventionally sold stacks of horrifyingly thin and colorless rounds separated by white waxy papers. Call me a burger snob all you want but, in my defense, I take comfort in knowing that the meat I put in my body is 100% meat, from a good source and not pumped full of additives, antibiotics, preservatives and artificial flavoring.  Not to mention the perfect personalization of toppings, in just the right amount and order that creates the perfect bite all the way through.

You don’t have to buy a whole cow to have easy access to grass-fed beef (see my previous post on the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed beef). Heritage Meats in Rochester, WA is an artisan butchering company that specializes in organic, locally grown and sustainable meats and supplies a great assortment of grass-fed beef products for Full Circle’s Green Grocery program. For your first spring BBQ or family burger night, add some healthy protein to your farm box and forge your own better tasting burgers. All the meat products supplied to Full Circle from Heritage Meats are pasture-raised and grass-fed in Washington, and better for you and the environment than mass-produced, grain-fed beef products.

This weekend, at what I called “the great burger-off”, my thankfully patient friends were presented with a buffet line of toppings and slightly enormous grass-fed beef patties (seared quickly and broiled with a thin layer of sharp cheddar).  Before anyone could get a bite I snapped photos and made note of topping combos and quirky burger making practices. Here are a few of the combinations that made us smile and a secret patty packing recipe that makes the most tender and tasty burgers, as far as I am concerned, on the entire planet.

My Backyard’s Best Burger Patty

(Makes appx. 6 big patties)
2 lbs ground grass-fed beef
½ large yellow onion, finely diced
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed through a garlic press or finely diced
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp Worcester sauce
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsp Chaloula (or your favorite hot sauce)
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
12 slices of sharp cheddar (or your choice of cheese to melt on top)
Mix all ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl, making sure to incorporate well.

Form 6 equal palm sized rounds of the mixture (making more or less depending on the size of patty you want).  Pat the rounds out by hand and sear for 3 minutes per side on a hot grill (or until your desired doneness).  Before removing from the grill melt your cheese of choice on top.  Serve immediately with an array of the following:

Killer Topping Combos:

  • Grilled sweet or red onions, blue cheese, avocado, butter lettuce, spicy aoli
  • Sautéed Cremini mushrooms, feta cheese, grilled peppers, red leaf lettuce, basil aoli
  • Fresh sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt, fresh picked basil leaves, avocado, roasted red pepper caponata, butter lettuce
  • Slightly melted brie, thin slices of fresh granny smith apple
  • Fresh pesto, spinach, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato slices
  • Swiss chesses, sautéed mushrooms, sauerkraut and spicy whole grain mustard
  • Pickled red peppers, butter lettuce, fresh mango chutney
  • Grilled zucchini, balsamic roasted onions and blue cheese
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When the sun finally battled through the incessant barrier of clouds, I put on and old pair of jeans and my mud caked garden shoes and dove head first into outdoor projects. With complete abandon I attacked the weeds that had uninhibitedly taken over; relishing the feel of warm rays soaking into my back and shoulders and letting the sun hit my face to revitalize the freckles that hibernate through the winter months. I had myself so completely convinced that this was the big break of springtime that I even dug up the barbeque and set up the outdoor grilling area. I was ready for warm evenings, the smell of caramelized sweet onions and barbeque sauce. That night the first hand packed burger would sizzle as it hit the hot grill and I could hardly contain my anticipation.

As rain came in the form of a torrential downpour around dinnertime, rain boots, coat, and a bit of a frumpy attitude accompanied me to the grill. I was simply unwilling to postpone the burgers, especially because I had already thawed a package of ground “cow”, as I have come to call the gigantic 1/3 of an animal we received, butchered and packaged as part of a local grass fed beef cooperative. What some may think is plain old ground beef was, for me in this moment, none of the above. If you have ever had a hand-packed grass fed beef patty grilled to perfection you know the feeling. The burgers, steaks, roasts and even stews I had made from this well raised and well fed animal were relished, I imagined, like Hindu cultures worship the bovine deity.

The burgers, although mildly dampened with rainwater, were nothing short of delectable. If you have never had the fortunate opportunity to compare a grass fed patty to the conventional counterpart I highly recommend it, rain or shine. Not only do you get a tender and fresh flavor, grass fed beef is also a much healthier indulgence.

Feedlot cattle that gain up to 2-3 pounds per day eating corn, soy and grain before slaughter experience abnormally rapid weight gain that destroys beneficial nutrients and loads on the saturated fat. Grass fed cattle, on the other hand, produce beef that is high in nutrients, packed with health benefits and safer for consumption. A grass fed patty not only tastes better, it is better for you, the cow it came from and the environment that supported its growth.

A few Grass Fed Facts:

  • Grass fed beef has 7 times more beta carotene, 3 times more vitamin E, 1/3 less cholesterol and ¼ less saturated fat than grain fed beef.
  • Higher levels of vitamin E prevent oxidation of cells and higher concentrations of vitamin K2 help ward off heart disease and support brain function.
  • Each bite contains more heart healthy omega 3’s and less artery-constricting omega 6’s.
  • A powerful antioxidant called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is only produced by grass fed ruminants and helps build muscle and ward of cancerous cells.
  • Studies found up to 6,280,000 more e-coli cells in the stomach of feedlot cows and 58% of feedlot cattle tested positive for campylobacter bacteria.
  • Grain feeding cattle requires more than half the world’s supply of grain, which requires an immense amount of gasoline consumption, fertilizer, and land monopoly for production.
  • Cattle have digestive systems specially designed to digest fibrous grasses. When fed grain the cow’s stomach becomes excessively acidic, causing ulcers and allowing harmful bacteria from the stomach to leek into the cow’s bloodstream. This is not only painful and sickening for the cow, it requires the use of antibiotics and other drugs that are passed down to you through the beef you eat.

Kick off your summer barbeque with a better burger, if not for the simple and pleasurable experience of tasting something the way only your great grandparents may have remembered it, maybe for the sanity of knowing exactly what is going into your body and knowing it will nourish and not destroy your body.

After a grand burger cook off and tasting event this weekend where friends patiently stood by as I photographed and noted the contents of various burger stacks, I have an extensive list of favorite topping combos, patty makings and burger secrets to come for Thursdays post.