Labor Day is a time to honor our country's workers, head to the beach and soak in the last days of summer. It's also a time to fire up the grill, heat up some meat (or vegetables for those vegetarians out there) and spend some time with friends, family and neighbors.
So to help you create a barbecue that will be the talk of the block and remembered for years, we reached out to chef Scott Popovic, who spent 13 years at various restaurants and now works for Certified Angus Beef promoting their brand of meat.
Whether it be burgers or steaks that you are grilling up this holiday weekend, a few simple tips can bring out the flavor and wow your guests.
"As I was growing up, we had steaks and burgers a lot on the grill," Popovic said. So it's fitting that today he's paid to give advice on grilling. "It's really that nostalgia. It really takes me back to my family."
Best Labor Day Hamburgers
When cooking burgers for the holiday, the first major decision point starts at the supermarket. Picking the right type of ground beef can make or break your barbecue. And the most expensive is not necessarily the best when it comes to ground beef, Popovic said.
The key to ground beef is the fat-to-leanness ratio.
With a good steak, you want to see marbling, those white specs of intra-muscular fat between the red meat. With ground beef, you can't see that fat, but ensuring the right mix is important.
"As you cook that steak or burger, the fat actually melts away and keeps the meat juicy and favorable," Popovic said.
Ground sirloin, which is one of the most expensive cuts, might sound like a great idea for your burger. But at nearly 90 percent lean, Popovic said, you will be losing out on flavor. On the flip side, be aware of fatty chuck meat. If you get something that's only 70 percent lean, there is too much fat and it tends to create flames in the grill.
"They look really cool but they impart a gassy flavor to the food," Popovic said.
So, just like Goldilocks, the perfect mix is right in the middle. Popovic recommends an 80-percent lean ground chuck (about $1.49 to $3.49 per pound).
Now that you have selected a meat type and a fattiness, it is time to select the quality of the beef. The United States Department of Agriculture grades various meats for a variety of standards, including how much marbling there is.
Prime is the best grade given by the USDA but is hard for most consumers to find. Less than 3 percent of beef qualifies as USDA prime. It is most often found in high-end steakhouses touting exclusive, high-quality beef. For burgers, there is no need to splurge on prime, if you could even find it.
Next up is choice, which is typically the highest grade you are going to find in your grocery store.
Select has limited marbling and is often less tender than choice and prime grades. You are most likely to find this at your local store, unless you seek out the higher choice.
Now, if that wasn't confusing enough, there are other certifications you can find on the meat. The most common is Certified Angus Beef.
Angus is a breed of cow and 30,000 farmers and ranchers have teamed up to give their cows a brand: Certified Angus Beef. The USDA adds 10 more specifications to its review of meat to see if it meets the Certified Angus standards. Those include tenderness, appealing appearance and uniform and consistent size.