Serious Entertaining: Backyard Burger Bash
Spring is my favorite time of year, and I can't help but show it. I mean, how is it possible not to get excited when the fava beans and asparagus are no longer coming from Peru or California, but are the sweet, sweet stuff grown right next door? Doesn't seeing ramps finally make their slender green appearance at the farmer's market just automatically bring a smile to your face, a lustfully determined spark to your eye, and a bounce to your step as you bowl dog walkers, children, and the elderly out of the way to get the best ones before they disappear off the table by 9 a.m.?
You know what else spring means? Grilling season is upon us. That means quiet weeknights on the deck scarfing down grilled pizza and sipping on beer with the dogs and wife, or long lazy sundays grilling burgers with friends.
Getting yourself a menu and prepping a bit in advance will help to ensure that those Sundays are as lazy as they can possibly be. Here's how I do it.
For Snacking: Deviled Eggs
The best deviled eggs I've had anywhere come from The Spotted Pig, April Bloomfield's West Village gastropub. The secret is twofold. First off, the yolks are seasoned heavily. And I mean heavily. They give you a big, mustardy, vinegary sucker-punch to the mouth. In a good way.
The second secret is olive oil. Lots and lots of really good olive oil. Get the recipe here.
The Salad: Potato Salad
Would any barbecue be complete without a side of all-American potato salad? Didn't think so. Potato salad is the ideal barbecue food since it actually gets better when you make it a day ahead and let it rest in the fridge overnight.
The real key to getting it perfectly tangy and deeply seasoned is to make sure to season the cooking water well, and to dress the potatoes with vinegar immediately after they're drained. This will help them absorb the dressing deeply, seasoning them to their core. (More on the science of potato salad here.)
While the mayo-based All-American Potato Salad is classic, sometimes I like to mix it up with a lighter vinaigrette-based potato salad, especially in the spring when those cute little new potatoes start to appear. The latter is vegan, to boot.
On the Side: Corn with Chili Lime Butter
Nothing says backyard barbecue like grilled corn. Sweet and savory, it's good enough when dripping with melted butter and a pinch of salt. In this recipe for Corn with Chili Lime Butter, we up the game with a big pinch of chili powder and a squeeze of lime juice.
If you prefer to make it ahead or serve it in a slightly more dignified manner, check out our recipe for Esquites, a Mexican street corn salad with grilled corn flavored with chili, garlic, lime, cilantro, scallions, and cotija cheese.
I'm usually a purist when it comes to burgers and pizza, but occasionally I'll let loose and go wild with the toppings. But before we get there, we have to make sure that we're starting off on the right foot, and that means using high quality, freshly ground beef. Start with bad beef, and there's no way you can save your burgers, no matter how fancy your toppings are. Check out our guide to making better burgers here, as well as our guide to grilling burgers for more on how to get the most out of your meat.
Once you've got that perfect beef blend and know how to cook it right, then you can start sprucing it up. You could go Hot Hawaiian-style with grilled Spam, pineapple, and sriracha mayo. Or if you want even more heat, try out these Quadruple Chili Cheeseburgers. That'd be roasted hatch chilies, chipotle mayo, pepperjack cheese, and pickled jalapeños. ¡Muy caliente!
Sweet Barbecue Kimchi Burgers start with beef patties glazed with bulgogi sauce, then get topped with American cheese, kimchi, and some quick pickled carrots and daikon. A more American take on barbecue is our Barbecue Bacon Burger with barbecue sauce-glazed, thick-cut bacon and grilled onions. We sure like our Muffulettas here, and burgers don't get a free pass in that department. We top our Muffuletta Burger with cold cuts, provolone, and olive salad.
What's that? You don't eat meat? Not to worry, we got you covered. Check out our recipe for Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck. They don't suck. Seriously. In fact, they don't suck so much that they were the most popular recipe on the site last year. True story. Made with a mix of grains, vegetables, and nuts, they taste delicious in the way vegan burgers should (i.e., not like fake meat), and hold up just like ground meat to cooking on the griddle or the grill.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.