Grill responsibly

Illustration by Mark Stivers

When Sacramento temperatures reach the mid-70s and the sun shines brightly through the trees warming my back patio just right, the first thought that crosses my mind is it’s prime barbecue weather. A time to kick back, invite a few friends over and enjoy the outdoors together. This was the case on a recent Saturday afternoon where cold beers and homemade, juicy burgers sounded like the perfect way to welcome the springtime season.

Now, I fancy myself a seasoned home cook. One who enjoys to feed her friends and family fairly regularly. I’m known for elaborate dinners inspired by my late grandmother’s recipes like dark and spicy chicken mole or slow-roasted crispy carnitas, dishes that take all day to prep, sauté and spice just right. So, when the inspiration struck to whip up about a dozen or so burgers from scratch I thought, “How hard can this really be? I got this, right?” Wrong.

It turns out I messed up big time. My usual recipe calls for one pound of ground beef, salt and pepper, a little cumin, a little paprika, a teaspoon or so of both garlic and onion powders, and my secret is about half a cup of bread crumbs. I then knead all the spices and ingredients into the chilled beef until everything is well incorporated and I start to hand roll and form the fragrant patties that my partner David will eventually throw onto the grill and gently brush each side with barbecue sauce until they are cooked to a nice medium.

The problem: I forgot to add a binder. I usually crack an egg into the meat mixture similar to most recipes for meatloaf. Not only does the egg keep the patties together, it also gives them a nice boost of moisture. But, after a few 7-percent IPAs and amusing conversations, I simply became equal parts inebriated and distracted. In my humble defense, it was such a beautiful day outside that I wanted to just hurry up and hang out with the party going on out back.

It wasn’t until I heard a cry from the grill master that I knew something was amiss. All of the delicious patties were completely falling apart on the grill sending each to fall below to the fiery abyss of burning, gray coals. It was at this moment where instead of a seasoned home cook, I felt like an amateur who made a small mistake that led to way fewer burgers in my company’s bellies. But, all was not lost. I managed to save half of the batch by adding the necessary binding components, reforming the patties and they ended up grilling just right as they have many barbecues before.

The takeaway: less beer sippin’ during prep time will make for happier and more satisfied guests. Although I’ve made this recipe practically with my eyes closed for many years, it just goes to show that even if you fancy yourself as an experienced home cook there will always be one moment where a simple recipe will humble even the most comfortable in the kitchen. Cheers.