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Football Food: Bye Week Cheeseburgers

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Even when the lads refrain from combat, we like to feed 'em. We think they should eat.

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If you don't like cheese on your burger, you're a Soviet spy. Or you're Richard Simmons. Either way, you have issues.
If you don't like cheese on your burger, you're a Soviet spy. Or you're Richard Simmons. Either way, you have issues.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that idleness can be very praiseworthy. In college football, it can be not just praiseworthy but also highly productive, boosting your team in the polls while attrition takes its natural toll on the field. Just this past weekend in the AP Poll, Michigan State jumped two spots and Clemson jumped one while sitting around doing a whole lot o' nothing. Closer to home, the Irish have often gained in the polls during a bye week in recent years and hope to do so again this weekend. As many a downtrodden GM will tell you, sometimes the very best thing you can do is nothing.

That being said, scoreboard watching can be dangerous and arduous work and can lead one to build up a serious appetite. Enter a hearty American classic: the cheeseburger. Nothing says "it's football watchin' time" like some red meat, we always say; toss in some cheddar, lots of flavor, and a brew or two, and it's as much of a no-brainer as you can get. This particular recipe is from grill savant Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill cookbook; deceptively simple, the heartiness and flavor are both real and spectacular. The key is to get high-quality meat, to not mess around with it too much, and to count on the fixings for your flavor. And always, ALWAYS dip on the downbeat. Wait...

Mesa Grill Cheeseburger

Ingredients (makes 4 1/2-lb burgers):
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, drained (don't overthink this - just fill the tablespoon and hold it in there with your finger while you gently squeeze off the excess liquid)
  • 1 large onion (I prefer red onions, but go with whatever you like), cut into 1/2-in. slices
  • 2 tablespoons oil (whatever kind you like)
  • Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds ground chuck, at most 80% lean (feel free to substitute leaner beef or ground turkey, but if you do make sure to acknowledge that you're sacrificing flavor for "health," whatever that means)
  • 8 1/4-in slices of cheddar cheese, two for each burger (Bobby says to mix white and yellow on each burger, but this is more of an aesthetic thing - I usually just go with yellow)
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 4 lettuce leaves
  • 4 hamburger buns (no need to get too fancy, but try to make it decent bread)

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Directions
We'll say it again here just to drive home the point - DON'T MESS AROUND WITH THE MEAT. Not when you're forming the patties, not when you're cooking. Just don't do it. Be firm but gentle, and it'll be your friend.

First, turn your grill (or the heat under your grill pan) to high. That's right, it's Mr. Wizard time.

Whisk together the mustard and horseradish and set it aside. When I make this I use two tablespoons of horseradish, but that's because I'm a horseradish nut; give it a taste yourself and adjust accordingly.

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Brush the onions with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for just a couple of minutes on each side. Your goal is slightly browned, but still crunchy. Nobody likes limp onions. Remove from the grill (or grill pan) and set aside on a paper towel - that will soak up extra oil and help prevent the onions from getting mushy.

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Form the meat into four patties and season both sides of each patty with more salt and pepper. Press your thumb gently into the center of the top side of each patty - this will make them come out more even when they expand as they cook, so you don't get the "softball on a bun" burgers.

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Cook the burgers to your taste - about 4 minutes on each side for medium, less for rare, more for well done. (Note: If you make them well done, please stop reading now and toss the burgers to your dog(s) as you've ruined them for human consumption. Just saying.) After forming it, you should touch the patty exactly three times - once when you put it on the grill, once when you flip it, and once when you take it off. NO SQUEEZING!

About a minute before the burgers are done, lay two slices of cheese on top of each and close the grill cover (or put a pot lid over them on your grill pan) to melt the cheese. Why cover the burger?

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HELLO, CHEESE? YES, THIS IS CHEESE. That's why, kiddies. It's the only way to make sure all the cheese melts, not just the corners that are closest to the heat.

While the cheese is melting, dress the bottom half of each bun with the Dijon horseradish mix - this will make the flavor really pop as you bite into the burger. You can see here that I lightly toasted the bun. This, of course, is a matter of personal preference, but if you do toast the bun on the grill pay very close attention to it; they go quickly and will burn before you know it. It depends on your grill, temperature, etc., but usually 30 seconds should be enough.

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Put your burger on the dressed bun, put the onion, lettuce, and tomato on top, and finish the bun. For a side, we suggest mixed greens - a salad cancels out the cheddar and 80% lean ground chuck. Sort of. In all seriousness, a light side salad is a nicely balanced accompaniment to such a heavy, big-flavor burger. Toss the greens with a light dressing like a homemade balsamic vinaigrette - whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 3/4 cup olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Or use store-bought, we don't judge... Either way, be careful not to overdress the salad; better to have to add a little dressing than to have a sour pile of green mush.

Finally, choose the right beverage to usher in autumn - the lagers and summer shandies must give way to quaffs a bit more complex as a slight chill settles in the air. Your favorite beer is the best choice, of course, but if you're looking for suggestions, you can't go wrong with an Ommegang Abbey Ale, a Southern Tier Harvest Ale, a Magic Hat #9, an Ipswich Oatmeal Stout, or a Sam Adams Octoberfest. (Yes, I like beer, and yes, I'm from the Northeast.) Now, sink your teeth into your juicy cheeseburger, take a sip of your brew, and watch your fortunes improve before your idle little eyes.

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