The seeds are planted, the animals are content, and the heat is starting to cut into chore time. It is the perfect time to kick back and spend some time enjoying your family and appreciating your neighbors with a backyard cookout. The backyard menu is unlimited, especially when you create homemade condiments and side dishes from ingredients you’ve grown on the homestead. We’ll get to those later, but first, the one thing every cookout needs is hamburgers. Fortunately, it is easy to make the best backyard burgers anyone has ever tasted (even the vegetarians) with a few simple tricks.
If you are not grinding your own meat, buy ground chuck. Ground chuck contains 15-20% fat which is the right amount of fat to make your burgers flavorful and juicy, but not enough to cause them to shrink too much on the grill. Once you have your ground chuck, lay it out flat and season with salt and pepper. Add any of your favorite seasonings: garlic and/or onion powder, chopped bacon, chopped onions and peppers, Worcestershire or barbecue sauce. Grab a 6-ounce portion and lightly form into a ball. Repeat with the remaining meat. Form each ball into a disc slightly larger than the buns and use your thumb to make an indention in the center of each burger. The indentation helps the burger hold its shape and not swell up in the middle. You can cook these right away or store them in the refrigerator, lightly wrapped, until you’re ready to light the grill.
To cook your backyard burgers, preheat the grill to medium or medium-high (around 400°F). [If you’re using a charcoal grill, we highly recommend using a charcoal chimney.] If you have stored the meat in the refrigerator, take it out now. You want the meat to be at room temperature before putting it on the grill. Oil the grill grate by rubbing it with a few folded paper towels or a small rag dipped in vegetable oil using tongs. Season your meat patties again with salt and pepper. As soon as you see the oil on the grates begin to smoke, lay your burgers out on the grill and put the lid down.
Don’t press down the patties; this squeezes out the juices, and pushes the meat through the grate making it harder to flip. Flare ups will happen, but that’s just the fat rendering and dripping onto the fire or coals. The burgers are ready to flip when there’s liquid beginning to pool on the top surface and they no longer stick to the grill. For a medium burger, this will take about five minutes. Once you flip your burger, butter your buns and lay them on the grill (and check them often). Pull out your toppings so everything is ready when you pull the burgers off the grill. When they reach around 160°F internally (about another 5 -7 minutes), add a slice of cheese, if you like, and move the patty away from direct heat. Cover the grill and let the cheese melt.
The meat you can cook on a grill is endless but don’t forget your vegetarian friends. Portabella mushrooms can be brushed with oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked alongside your meat patties.
Homegrown Side Dishes for your Backyard Cookout
With the main dish taken care of, it is time to consider the sides and condiments. Of course you can go for the classic potato salad and chips, and set out bottles of ketchup and mustard but you don’t have to. Consider serving your vegetables as kabobs – they’re easy to grill with your main dish. Another great veggie to grill is corn on the cob and if you are going to grill corn, you might as well make Mexican street corn. Shuck 8 ears of corn and toss with oil. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl combine 1 cup shredded cotija cheese, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup minced cilantro, zest of one lime, and 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder. Place corn over direct heat and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until the corn is cooked through and charred. Remove from the grill and brush with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with more cotija cheese and serve with a lime wedge.
Fresh bruschetta is another easy but delicious side dish you can add to your grill. Slice a loaf of French bread, rub with garlic cloves, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss on the grill until toasted. You can serve as is or offer toppings such as chopped tomatoes or guacamole.
Homemade Condiments from the Homestead
After some garden-fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce, homemade condiments are next on the list. Go ahead and put the ketchup and mustard bottles on the table for the traditional fare, but why not add some condiments with a flavor twist? Zucchini pickles, candied jalapenos, and peach mostarda are perfect homemade condiments for backyard burgers.
Slice two medium zucchini into 1/4-inch rounds and thinly slice a small yellow onion. Put sliced zucchini and onions in a colander, sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt and let drain for one hour. Rinse with water and squeeze out the excess moisture.
In a medium saucepan, combine one cup apple cider vinegar, one cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for three minutes then remove from heat.
Ladle the zucchini mixture into a mason jar and add 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Pour brine over zucchini and seal. Chill in refrigerator overnight before serving for best taste.
Candied jalapenos are a must-have for your cookout. They are spicy and sweet, making a delicious topping not only for hamburgers but for any grilled meat. They are also super easy to make and you can store them in the fridge or process them in a boiling water bath.
Slice one pound of jalapeno peppers into 1/4-inch rounds. Wear gloves to protect your skin and do not touch your eyes! If you want a little less heat, remove the seeds and the white membrane.
Bring 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat and keep at a simmer until the sugar melts and you have reached the consistency of syrup. Add the pepper slices and stir to coat all the peppers. Let the jalapenos cook for approximately four minutes.
Ladle the peppers into sterilized canning jars and pour the hot syrup over the peppers. Seal to finger-tight. You can store the peppers in the refrigerator like this for up to three months or you can process your jars in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.
Fruit mustard is another interesting flavor to serve to your friends and family. I like peach mostarda on burgers, but you can tweak this recipe to use your favorite fruit. We have made fig, blackberry, and cherry mostardas. They are all wonderful.
- 3 pounds pitted and chopped peaches
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons mustard powder
- 2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons salt
Combine all of your ingredients except peaches in a stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Add peaches and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Mash the peaches with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher just until the peaches break up. This is not a smooth fruit puree—the texture is important to the end result. Simmer for 30 minutes more, until the mostarda has thickened into a spreadable consistency.
Ladle the peach mostarda into sterilized canning jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace, and apply lids to finger-tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
This recipe makes approximately four pints. Not only is it tasty on burgers, but also on pork and chicken.
Homemade Drinks and Desserts
Your backyard cookout is almost complete: burgers—both beef and portabella—grilled corn, veggie kabobs, and homemade condiments. It’s easy to make some iced sassafras tea and non-alcoholic ginger beer to be served with the meal, and we can’t forget homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
Traditional ginger beer is made with yeast and undergoes a fermentation process in order to make it an alcoholic beverage. By skipping the fermentation process you can have all of the refreshing ginger flavor without the alcohol. To make a kid-friendly ginger beer combine one cup sugar, 1/2 cup water and two tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to steep for one hour. Strain out the ginger solids and chill the liquid in the refrigerator. To make a drink, pour 3-4 tablespoons of the ginger simple syrup over ice. Add 8 ounces of seltzer water or club soda. [Check out “Beat the Heat with Drinks from Your Garden” for more ideas.]
Finish off your afternoon with homemade ice cream sandwiches. Ice cream sandwiches are a great dessert because everything can be made days ahead and you can customize them so everyone gets what they like. Start by making your favorite cookies; chocolate chip cookies are the traditional choice and they stand up well to ice cream, but any cookie will do. [These Coconut Butterscotch Oatmeal cookies would be great.] Let your cookies cool completely. When you are ready to fill the cookies, take your ice cream out of the freezer and let it soften slightly. Place 1/3 cup of ice cream on a cookie and top with another cookie. Press gently, spreading the ice cream to the edge of the cookie. Roll in chopped nuts, sprinkles, coconut, or chocolate chips to seal the ice cream. Wrap each ice cream sandwich in plastic wrap or parchment paper, and place them in a freezer bag/container. Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve dessert.
Homesteading can be tough. Take time out this summer to enjoy your family, friends, and the fruits of your labor with a backyard cookout.