Food & Swine

Girls’ Guide to Grilling


Grilling?  Who, Me?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to compete in a burger competition.  It was the most amazing experience and you can click back through all of my posts regarding the $17,500 Sour Apple Pork Burger if you’d like, but I want to rewind a bit and reveal a few things to you that if I had done so before, may have implicated your impression of me as a ‘grill-master’. I bet you know where this is going…

I needed grilling help.  Terribly. I had never failed at grilling, there was just never a necessity to even try.  My husband does that for ME.  That wasn’t going to fly at the cook-off.  I needed to go to BBQ-BootCamp and figure it out for myself.  Here’s where the story begins:


My Grilling History = Zero

In December 2013 I was notified by Sutter Home Winery that I was a finalist in their “Build A Better Burger” national burger cook-off in May 2014.  We (finalists) had to keep our traps shut until paperwork and background checks were complete and were officially named finalists in mid-February. My initial thoughts when I received this tremendous news, were accompanied a terrible pit in my stomach.  I DID NOT completely know how to turn on our grill.  All I had to do until this point was write a great recipe and submit it along with the thousands of other people that were doing the same thing for “Build A Better Burger”. My humble little Midwest pork burger recipe trudged right through all of the cuts and made it to the top of the heap. So now, Cristen=Finalist=Figure out how to grill a burger, in less than a few months.  (Most of which we had a ton of snow on the ground.)

The Baker, not The Griller

“Cristen = baker not Cristen = griller. No way, not possible.  That little pre-conceived freak out mantra of mine had to be squandered as I knew if I didn’t get my act together I could embarrass myself severely at this cook-off. After all, there were professional chefs and caterers in this competition, people that had owned restaurants etc. No one would be impressed with my cinnamon rolls, pies or cakes.  Grilling would be the only thing that would help me and I didn’t know how to do it. I needed to learn how, badly.


No snow on the ground tonight but no one is practicing now, so why would there be?


The Reason I’m Writing This Post For You:

For some reason, grilling to me was some mystical process and you had to be some sort of alchemist to figure it out. I’ve always given plenty of props to the grill-masters in my family.  Knowing what I know now and the time it took me to become comfortable, I should have known better.  Grilling is easy and actually quite fun!  Much better than slaving away in the kitchen making all of the sides for the meal while setting the table. (More fun to lounge in my chair drinking wine waiting for the magic to happen.)

At any rate as you’ve discovered, with a little good old fashioned practice, self-guided learning and helpful tips my guy… I did learn how to grill and do it quite well.  There are lots of similarities to what is done in the kitchen (cooking) and what is done on the grill. I was no clueless dummy, we’ve grilled a lot but I’ve never done a solo job.  It was surprisingly not as big of a deal as I’d thought. Discovering that part made getting outside and firing up the ‘barbie’ that much easier.


PS: I’m calling this the “Girls’ Guide to Grilling” because for some reason men stereotypically ‘man’ the grill.  I’m here to tell you to send your man in the house to make the potato salad and bars, grab a beer or some wine and your lawn chair and grill away ladies! (*Dudes, if this grilling guide appeals to you I’m good with that too!)

My happy little dish-doer with his tea-towel slung over his neck… he doesn’t mind relinquishing the grill-duties, sometimes.


Before we get started let me clean the grill off… seriously, this happens at your house doesn’t it?


Girls’ Guide to Grilling a Juicy Burger (on a Gas Grill)

Turning the Grill on:

  1. Open up that bad boy, top and door to get to the gas tank.


Crank the gas open. 


Preheating the Grill:

  1. To fire up the burners, press in the dial and turn to high.  There will be a slight resistance and clicking noise.


  1. Turn the dial and continue pressing once you get to high on the dial and then you will hear a whoooooosh sound.  They’re lit.  Good job! (*note: different units run differently.  This unit is a Kenmore, the Weber grill that I used at the cook-off turned on differently but it was just as easy!)


To check to see if the burners are on I hold my hand above them to feel the heat.


Shaping the Patties:

  1. Handle the meat as little as possible.  If you are adding ingredients such as dehydrated onions, wine etc and the meat mixture needs to be tossed around: use a fork.  Your fingers will heat up the fat, not good friend.  I quickly shape the patties into a nice circle, in my hand.

2. Shape into desired burger size/thickness.  (Understand this pre-cooked burger will shrink as the fat renders.  Make the ‘burgs on the bigger side of what you want your final cooked burger to be.
3. Depress centers of burgers so they don’t puff up on the grill.


Seasoning the Patties:

  1. Use your favorite seasoned salt.  Sprinkle as liberally as your tastes allow, (nothing worse than an underseasoned burger) all over one or both side(s) of the patty.


Cleaning the Grill Grates:

  1. Using a grill brush or crumpled up aluminum foil with a tongs, scrape the preheated grate to remove excess charred pieces of food/seasoning etc from your last grill session.

Oiling the Grill Grates:

  1. Drizzle vegetable oil on a tea towel or similar cloth (piece of old t-shirt without printing on it) and place it at the end of the tongs.  Grip tightly and rub the oiled cloth over the grill grates.  This will allow the meat to sear well and will make sure it doesn’t stick.

Meat Goes On the Grill:

  1. Once you get to know your grill by using it several times, you’ll know where the hotter and not-so-hot areas are.  Figure this out.  For burgers, I love nice char marks so I set them to the back of the grill, where it is hotter (on my unit).


  1. Don’t touch this for a few minutes.  That means, no sliding SQUISHING, squeezing, pushing, etc.  Leave it alone, shut the top of the grill and walk away sister.

Flipping Tips and Temperature Testing:

  1. After a few minutes you’ll notice the edges of your burgers are looking like they are starting to become cooked a bit.  Time to flip them over.  Quickly slide the grill spatula under the meat and flip over.  Flames WILL happen here, watch out.  Especially with fattier cuts of steak, ground chuck (beef) or ground shoulder (pork).  When the fat hits the burners, you’ll see flames.  Use caution. (two adult burgers, two sliders for the kids)

2.  Add cheese now, if desired. Close grill back up and cook an additional few minutes depending on the doneness you’d like your burgers.  I test the centers of mine with my nifty Thermapen to get a quick accurate read on their temperature.  A good old fashioned meat thermometer works too.  The Iowa Beef Industry Council recommends cooking ground beef to 160 degrees.  That’s what I grill the kids’ burgers to.  See that info here.

3. I’ve always liked my burgers on the well side of medium, just slightly pink. I’m just that way, always have been.  I know a lot of producers and people who love their meat bloody-rare (and I don’t intend that like a British person, I mean real red-blood) but it isn’t for me.  No biggie.
(*Rare meat temp in my family is known as “knock-the-horns-off-and-run-‘er-in”. One of my Dad’s friends always said that.)

Removing and Resting:

  1. When the burgers have reached a sufficient temperature for doneness, remove them from the grill to a clean plate.
  2. Let the burgers rest for 3 minutes or so, that way the juices will remain in the meat and the burger will retain it’s juiciness.

Toasting Hamburger Buns:

  1. Turn burners down to medium.  Toss buns onto the grate, centers down.  Toast until desired color is achieved.

These King’s Hawaiian Buns… I’m telling you. Scrumptsh.


Toasty perfection.


Turning Grill off:

  1. Open grill, push in buttons for burners and turn them to the off position.
  2. Turn off gas completely.
  3. Close grill.


Plating and Condiments:

Place cheese topped patty on toasted bun bottom.  Top with 2 slices to bacon, a handful of dill pickle slices, red onion, tomato slices, a heap of garden lettuce and ketchup, mustard, mayo etc.  Serve immediately.

Other toppings can include: Fresh corn salsa, guacamole, potato chips, tortilla chips, onion rings, fried pickles, different cheeses, radishes, pickled carrots, anything you can dream of… the list goes on!

For additional tips on great burgers, click here to be directed to with lots of great burger info!

For the books I used to study up on anything-burger, see James McNair’s “Build A Better Burger” and his and Jeffrey Starr’s “Burger Parties” cookbooks.  I have them both and there are amazing recipes from finalists of years’ past and burger-theme party recipes.  Amazing.  (James is a renowned cookbook author, heart of BBB and head judge.  Jeffrey is the culinary director/chef at Trinchero Family Estates who lined up all of the ingredients for us during the cook-off.  Great guys.)

Here’s the burger ingredients, feel free to adjust to your tastes, this is just how I like ’em!

Giant All-American Burgers

by: Cristen

Makes 6 giant 1/3 pound burgers

2 lbs. ground chuck 85/15 or 80/20 (meat to fat ratio)
*may use 80/20 ground pork shoulder too!
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
4-6 oz. White Cheddar Cheese, sliced thinly 1/2-1 ounce per burger
6 King’s Hawaiian Sandwich Buns (they come in packs of 4, the other 2 won’t go to waste trust me)
1 lb. ultra thick sliced bacon, cooked until chewy-crisp, drained
Dill Pickle Slices
Thinly Sliced Red Onion
Sliced heirloom tomatoes
Fresh Garden Lettuce
Ketchup, Mustard etc.

*Method in step by step above.

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