There's an art to grilling a perfect burger, a juicy brat, and a grill-scored golden hot dog.
Whether you're planning a Labor Day picnic or potluck, start with good quality beef and sausages. Use a hot grill and cook with patience. Then serve with your condiments of choice, such as different cheeses, salsas, relishes, and mustards.
The result will be an easy entree for any gathering of family and friends.
For the best burgers, the Beef & Veal Culinary Center recommends choosing ground beef with the lean-to-fat ratio of 80/20.
Grill over medium coals (no flames; coals should be covered with gray ash) or over medium heat on a gas grill. Do not char or overcook. Cook burgers to medium (160 degrees) doneness. Use an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the side of the burger. No pink should remain in the center of the burger and the juices should run clear. Turn burgers with a long-handled spatula, without pressing out flavorful juices.
Make a bistro style Deluxe Cheeseburger with caramelized onions and warmed cheese on top. Try a new cheese such as Comte. Another special touch is the dollup of freshly made aioli - the garlic scented mayonnaise for which France is famous.
Comte is French Gruyere cheese and it's a little bit stronger than other Gruyere cheeses, says Jerry Bodnar, assistant deli manager at Walt Churchill's Briarfield, which carries the product. It's sliced, packaged, and found in the imported cheese island.
While imported cheeses are likely to be more expensive, they are a nice touch to holiday grilling.
There are other brands of Gruyere sold at The Andersons, which also sells a smoked Gouda that can be sliced, says Diane Schmody, of The Andersons. "We custom slice Gruyere and Emmanthaler," she says. "We also sell Dubliner from Kerrygold, which can be sliced."
For a Gouda Burger, add a slice of Gouda cheese and grilled zucchini atop a grilled hamburger.
For a Cordon Bleu Burger, top the grilled ground beef patty with sliced ham, Swiss cheese, and Dijon mustard.
For a German Classic, top a grilled burger with aged Cheddar cheese and Dusseldorf mustard.
Mustard is an international condiment that is low in calories with no fat or cholesterol. Prepared mustards usually consist of a combination of mustard seeds with vinegar or wine plus salt and spices. There are hundreds of varieties.
According to a recent survey by Johnsonville brats, most Americans are baffled when it comes to grilling bratwurst. Half admit to not knowing how to prepare a bratwurst, that German sausage made of pork and veal seasoned with a variety of spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and coriander or caraway.
Johnsonville recommends "low and slow," meaning grill on low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. "Turn every four minutes," Johnsonville's corporate chef Mike Zeller said in a phone interview. "On a gas grill, that should be medium-low temperature. On a charcoal grill there should be white ash."
He advises using tongs, not a fork, to turn the brats. "The fork pierces the casing," he said. "You want to keep the juices in."
To check if a brat is fully done, you can check for firmness and look for golden brown color; then break it open to check that there is no pink in the center. The brat should be perfect. Or you can use a meat thermometer, checking that the meat is 180 degrees in the center.
Purists are likely to cook brats from the raw sausage. But many people precook them in beer, Mr. Zeller says. Boil two to three cans of any liquid (beer, pop, juice, water) with one sliced onion. Put the sausage in the pot and boil. Then simmer for 12 minutes until fully cooked. Remove from liquid and grill.
The Blade tested Brats in Beer from The Tailgater's Cookbook by David Joachim (Broadway, $14.95). Cooking the brats this way produced a very mellow flavor. The brats, which hold well, are good when guests are arriving over a period of time, says recipe tester Kay Lynne Schaller.
Hot dogs are a perennial America favorite introduced by German butchers to New York and Chicago in the late 19th century. It is mild, smoked, and usually skinless sausage made of finely ground beef and pork.
Today, hot dogs can be made with ground chicken or turkey. There are also organic hot dogs made of organic grass-fed and finished beef, making them lower in fat and sometimes calories.
Contemporary preparation of hot dogs finds a variety of sauces and salsas nested in the bun.
Super Dogs with Avocado Relish is a delicious version. The avocado relish is best made an hour ahead of grilling the hot dogs to allow the flavors to develop in the relish.
Other favorites include serving a hot dog with corn relish or a taco sauce. The corn can be grilled for the relish, if desired. Corn, Tomato, and Black Bean Salsa from Corn by Olwen Woodier (Storey, $12.95) is a great addition to burgers or hot dogs.
Contact Kathie Smith at: