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A little extras make your burger even better
Looking to dress up your traditional burgers? Try cooking with fresh-ground meat and a using variety of toppings. At Skogies, a waterfront eatery at the Gainesville Marina, the hamburgers are hand-pressed fresh each day. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
All-American Classic Burger
  • Lightly shape 1½ pounds ground beef into four ¾-inch patties. Use a gentle touch; over mixing will result in a firm, compact texture.
  • Place patties on grid over medium ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 13 to 15 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 13 to 14 minutes) until instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center registers 160 F, turning occasionally with a spatula. Do not press; pressing causes the loss of juices and results in a dry burger.
  • About two minutes before burgers are done, place four hamburger buns, cut sides down, on grid. Grill until lightly toasted. Serve burgers in buns.

Dressing up that plain old burger for your Fourth of July cookout this weekend could be as easy as adding a new flavor — think sliced applewood bacon or a couple jalapeño slices.

Adding unique toppings, flavor combinations or spices to the plain patty could make you the biggest hit on the block.

AJ McClain, from AJ’s Food Fun and Friends, said letting folks choose their own topping combination is the best way to go when hosting your own cookout.

At the restaurant, McClain said, burger lovers can choose from a selection of cheeses — “From your basic American cheese, we’ve got a selection of ... American, provolone, cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, blue cheese, we’ve probably got eight different cheeses to choose between.”

McClain said the restaurant cooks up half-pound, lean Angus burgers.

“We basically do a build-your-own burger with pretty much any topping,” she said. “Plus everything else, from sauteed onions, mushrooms, jalapeños, slaw and chili; those are two toppings that a lot of other places don’t have.”

Her favorite burger? It’s topped with the double thick-cut applewood smoked bacon with jalapeños and blue cheese crumbles.

Different cheeses are a perfect way to really change up the flavor on burgers. Vine & Cheese in Gainesville, for example, has varieties on hand for the most upscale of burgers. Owner Don Waara said his customers have told him that America does cheese — especially cheddar — better than other countries.

“Another guy’s comment was that we do better melting cheese than Europe,” he said. “Then this morning I brought out the Asiago for a woman because she wanted some cheeses for a plate, and she said she would really rather to use that for a cooking cheese or melting on hamburgers. It’s really a nice cheese for a lot of purposes.

Waara has several varieties of cheddar or Italian cheeses that would work well on burgers.

“I’ve got Grafton Vermont Cheddar, Widmer’s Wisconsin Cheddar — and that’s a really sharp cheddar,” he said. “The best cheese I’ve got in the case is an Italian cheese. It’s called Piave Vecchio.”

Cheese and spices are what kick up the flavor on the burgers at Skogies off Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.

The eatery offers smoked Gouda, Swiss, American, blue cheese and pepper jack on its burgers. But another secret to making a great burger? The freshness.

“They are hand-patted and hand cut ... that’s why they are much juicier and much better than your normal precut, frozen (burger),” said Rick Skoglund, owner of Skogies.

Skoglund added that another way to add an extra flavor dimension to home-cooked burgers is a sprinkle of roasted garlic and herb, McCormick Montreal steak seasoning or fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt.

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