Bison and Beef Burgers

Spring is here, and apart from gardens and fresher greens, this means that cooking outside is officially ‘in season’. As this past weekend was the first weekend of Spring, waking the grill from its winter slumber seemed only natural. To ease it–and myself–back into grilling, I wanted to stick with something tried and true: burgers.

Burgers. (Bison and beef)

Burgers. (Bison and beef)

With a myriad of options available regarding cooking methods, meats, and toppings, burgers are nearly infinitely customizable. Unlike my previous documented excess, these were much more modest. I did make one fairly significant change by using two different kinds of meats. Using all beef will result in a superb burger, but I wanted an extra depth of flavor and a big meaty kick in these. Combining the ground beef with ground bison added the extra dimension of flavor that I was looking for. Using a combination of meats, seasonings, and a different shaping technique ensured that these burgers would be a cut above the rest. 

Burgers. (Bison and beef)

Burgers. (Bison and beef)

Click through to see details on how to make the burgers, the shaping method, and the seasonings I used.

I normally stick with ground chuck when making burgers. The 80%-20% meat-to-fat ratio allows for a tender, juicy burger. Going too lean tends to result in a denser, dryer patty, and noone wants a hockey puck of meat as their burger. The reason I didn’t use all ground chuck for these is that, as I mentioned above, I really wanted to emphasise a big game flavor. Bison fit the bill perfectly. Bison is genreally leaner than beef and the dense burger I cautioned about can result if you are not careful when shaping the patties. Mixing the bison with ground chuck ensures that there is still a decent amount of fat distributed throughout the patty to prevent the burgers from coming off the grill dry. 

Buger. Autopsy shot.

Buger. Autopsy shot.

I mentioned above that the seasonings I used were also important to the finished burger. When I say seasonings, in this context I really mean salt and pepper. I season the beef before shaping the patties, ensuring an even distribution of salt and pepper throughout the burger. Sometimes I put a splash of Worcestershire sauce in there, but that’s entirely optional.

The shaping technique for burgers is also very important. You can’t just pound the meat into a disk–It’ll cook with a bulge in the middle or have a sausage-like texture. The real key to proper burger formation is to shape the patty loosly. The meat should not be falling apary, but seem like it is trying to. As it cooks, the meat will bind together. The other common technique is to make an indentation in the middle of the patties. This will prevent the burger from cooking into a mound.

Ingredients
(makes 6 1/3-lb burgers)

1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground bison
salt
fresh ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce (optional)

  1. Loosely mix the ground beef and ground bison in a large mixing bowl. Do not pack the meat or force it together as this will result in dense burgers.
  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. If using Worcestershire sauce, put up to a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of the sauce into meat mixture.
  3. Split the meat into six equal portions and loosly shape them into patties rougly the size of your burgers. The burgers should be loosely packed and craggy around the egdes. You can also make an indentation in the middle to prevent mounding as the burger cooks (see photos for details).
Bison and beef patties.

Bison and beef patties.

You can prepare the burgers in advance up to this point.
I used a charcoal grill, so the directions below are for that. The general idea is the same for gas grills or even stove-top griddles.

  1. Pile the charcoal in a pyramid and light it (or use a chimney if you have one). Let burn for about 20 minutes until the fire has died down and the coals have a thin coating of light gray ash. Spread the coals over the base of the grill. The grill will be ready to use when the heat is such that it is difficult to hold your hand 5-inches above the cooking surface for more than 3 seconds.
  2. Scrape the hot grill surface to clean it. Place the patties evenly distributed over the grill grate and grill, uncovered, until they are seared on one side, about 2-3 minutes. For medium-rare burgers, flip them as soon as the juices begin to ‘pearl’ on the surface. Allow 30-60 seconds longer than that for medium. Do not press down on the burgers as they are cooking.
  3. Flip the burgers and cook for about 2 minutes more for rare, 2 1/2 minutes for medium-rare, or 3 minutes for medium. If using cheese, add about 15-30 seconds before the burgers are finished. Serve immediately.
Patties with cheddar and bacon.

Patties with cheddar and bacon.

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