Few things beat food cooked over a campfire. Very good hamburgers can be cooked in camp over the naturally smoking fire. However, with a little know-how, a person can make truly great hamburgers that can have people coming back for more.
Too often, people try to cook campfire burgers over a fire that is far too hot. The result is a hamburger that is often raw in the middle and burned on the outside. Cooking over heat that is too hot can also cook out a lot of the flavorful juices. An important step then, is to cook the meat over the right temperature. This is also contrary to some sources that recommend cooking the meat as hot as possible, as fast as possible.
Proper cooking means building a good bed of coals, which is where most of the cooking heat comes from, but to let the flames die down. The flame shouldn’t reach half the way to where the hamburger is placed. This is also to say that the meat should be cooked away from the fire enough that it doesn’t get too hot. On a moderate campfire pit, one to two feet should be sufficient if the fire isn’t blazing high.
A frying pan can be used to cook the meat, often with good results, but again a great burger really needs something a bit different. Frying pans are used to cook meat at home. Use a grate-style grill, like most ovens and barbecues have. When these are placed over the fire it allows the heat to pass through to cook the hamburgers while allowing the smoke flavor to seep into the ground beef.
The hamburger can be mixed with finely diced onions, the amount determined according to taste, and an egg. The egg leads to surprisingly good finished results and shouldn’t be omitted unless a person has an allergy to eggs. Spices can also be added according to preference, when the onions and egg are mixed in. Possibilities include salt, black pepper, oregano, sage and, if spicier hamburgers are desired, chili powder or homemade mixtures.
Once mixed, for adults, form balls out of about half-pound (quarter kilo) portions of the meat. Pat these out into patties that are about a half inch (13 mm) thick. Once this is done, the burgers are ready to cook.
Cook the patties over the coals, allowing the juices to drip down into the hot embers. It isn’t unusual for the fats to flare up. This adds to the smoke that surrounds the cooking meat. The meat does need to be far enough away from the heat, though, so that the hamburgers cook slowly. Turn them every five minutes or so. They are done when the juices are coming out clear, without any hint of pink or red.
Top the burgers, steaming hot, with the choice of cheese, cooked bacon, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, bell pepper rings, sliced onions, sliced mushrooms or sliced tomatoes. The buns can also be buttered and toasted for a great extra touch.
Making great hamburgers over the campfire isn’t hard. Making good ones in other ways, such as by using a frying pan, tends to be even harder. Still, there is a noticeable difference between good burgers and great burgers. The extra effort is well worth it.