“My favorite moments? Where it’s all going swimmingly, the sun’s out and I’ve got a fire going and a nice snake on the barbecue.” ~Bear Grylls
Some afternoons are made for barbecuing, especially warm spring afternoons. I woke up this morning, and it was beautiful outside. It had been raining for a couple of days and things had been almost gloomy. Gloomy is an odd term for the desert. Usually, the spring in southeastern Utah is warm and on the brink of hot. There are wildflowers blooming everywhere, so the desert is full of vibrant spots of yellow, orange, purple, and red. The sky is filled with white puffy clouds floating in a sea of blue. This time is short-lived in the desert. Our climate tends to shift from winter cold to summer heat in a very short time, so the short spring season is something to be savored. This spring has been different. It has rained and been dark and almost cold out. Rain in the desert is always welcome, and it is even a nice break. But it has gone on for a couple days now, which isn’t something that happens here very often. So, when I awoke this morning to a cloudless sky and a bright sun, I was in a very serene and comfortable mood. By the time the afternoon rolled around, my comfortable mood was needing to be accompanied by a barbecue. It was just one of those days!
So, my traditional barbecues are hamburgers and hotdogs. Sometimes I will get wild and crazy and throw a bratwurst in there, but it has to be a pretty crazy day! Well, since starting this blog, every meal has changed at our house. I am constantly thinking about how to substitute wild game in for beef. Hamburgers are a no-brainer! Elk or deer are the perfect substitute. For myself after testing out this recipe, I will now take an elk burger on my plate over a beef burger any day of the week. Trust me, this is one TASTY burger.
Extra equipment is needed for making burger. The best option is a meat grinder. Meat grinders come in a huge variety of prices and sizes. You can spend a ton without even really trying, but there are cheaper options out there. Selecting the right grinder depends on how much meat processing you want to do. At this point in time, I do a medium amount of processing. I am a huge fan of grinding my own burger meat, and I also have been experimenting with sausages. I probably pull out the grinder once every other week. So, it gets a fair amount of use. That being said, I did not spend a ton on my processor, and it meets all of my needs. I have the Cabela’s Pro Series Grinder and paid less than $200 for it. I have had the grinder for over a year, and it has been great.
If you don’t have a meat grinder, you can still make hamburger meat. I have used a food processor before when grinding up meat. The texture is a bit different with the food processor, as it doesn’t chop the meat as finely, but it will work. It is definitely a great option when doing meats that are less tough than elk, such as turkey or fish. While you can get the job done with the food processor, I would highly recommend investing in a meat grinder if you are thinking about processing your own hamburger for more than just this meal.
Okay, enough with the processing talk. On to the good stuff: the burger!
Since elk is a very lean meat, you have to add some fat into your meat mixture. You could just buy some pork fat and throw that in when you grind the elk up, and it will still taste good. However, if you are searching for a GREAT burger instead of just a good one, try using bacon ends and pieces. Bacon ends and pieces will add the fat needed for creating great burger, but it will also incorporate bacon flavor in to your meat. It is a two-for-one!
For making my burger, I do a two to one ratio of elk meat to bacon ends and pieces. Since burger isn’t known for being “tender,” you can pull out a tougher piece of meat that you have set aside, and save your tender pieces, like backstrap, for steak meals. I used a piece off the hind quarter for this barbecue. This piece was about a pound and a half, and I added a half pound of the bacon ends. Run the elk meat and the bacon ends through the meat grinder, and give everything a mix with your hands to thoroughly incorporate. I got about eight extra-generous sized patties out of this.
Before making your patties, season the meat. You can go simple with just salt and pepper, or you can add some Montreal Steak Seasoning. I always add steak or fajita seasoning to my burgers. With the Montreal, I use about a tablespoon per pound of burger. So, for this recipe I added two tablespoons. Get your hands down in there and really work the seasoning into the meat. When forming your patties, a little trick for even cooking is to make the center of the patty thinner than the edges. I usually form a ball of meat, about the size of a baseball, and then slowly work the ball into a disk. Once I have my disk roughly formed, I use my thumbs to thin out the center of the patty and move the meat to the edges. You don’t have to make it super thin, just a divot will allow for the center to cook and turn out similar to the edges.
Another fancy little burger trick is to add a slab of butter to the center of your burger. After the patties are formed, slice a thin slab of butter and tuck it into the center of the burger. I thought this sounded odd when I first heard it, but it really adds a lot of moisture to the burger. And there is nothing wrong with a juicy burger!
Alright, so the patties are ready for the grill.
So, you could use just plain old buns, if you are so inclined. However, if you are looking for a twist on your already adventurous elk burger, you might try a portabella bun. This was my first time trying the mushroom bun, and I thought it was really different and delicious. The portabella had a very similar texture to a bun, but it added mushroom flavor to the burger. I am not a huge mushroom fan, but I do like portabellas. The only down side to the mushroom bun is it did not help sop up my very juicy burger. My hands were a pretty big mess by the end of this meal.
For the portabella buns, buy the big portabellas. Before you cook the mushrooms, you want to clean them. I cut the stems off and then use a damp rag or paper towel to just wipe the mushrooms off. I coated mine in a little olive oil and sprinkled a bit of salt and pepper over the top. Once the grill is hot, throw the mushrooms on and let them cook for a few minutes on each side. I put mine on before the burgers so they would have time to cool down. I didn’t want to grab a hot mushroom for my bun.
Grilling elk burgers is the same as hamburgers. Drop the patties on the hot part of the grill, and then let them sit! Do not push them around or press them, that only will tear your meat and make you lose all that juicy flavor. The first side should take between five and six minutes. You can tell the burger is ready to flip when the top starts to gather a little pool of juice. The second side should take a minute or so less than the first, so entire cook time should end up somewhere between nine and eleven minutes.
I topped my burger with blue cheese, pickled jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes. A touch of mustard and ketchup are always welcome as well. For a side, I cooked up sweet potato stackers! They are a very simple side and a nice change from potato chips or fries. For the stackers, thinly slice a sweet potato. I usually do one person. Coat the slices in olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Stack the potatoes in muffin tins. You will usually need at least five slices to fill the cup. Top with a little parmesan cheese and place in a 400 degree oven. I set my timer for 30 minutes and then check how things are going. They usually wind up taking about 40 minutes. Well, get out there and barbecue! And Happy Hunting!