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The quintessential American fare, the burger, can be taken to new heights. (Amy Thielen / For the Enterprise)

No need to journey to the Big Apple for best burger

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food Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

When I left New York two years ago, the city was in the grip of a burger craze. Every hip little restaurant had a burger dripping with overachievement on the menu, each one trying to outdo the other with their particular blend of ground meat and their toppings.

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When the dust settled, it seemed that most of them were using an angus blend from the well-respected meat purveyors, Pat LaFrieda, which consisted of chuck roast, hanger steak and boneless short ribs. Coarsely ground together, the mixture had tenderness, succulence and flavor, just the right amount of fat for juiciness, just the right amount of flavorful meat for bold, beefy flavor.

The other day I got to thinking, maybe I should take my summer burger up a notch and grind my own meat. Not only would they probably taste better, but if I ground my own cuts at home I could stop worrying about Ecoli and other pathogens and grill my burger to medium, which is how I really like it.

So I picked up a chuck roast, a lean-ish one, noting that I was actually saving money by grinding my own, as it was 50 cents less per pound than the ground chuck. I cut it into large cubes, laid them out in a metal 9 x 13 pan and set them into the freezer to chill. (When grinding meat, it's best if the meat has a slight freeze on it, so that the fat doesn't melt and smear; it keeps the burgers juicier.)

I found the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and hooked it up. Then I thought: uh, salt and pepper? What else should I put in this burger? The thing is, I was starting with delicious, high-quality meat and I didn't want to add a lot of distracting herbs and spices.

So I measured out some salt and pepper into a dish, and then added a teaspoon of ground ancho powder. It would add just a touch of smokiness and heat to the burger, but wouldn't distract too much. Retrieving the meat from the freezer, I tossed the cold cubes with one-third of the salt,pepper,ancho mixture and then fed them through the grinder cube.

Speckled candy canes of red and white meat shot back out into the pan, and I made sure not to compress it because I wanted my burgers to have a light, soft texture. With my hands I carefully divided the ground meat into eight large mounds in the pan and then, one by one, carefully made disk-shaped patties, each about 1-inch thick.

Then I grilled them, hot and fast, over an oak fire. To ensure a nice dark crust I cooked them about seven minutes on the first side, until I saw a thick crust, flipped them, topped them with aged cheddar, and then grilled them another five minutes or so, or until when I checked the centers were juicy and pink inside. I rested them another three or four minutes over low heat, to give the heat time to penetrate to the center.

Fabulous.

Smoky and juicy, these may not have been the best burgers I've ever tasted (because during the burger wars I sampled some truly amazing ones), but with a minimum of effort, they were absolutely the best ones I'd ever made myself.

Best burger

Makes 8 large burgers

3 pounds chuck roast (or a mixture of chuck, flatiron or sirloin steak, and short ribs)

1 and one-half teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground ancho powder (or any chile powder)

Cut the chuck roast into 2 x 2-inch cubes and lay into a large metal pan. Freeze for 30 minutes to one hour, or until the edges of the meat are deeply chilled.

Mix the salt, pepper and ancho powder in a small dish.

Set up your meat grinder or the grinder attachment on your kitchenaid mixer, fitted with the coarser disk. Toss the meat with one-third of the salt,pepper,ancho mixture, push it all to one side of the pan and start feeding it into the grinder. Catch the ground meat in the empty side of the pan. (You can do this any way you want, use a clean pan or whatever, but I do it this way to avoid washing too many dishes.)

Carefully spread out the meat in the pan and then divide it into eight equal clumps. Pick up each clump and form a 1-inch-thick patty. Sprinkle the patties with the remaining salt,pepper,ancho mixture.

Grill the patties over a hot fire until dark and crusty on the bottom, about seven to eight minutes. Flip and top with cheese and grill until dark on the other side, about six minutes.

Carefully check the inside of the burger for your desired doneness. Rest the burgers over a lower heat for three to four minutes before serving on buttered, grilled buns.

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