The Perfect Hamburger

In the Greek classic, The Odyssey, Homer probes the meaning of life. Me? I’m simply in search of a hamburger that tastes as good as the ones I enjoyed with my Dad at Main Street cafes of small Nebraska towns when I’d accompany him on a sales trip.

Imagine my delight when I spotted an article in the NYTimes explaining how to cook the perfect hamburger! Like Homer’s Odysseus I’ve followed more than my share of dead ends and made some pretty serious mistakes.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

First, forget the grill. Use a cast-iron skillet or griddle. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook. The beef fat collected in a hot skillet acts both as a cooking and a flavoring agent. Grease is a condiment that is as natural as the beef itself.

Great hamburgers fall into two distinct categories. There is the traditional griddled hamburger of Main Street diners like the ones I enjoyed with my Dad. The other is the pub- or tavern-style hamburger, plump and juicy, with a thick char that gives way to tender, often blood-red meat within. Dad never took me into any pubs or taverns so you know the one I’m looking for!

The diner hamburger has a precooked weight of 3 to 4 ounces, roughly an ice-cream-scoop’s worth of meat. Pay close attention to the cuts of beef used in the grind. Home cooks should experiment with blends that contain from 20 to 25 percent fat.

The grind most stores sell is “fine,” which means the fat globules in it are small. That can lead to the dreaded mushy mouth feel of a substandard hamburger. Better to have a butcher grind your meat, asking for a coarse grind so that the ratio of meat to fat is clear to the eye.

Whatever the blend, it is wise to keep the meat in the refrigerator, untouched, until you are ready to cook. Hamburgers are one of the few meats you want to cook cold. You want the fat solid when the patty goes onto the skillet.

Forming the patties is an art. Simply use a spoon or an ice-cream scoop to extract a loose golf ball of meat from the pile, and get it onto the skillet in one swift movement accompanied (for the first burger) with a pat of melted butter to get the process started.

Then, a heresy to many home cooks: the smash. Use a heavy spatula to press down on the meat, producing a thin patty about the size of a hamburger bun. Everyone freaks out about that, explain the experts, but it’s the only time you should be “working” the meat, essential to creating a great crusty exterior in doing so.

Roughly 90 seconds later, after seasoning your burger, slide your spatula under the patty, flip it over, add cheese if you want, and cook the hamburger through.

The hamburger of my dreams has no cheese. But I concede some gild the lily. If you must, the experts say most people don’t melt the cheese enough. Put it on the moment the patty is flipped and let it drape the burger. Which cheese you use is a matter of preference. American cheese is designed to melt and it has 50 percent more sodium than Cheddar or Swiss, so it adds a lot of flavor.

In choosing buns the bun-to-burger ratio is incredibly important. You want a soft bun, like a challah or potato, but whichever you use it shouldn’t overwhelm the burger. They should be as one.

Finally, choose your condiments. You know the ususals… they are a matter of preference. But again according to the experts, do not overdress — people really over complicate hamburgers. We substitute complication for simplicity, sharing and loving those we are with.

Sounds a lot like spirituality. What I wouldn’t give for just one more burger with my Dad in a cafe on Main Street in a small Nebraska town.


You may find the entire June 24 NYTimes article on which my reflection is base at: http//  —  It contains a great explanation (and recipe) for Pub or Tavern burgers for those who prefer these over my favorite diner burger.

More than Blackberries

Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

Theologians haggle over the “hypostatic union”. Those who truly comprehend the creation accounts of Genesis — or the Annunciation of Mary — spontaneously “find God in all things!”

To pray “on earth as it is in heaven” presumes we understand that to “have dominion” precludes domination and demands we protect the creation from every form of degradation.

Those from a Sacramental tradition are predisposed to encountering the Holy One in “stuff” like bread, oil, water, wine, food, drink; sensually in touch, smell, taste, sights and sounds.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

On this long lush summer day, take off your shoes and pray a while.

Thanks go to Fr Dale Korogi for inspiring this reflection with his use of the Browning poem yesterday in his Corpus Christi homily at Christ the King Church.  The quote is from Bk. VII, l. 822-826 of Browning’s poetry.

Christ, You and Me

Forty-nine children made their First Communion this weekend at Christ the King. Unlike 1958 when I made my First Communion at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, all the kids processed in with their parents. Most had a Mom and Dad but kids with only one parent were equally radiant. Families have enough challenges – great to see them so prominently celebrated!

Fr. Dale did his typically fine job of speaking directly with them during the homily. He recalled the childrens’ Baptisms and how the first question parents were asked is “What name do you give your child?” He bridged that with God also calling each of them today, uniquely, personally by their special name. Later, each child heard her or his name called forth inviting them to full communion at the Lord’s Table.

Without explicitly referencing St. Augustine’s frequent exhortation, “Be what you see! Receive what you are – Body of Christ!” Dale eloquently made the same point to the children. In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ (yes, he actually said “into your bellies”) the children were praised for the way they are now commissioned to be Jesus’ real presence in the world today.

We used the regular readings for the Third Sunday of Easter. Rich in their own right, they were freshly poignant in the context of First Communion. In the Acts of the Apostles a recently fear-filled and disloyal Peter was now courageously proclaiming Christ. Given what Dale had said to the kids, isn’t that what all who are called to the Table of the Lord are commissioned to do — give strong voice to our encounter with the Risen One?

The well-worn story of disciples returning home dejected on the road to Emmaus also carried fresh vitality. Previously, my attention has focused almost exclusively on their recognizing the Risen One in the Breaking of the Bread. Yes, a perfect text for First Communion!

But in the context of these families – with beaming grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents in abundance – and Dale’s “sending-forth” of the children, something else hit me with fresh urgency. The dejected disciples turned around. They did not proceed home. They went back to Jerusalem to proclaim what they had experienced. They reconnected with community!

I, perhaps like most, struggle to find a faith community that is truly nurturing and feels like “home.” Like the families who processed in for First Communion, univocal definitions or one-size-fits-all no longer works in our homes or our churches.  Yes, we need new and differing models to give full expression to the Body of Christ.  As wonderful as St. Cecilia Cathedral was for my family in 1958 that model doesn’t cut it any longer.

But of this I am sure… we are all hungry, Christ calls each of us – every single one of us – uniquely by name, we all have a place with others at the Table, we are collectively sent to be Christ’s real presence for the world’s healing and flourishing, and we cannot do this alone but are continuously called back into the life-giving pulse of community.

Christ is risen! Yes, risen in you and me – or not at all!

Around One Table

Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and offers a fitting occasion to honor the ministerial priesthood. The following poem by John Kinsella eloquently expresses core asceticism of that vocation.

In the Rite of Christian Baptism we were all anointed with chrism as priest, prophet and king. All the baptized are called to offer prayer, give expression to the Word and to roles of servant-leadership.

Today, all the baptized find a place around one table…

for priests in these difficult times

the day you were called
to break bread for a living
was the day you were called
to be broken.

the days you spent bending over bread
are spent around a mystery of fraction.

if you are indeed broken,
you need to gather up each other’s fragments gently,
and remember how, again through you,
He feeds so many with so little.

–  John Kinsella
(from commonweal 2-9-96)