Aaaaaah…the summer long weekends have started. In Quebec this week, we celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day, and next week we’ll mark Canada’s birthday on July 1. Across the country people in holiday mode are getting together with family and friends to celebrate outside, often around a barbeque, which is a good thing. There’s something about being in the fresh air enjoying long days in the great outdoors that seems to make people hungry. And there’s something about eating al fresco that makes food taste better. At least that’s the hypothesis that I’ll be testing this long weekend.
Outdoor dining can be as simple as throwing a few veggies on the grill although for me, a summer barbeque has to involve meat or fish and nothing seems to please a crowd like a good burger with all the toppings. I’m happy to make my own patties, and there are lots of recipes out there for excellent hamburgers to suit all tastes. But, I don’t have to make my own patties anymore. I have the good fortune to work next door to a team of people who know a lot more about meat than I do.
Galerie CO is located just steps away from Lawrence, a fine-dining institution in Montreal’s Mile End that serves up a stellar hamburger at lunchtime accompanied by thick hand-cut fries and homemade mayo that YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS. But I digress. Just know that chef Marc Cohen presents straight forward wonderfully flavourful food using the best ingredients available.
The classic Lawrence burger (Source:Lee-Anne Bigwood, Chez CO)
And, lucky for me, his raw burgers are available at Boucherie Lawrence, which is directly next door to Galerie CO. Boucherie Lawrence — the butcher associated with the restaurant and owned by the same team — is a purveyor of fresh, humanely raised, high quality meat from small-scale independent farms in Quebec. It supplies the restaurant and the city with exceptional fodder for carnivores. Their burgers start with great meat ground fresh daily and include a healthy ratio of fat and a nice coarse grind.
That’s what I’ll be barbequing this long weekend while celebrating Canada Day. And I’ll be doing it in the great outdoors, which means a portable barbeque — charcoal not gas (a bag of charcoal can easily be chucked into the car). Yes, working with a charcoal grill requires some planning and patience, but the payoff is the smokey flavour that comes from the smouldering hot coals. The better the briquettes, the better the smoke; choose charcoal made from real pieces of wood, or mix charcoal with chunks of hardwood.
As with most things involving fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association in the U.S., there are a few basic rules to follow for safely handling a charcoal grill:
- Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
- The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
- Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
- Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
- Never leave your grill unattended.
- There are several ways to get the charcoal ready to use. Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.
- If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
- Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
- There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire. Be sure to use an extension cord for outdoor use.
- When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container. (www.nfpa.org)
Use enough charcoal to cover the bottom of your grill and get the fire nice and hot. Once the fire is started, there will come a point where the briquettes form a grey ash and the fire is ready. You can redistribute the briquettes, out of their pyramid formation, and place them where you need them for cooking.
Whether you buy your patties or make your own, keep them in the fridge or in a cooler until you’re ready to cook them.
When the charcoal is ready place the patties on a lightly oiled grill and find a cover, or close the lid. After 4-5 minutes flip the patties, provided they lift easily. Cover, or close the lid and grill for another 4-5 minutes. Flip them one more time and continue grilling until the juices from the burgers run clear and the patties feel solid.
Try not to turn the burgers more than once or twice. The more you handle meat while it is cooking, the dryer it will be. And avoid pressing or mashing the burgers into the grill, as this will also dry out the meat and can cause the burgers to fall apart.
One challenge with grilling on charcoal is that there will be variations in heat levels from one space on the grill to the next meaning that two burgers side-by-side may not cook at the same rate. However, there are some great tricks that can be employed to arrive at a perfectly cooked burger. Barbeque blogger Joshua Bousel offers the following two tips on Serious Eats:
He suggests setting up the grill so that the coals are piled on one side of the charcoal grate to provide a temporary safe haven for burgers engulfed in a flare-up and a spot where burgers can finish cooking without fear of burning, once the perfect sear has been achieved. He stresses that it’s important to close the lid to give the meat the heat it needs to finish cooking.
A second trick he shares is to use a small heat-resistant bowl to cover individual burgers where the internal cooking needs to be speeded up, or when cheese needs to be melted.
(Source: Joshua Bousel)
Check before serving, the burgers should not be too pink in the middle. It’s important not to under-cook ground beef. Nothing should be rare. High quality, freshly ground beef can be cooked to medium-rare. Anything else should be medium-well or well done.
Once you’re finished with the grill, putting out the fire is as important as starting it. When you’re done cooking, using proper protection for your hand, carefully close any vents on the grill and secure the cover. Assume it will take at least 1 hour for your fire to go out and your grill to cool down. If your charcoal grill doesn’t have a cover, you’ll need to let your fire burn itself out, which could take an hour or two or more.
Have fun, be safe and enjoy the holidays.