Lisa Abraham

Despite the “baseball, hot dogs and apple pie” saying, there’s a good chance that plenty of burgers will be on the grill at July 4 celebrations.


The hamburger is a staple of the American diet, particularly for summer celebrations, and its popularity seems to know no bounds these days.


Local chefs know that the hamburger is more popular than ever, which helps to explain the explosion of restaurants and menus devoted solely to the burger.


The Rail in Fairlawn and FlipSide in Hudson offer guests gourmet-style burgers, while the newly opened Ohio Burger Co. inside Summit Mall serves burgers made of all Ohio beef in a food court setting.


Soon, Cleveland celebrity chef Michael Symon will bring one of his B Spot burger restaurants to the Portage Crossing development in Cuyahoga Falls.


There’s no question where the beef is these days — it’s everywhere. Just ask Angus O’Hara, head chef at the Galaxy restaurant in Wadsworth, who recently released a menu of all burgers for the Galaxy’s sports bar.


The menu includes more than 15 beef burger choices, plus turkey, tuna and black bean.


O’Hara said the menu was inspired by the grass-fed beef being raised by the Leatherman family, which owns the Galaxy. At their Circle L farm in Burbank, the Leathermans raise Limousin beef cattle, a French breed known for its lean meat.


The Galaxy is serving its Circle L Limousin beef in both steaks and burgers. O’Hara said quality beef, which is nearly as lean as chicken, is what customers want in their burgers.


“We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on and what people are asking for,” he said.


Chef Shawn Monday, who owns FlipSide in Hudson and Columbus, said high-quality beef is the foundation for the selection of creative burgers on his menu, and the one secret that home cooks can duplicate when they head to their grills for the holiday.


“We start with great ingredients, beef from local farms that is all grass-fed, never frozen, always fresh,” he said.


Monday said he found beef suppliers by visiting local farmers markets and getting to know the grass-fed beef suppliers of the area, and that is something that home cooks can do as well.


“Go to farmers markets and buy local and buy fresh, that is the most important thing,” he said.


When the beef is high quality, it really needs little more than salt and pepper to season it, but how you top a burger depends on what your crowd is in the mood for, he said.


Monday said as with the meat, high-quality toppings will produce a high-quality result, and he advocates using toppings that pack a lot of flavor.


“Try smoked Gouda and smoked chipotle peppers. … Why use American cheese? Find some good 4-year-old aged cheddar cheese or an aged provolone with that nice saltiness to it,” he said.


Monday said he prefers to top his burgers with some spice — pepper jack cheese and chili-spiced onion rings.


“I have learned to love spice in a way that I didn’t when I was younger. We buttermilk brine the onions and then batter them in ancho chili powder and cayenne pepper and then fry them up. So the onion doesn’t vanish, use thick-cut sweet onions,” he said.


Chef Mike Mariola, owner of the Rail, said his restaurant prepares all of its burgers over an open flame, similar to the way folks do when grilling at home.


In addition to local beef, the key to a good burger is making sure the meat is freshly ground, Mariola said. “I like burgers that are a combination of round and chuck. Avoid something ultra-lean. You want to go about 80 percent lean. You can go leaner, but a great burger is an indulgence, so if you are going to do it, do it really flavorfully with an 80-20 blend,” he said.


Like Monday, Mariola seasons with just salt and pepper.


For cooking, he makes sure the grill is super-hot and very clean to produce the perfect sear and grill marks. Avoid the mistake of trying to flip burgers too often.


“That’s a mistake the novices will make that will ruin a really good burger. The burger will release itself from the grill grates when it gets that sear that you are looking for,” he said.


When it’s time to flip, the burger should not stick. Cook burgers about five minutes on each side for medium-well doneness, a bit longer for more well-done. For well-done burgers, cook over a lower heat to avoid burning them. (To avoid any risk of bacteria contamination, ground beef burgers should be cooked to 165 degrees.)


Once the burgers are flipped, Mariola cautions, resist the urge to use a spatula to smash the burgers. “Don’t squash the burger; it pushes all of the moisture out of it. Allow it to cook on its own without pressing it,” he said.


When Mariola sits down to a burger, he prefers classic toppings: cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and bacon if he’s in the mood to splurge.


At the Rail, however, customers prefer more adventurous toppings. The best sellers are burgers topped with a fried egg, bacon and Swiss cheese, and the Mr. Mariola, topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese, a thick slice of tomato and basil pesto, which the Rail makes using sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts.


Mariola said either burger easily could be replicated at home.


Here is a recipe to help home cooks on this holiday:


 


SHAWN MONDAY’S


CHILI-SPICED ONION RINGS


1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thick (about 3 cuts) and separated into rings


1 cup buttermilk


1 cup flour


1 tbsp. cornstarch


1 tbsp. ancho chili powder


1 tsp. cayenne pepper


Ľ tsp. kosher salt


? tsp. black pepper, ground


Vegetable oil or lard, for frying


 


Soak onion rings in buttermilk for a few hours or overnight.


Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl.


Drain the onions, reserving the buttermilk.


Dredge the onions in the seasoned flour, add back to the buttermilk and thoroughly coat. Then return to flour mixture and thoroughly coat again.


Heat oil to 325 degrees. Fry onion rings until golden brown.


Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.


Serve onion rings on top of grilled burgers that are topped with pepper-jack cheese.


Makes enough rings to top 4 burgers.


— Chef Shawn Monday, FlipSide


Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at labraham@thebeaconjournal.com. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit my blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/lisa.