Our state is awash in green chile cheeseburgers, in fine-dining restaurants, cafes, and drive-ins. There’s nothing, though, like being able to whip up a truly outstanding version in your own backyard. It’s not all that hard to make a superb backyard green chile cheeseburger. People miss the mark all the time though. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be offering two-fisted delights in no time.
FIRE UP FOR green chile CHEESEBURGERS
First and foremost, you need to remember that good grilling, like all cooking, is a combination of time and temperature. Know someone who throws food over a blazing fire and comes back to check on it after they’ve finished their first beer? Don’t be that person. Grilling’s a quick cooking process, so keep your focus on the food and fire for the brief amount of time necessary.
HERE’S THE BEEF
Start with freshly ground beef. Yes, you can make burgers out of bison, venison, a blend of multiple meats, or plant-based alternatives, but we’re dealing with the classic today. I usually opt for chuck, but a mix of sirloin and brisket can be outstanding too. The key is that you want a blend that includes 15 to 20 percent fat.
Cutting back on fat a little will cut back on flavor a lot, and result in a dry burger, without providing much worthwhile calorie and cholesterol savings. Opting for a lighter meal before or afterward makes much more sense to me.
Keep in mind that you’re making a green chile cheeseburger. Don’t lose sight of those key flavors. You can add candied bacon, guac, ’shrooms, sriracha, pickled onions, or a fried egg, but the more you fiddle, the more you dilute the essence of your creation.
Use a good melting cheese. Mild to medium Cheddar and Monterey Jack are classic choices. Brie, Swiss, Gruyere, or a soft blue cheese, can all work too. Burgers are one of the few food items where I think processed American cheese actually shines.
Another food sometimes maligned in culinary circles — iceberg lettuce — can be perfect here too. Its sturdy crunch can stand the heat and add a refreshing element to the whole shebang.
When it comes to condiments, I opt for mayo or ketchup. I think mustard is for hot dogs. I like to think a few dill pickle slices on the side are a tasty addition.
GRILL IT RIGHT
Leave the grill open for the short time it takes to grill your burgers. You can keep a better eye on the progress of everything.
Burgers (and steaks) come out best when grilled over a hot fire first, to sear the surface, and then a medium fire to finish cooking to the desired doneness.
The most effective way to measure the cooking temperature is really the simplest — the time-honored hand test. Place your hand a couple of inches above the cooking grate and count the number of seconds until the heat forces you to pull away. One to two seconds signifies hot, three seconds denote medium-high, and four to five seconds for medium.
On a gas grill with three or more burners, you can set the burners to keep a hot and medium fire going simultaneously. On a smaller gas grill, simply turn the heat down at the appropriate point.
With a charcoal grill, arrange the fuel in two different cooking areas, with a single layer of coals for medium heat and coals piled up two to three deep for the hot fire.
While cooking, do not mash the burgers with the spatula, which only expels the savory juices. Yes, there’s a school of smashburgers, but those are typically cooked on a griddle where juices can be reabsorbed into the meat. On a grill, those juices will just drip away, and be gone, gone, gone.
After cooking, if you’re putting out a spread of burgers for your guests to dress themselves, lay the burgers side-by-side rather than on top of one another, to preserve their crusty surfaces.
Home-Crafted Green Chile Cheeseburgers
2¼ to 2½ pounds freshly ground beef chuck
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly milled pepper
6 burger-size slices mild Cheddar, American, or Monterey Jack cheese, at room temperature
1½ to 2 cups chopped roasted mild to hot New Mexican green chile, fresh or thawed frozen, warmed
6 large soft hamburger buns
Ketchup or mayonnaise
6 thick slices large red-ripe tomatoes (skip them rather than use poor quality)
Crisp iceberg lettuce leaves (no micro-greens here)
Slices of mild onion or pickles, optional
cooking the perfect green chile cheeseburger
Fire up the grill for a two-level fire capable of cooking first on high heat and then on medium heat.
Mix together the ground beef, salt, and pepper. Gently form the mixture into six patties about a half-inch thick. The patties should hold together firmly but avoid handling them any longer than necessary.
Grill the burgers uncovered over high heat for 1½ minutes per side. Move the burgers to medium heat and rotate 180° degrees for crisscross grill marks. Do not mash the burgers with the spatula, which only expels the savory juices. Cook for 3½ to 4 minutes longer, then turn once more and cover each burger with cheese. Cook another 3½ to 4 minutes for medium doneness, a bare hint of pink at the center of each crusty richly browned burger. Toast the buns at the edge of the grill if you wish.
Smear buns with ketchup or mayo on both sides of a bun. If you’re using tomato or any of the other optional toppings, arrange on the bun bottom. Follow with cheese covered burgers. Spoon chile generously over each. Crown with bun top. Repeat with the remaining burgers and ingredients. Eat the burgers hot from the grill, squeezing the buns gently to mingle all the juices together.
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.