Food: Dress up Memorial Day burgers with beer cheese and fried tomatoes

Elevate your burgers with fried tomatoes and garlic-dill beer cheese. | Photo by Melissa Elsmo
Elevate your burgers with fried tomatoes and garlic-dill beer cheese. | Photo by Melissa Elsmo

Memorial Day weekend presents the perfect opportunity to fire up the grill, welcome cookout season in earnest and celebrate the humble hamburger.

Few things are served with more frequency than indulgent cheeseburgers at casual neighborhood cookouts, but grill gurus everywhere delight in offering up creative twists on burger tradition. Elevating an American lunch counter mainstay into gourmet fare means taking toppings and garnishes way beyond ketchup, pickles and mustard.

Gourmet burgers always start with high-quality, freshly-ground meat that should not be handled for too long to ensure the patty remains juicy after cooking. Season burgers liberally on the exterior, but never mix salt into the meat as it can alter the texture of meat during cooking making for an unappetizingly mealy burger. After a quick sizzle on the grill a properly cooked burger practically begs to be slathered with an array of garnishes.

These days, meat lovers are topping hamburgers with everything from pulled pork to bacon jam and hot heads clamor to weave habaneros and chili-spiked cheeses into their spicy burger creations. Topping a burger is a matter of personal preference. When considering what additions would make the ingredient list for my signature Memorial Day burger, I looked to a few of my favorite summer foods for inspiration.

Growing up in Wisconsin, cheese curds were an essential road trip snack. I’ve always been a cheese curd purist because I crave their squeaky freshness, but it’s hard to resist the garlic and dill curds tucked into cheese shop coolers. Whipping up a batch of beer cheese studded with fresh dill gave a nod to my Wisconsin roots and offers a bold alterative to sliced cheese on a burger.

Tomatoes in any form smack of summer and topping a burger with a duo of contrasting tomatoes gives it some welcome textural variety. Thick slices of red heirloom tomato are the perfect foil for a crispy fried green tomato and marry perfectly with salty bacon and peppery arugula to elevate a backyard basic to a state of burger bliss.

Whether you give my signature burger a whirl or come up with your own custom combination, the time has come to fire up the grills and throw down a batch of burgers to celebrate the start of of summer.

Backyard Burgers with Fried Tomatoes and Garlic-Dill Beer Cheese

(Makes 6 burgers)

Use any leftover beer cheese as a spread for crackers or as a topping for sliced cucumbers. The cheese will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

For the Garlic-Dill Beer Cheese:

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1/4 cup scallions, sliced

1/4 cup sweet onion, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2-3/4 cup lager beer

For the Fried Tomatoes:

2 very firm yellow or green heirloom tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds

1 cup all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1 egg, well beaten

1 cup panko bread crumbs

3 Tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

For the burgers:

24 ounces best quality, freshly ground chuck

Salt and pepper

For assembly:

6 Brioche buns, lightly toasted

2 red heirloom tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds

A few handfuls of arugula

6 strips of cooked bacon

To make the beer cheese, place the cheddar cheeses and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until well combined. Add the garlic, dill, scallions, onion and seasoning and mix to combine. Slowly add the beer in a steady stream with the machine running until mixture is well combined and spreadable. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Prepare a charcoal grill for direct heat grilling and allow flames to die down for 30 minutes before cooking the burgers.

While the fire is dying down prepare the fried tomatoes. Set up a three step breading station. Dredge the sliced green tomatoes in the seasoned flour, then the egg, and finally in the panko. Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet and pan fry the breaded tomatoes over medium high heat until golden brown on both sides (about 2 minutes per side). Season tomatoes with salt and set aside.

Working quickly, shape the meat into six, 4-ounce patties that are each about 3/4-inch thick. Season the patties liberally with kosher salt and pepper on both sides just before cooking. Grill 4-5 minutes per side until just a blush of pink remains in the center. Transfer the burgers to the toasted buns. Top each burger with a tablespoon or two of homemade beer cheese, a fried tomato, a slice of fresh red tomato, a strip of bacon and some arugula.

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