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Add Sizzle to Your Burgers

Food experts say that Americans ate about 13 million burgers in 2003.

From basic to spectacular, burgers are a summertime staple. No matter how you enjoy them, it's time for a new take on an old food favorite.

The best burgers start with fresh, quality meat. Experts agree, for juicy burgers, ground round, with a 20-percent fat content is the best choice. If you're watching your saturated fat, choose leaner ground round or ground sirloin. Bruce Emerson, owner of Medford's Cherry Street Meats says that beef can get more than half its calories from fat. Ask your butcher to grind the meat for you, or do it yourself. Eight to ten pulses for 8 ounces of meat in the food processor should do the trick.

If you still want a leaner meat, just be aware that it can dry out when grilled. Add moisture and texture with chopped vegetables like zucchini, onions and sweet or hot peppers. A few tablespoons of sour cream, tomato paste, chutney, or stock also work well. Spice it up with fresh herbs like garlic, chives, dill and cilantro to give burgers another layer of flavors. Hot or Italian sausage can add fat and flavor to lean poultry, fish and game burgers. For an extra treat, offer your guests an assortment of prepared or homemade condiments like honey-mustard or spicy jalapeno mayonnaise.

Burger purists leave the meat pristine, or add a little salt and pepper. Lindsey Jones, assistant manager at Dell's Hamburgers in Medford says, "We don't season anything. We start with fresh meat from Crater Meat and just throw the burgers on the grill." They serve their burgers just as they have since 1927, with mustard, pickles, lettuce and onions.

The typical home chef prepares 4-ounce burgers, which cook in minutes. Flip the burgers just once and resist the temptation to squish the burgers - you want the juices to stay inside. Over a medium-hot grill, a rule of thumb is to cook each side 4 minutes for a medium patty and 5 minutes each side for a well-done burger. Medford's Mac's Rock & Rod Diner owner Michelle Nelson says, "When the burgers are done, the liquid in them comes up clear, If it's got any red in it, it's not done."

When it comes time to slap on the cheese, don't be so quick to grab for the same old American slice. Try some different cheeses like pepper jack and gouda or zesty provolone or Boursin. It's best to offer an assortment for your guests to choose from. Slip crumbly cheeses like bleu, gorgonzola or feta inside the burger for a real 'wow' on the first bite. Add the cheese when the second side is about halfway cooked. This gives it a chance to melt and drape the burger.

If you're feeling adventurous, add some ethnic flair to your burgers. There's no passport required for Thai burgers made with curry powder, lemongrass and ginger or south-of-the-border burgers with cilantro, cumin, spicy cheese and salsa wrapped in a tortilla. Chinese five-spice adds an oriental flavor highlighted by hoisin sauce (Chinese barbecue sauce). Create some Italian burgers fashioned with sliced olives, sautéed mushrooms, marinara sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

When it comes time to fire up the barbecue, go ahead and experiment. Give your burgers a kick with crunchy arugula, roasted bell peppers, or teriyaki sauce and pineapple. Make them fun, make them spicy and make them sensational!

Add Sizzle to Your Burgers