Nothing beats the flavor of simple hamburger patties grilled outdoors. At least, that's what I thought until my friend Joani invited us to her deck this summer for a "burger in a bag." This creative twist on the traditional picnic staple will add fun and new flavors to your Labor Day get-together with friends and family. Basically, guests customize their own hamburger patty by choosing tasty add-ins and combining them in a bag before the burgers are cooked on the grill. The activity brings is full of fun as picky eaters and foodies alike create their own concoction.
HERE'S WHAT TO DO
Bag the ground beef: Before guests arrive, divide up 82 percent lean ground beef into quarter-pound chunks. Set each chunk in the bottom of a new, quart-size plastic storage bag. Place all bags in a large bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Make miniflags to ID the burgers. Cut 1-inch-wide flag shapes from different colors of construction paper. Poke holes into the sides and weave onto toothpicks. Set in a jar by the grill.
Line up the add-ins: Spoon chopped and grated add-in food options into individual bowls and set a spoon in each bowl. Place on a large tray with sauces, seasonings and spices. Burger add-ins might include:
- A selection of cheeses, grated
- Red onion, finely chopped
- Fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed with butter, salt and pepper
- Fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped, or canned diced jalapenos, drained
- Green olives with pimento, chopped
- Pitted black olives, chopped
- Cooked bacon, chopped
- Fresh bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- Worcestershire sauce
- Tabasco or Sriracha hot chile sauce
- Barbecue sauce
- Salt, pepper and other seasonings, chopped herbs and spices
Customize burgers: When the grill is hot, present each guest with a bag of meat. Invite them to spoon, shake and pour in small amounts of add-ins without touching the meat with their hands. Close the bag, leaving the top partially open. With hands on the outside of the bag, gently moosh, squish and mash the add-ins into the meat. Form into a firm round patty.
Grill burgers: Bring the bag to the grill and let the cook remove it from the bag with a spatula designated for raw meat. With clean hands, the cook should reshape the patty if necessary. Top with mini ID flag. The cook should grill the hamburgers on both sides, replacing the flags with every flip, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
Add toppings: Enjoy burgers in warm buns with such toppings as ketchup, mustard, a tomato slice, lettuce or avocado.
Donna Erickson is the executive producer and host of public television's award- winning family lifestyle series "Donna's Day." Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families." For more ideas, visit donnasday.com and sign up for Donna's e-newsletter, join the new Donna's Day Facebook Fan page and follow Donna on Twitter @Donna_Erickson.