Eric Akis: Let burgers be your Grey Cup winner

Eric Akis

Many Canadians will cosy up in their TV rooms to watch the Grey Cup in Calgary this Sunday. Well before kick-off, they’ll be cooking up a plan on what to dine on while cheering on their team.

With the game being played in Alberta, a province that produces a lot of beef, I think a tasty burger would be a good choice. But not just a regular beef burger — I’m talking about a patty stuffed with tangy cheddar and smoky bacon, and topped with fried onions and homemade barbecue sauce spiked with Canadian beer.

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That’s the tasty combination I came up with for today’s recipe. Once in the bun, those stuffed patties were topped with mayonnaise, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes.

The step-by-step photos below will guide you on how to stuff the patties with cheese and bacon. You can make the stuffed patties many hours before cooking them — keep them refrigerated until ready to cook.

The homemade barbecue sauce can be made at least a day before. As with the uncooked patties, just keep it refrigerated until needed.

When cooking the burgers, don’t worry too much if a bit of cheese seeps out. It’s a sign the patty is hot and cooked in the centre and ready to be topped with the sauce and onions.

To make sure the patty is fully cooked, though, always use an instant-read meat thermometer.

You can serve the burgers with potato salad, or with homemade fries and coleslaw, and with some of the beer you used in the barbecue sauce. The burger recipe yields four servings, but it, and the barbecue sauce recipe, can be doubled or tripled if you are serving a larger crowd.

Cheddar-Bacon Stuffed Burgers with Beer BBQ Sauce

Juicy burgers with a molten middle of melted cheese flecked with bits of bacon are topped with beer-spiked barbecue sauce, fried onions and pickles.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 minutes

Makes: Four servings

3 strips of bacon, cut into small cubes

1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 (about 2 1/2-inches square, 3/4-inch thick) slices of old Canadian cheddar cheese

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the grill

• Beer BBQ Sauce, to taste (see recipe below)

4 hamburger buns, split and warmed

• mayonnaise, to taste

4 lettuce leaves

• sliced tomatoes and sliced dill pickles, to taste

Place bacon in a skillet, set over medium to medium-high heat and cook until crispy. Lift the bacon bits out of the pan and drain on paper towel.

Place ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix to combine. Lightly moisten your hands with cold water. Form meat mixture into eight equal balls. Flatten each ball into a thin patty, about 4 1/2-inches wide. Set a square of cheese in the centre of four of those patties. Top cheese on each patty with some of the bacon bits. Now top each cheese- and bacon-topped patty with one of the untopped patties.

Firmly press the edges of the patties together, ensuring that the cheese and bacon is completely encased by the meat. Set the stuffed patties on a plate, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook (the patties can be made many hours before needed).

When ready to make the burgers, heat the 1 Tbsp oil in a skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and cook and fry until tender and light golden, about six to seven minutes. While onions cook, preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high.

When onions are cooked, remove skillet from the heat, season onions with salt and pepper, then set them aside for now.

When barbecue or indoor grill is hot, lightly oil the bars of the grill (see Eric’s options). Grill the stuffed patties four to five minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through and the centre of each patty reaches 160 F (71C) or above on an instant-read meat thermometer.

Top each patty with some of barbecue sauce and fried onions, then let both heat through for a minute or so.

Spread each bottom bun with mayonnaise. Top each bottom bun with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Set a burger patty on each bottom bun, set on the top buns, then serve.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you can cook the burger patties in a large, hot skillet, filled with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, for four to five minutes per side, or until cooked through.

Beer BBQ Sauce

Sweet and tangy sauce spiked with beer you can slather on the burger patties just before stuffing them into the buns.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 22 minutes

Makes: About one cup

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1 cup lager beer

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

• a splash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, paprika, onion powder and thyme, and cook and stir one to two minutes, until aromatic. Mix in the beer, bring to a simmer, and reduce to about 1/3 cup.

Add tomato sauce, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, mustard, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to the pot and mix well to combine.

Bring this sauce to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Lower heat as needed to maintain the simmer. Simmer sauce, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a thickened barbecue sauce forms. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Cool sauce to room temperature, then transfer to a tight-sealing jar and refrigerate until needed. Any sauce left over after topping the burgers will keep two weeks or more in the refrigerator.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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