Seven steps to making the perfect camp burger

What is a “camp burger,” you ask? It’s simply a delicious, juicy, smoky, amazing burger that you create while on a camping trip. Cooked in the great outdoors, eaten by the fire. Could it get any better than that? Here are my seven steps to making that perfect camp burger. Keep in mind I learned the best way to cook the beef from my camping partner and chef (Geir).  It starts at your local farmers’ market.

1. Buy local, humane, sustainable, grass-fed beef from a butcher you know and trust. We got ours from Getaway Farms at the Seaport Farmers’ Market in Halifax. We made our patties from a mix of medium-ground beef and lean-ground beef. Don’t add any fillers (this is one of the most important points). Just salt and pepper is all quality ground beef needs. Leave the eggs, bread crumbs or other craziness out of it. When you’re using local beef, it’s safe to cook your burger medium, as long as it reaches the proper internal temperature. We always make ours medium.

2. Smoke up. Use a charcoal barbecue, or, if you don’t have access, get a nice, even cooking grate to put over the wood-burning campfire. Your burger deserves to be infused with that smoky flavour. Luckily, we have a small portable Weber Grills “smokey joe.” And we love him.

3. Add some cheese.  I’m a bit more lax on this point… you definitely need melted cheese, but I believe your favourite cheese should work just fine. As long as it’s real cheese, not too mild, and it’s not smoked. We used That Dutchman’s medium Gouda.

4. Have crispy bacon prepared. Grab some local bacon, regular or double-smoked, from a local meat shop (we prefer Rose Lane Farm double-smoked for just about any occasion). Have it cooked crispy and pressed in paper towel for the perfect burger-topping texture.

5. Get your crunch on. This thing needs some crunchy acidity. Sometimes I do caramelize my onions, but I find thinly sliced, raw, much better (or maybe a mix of the two). Also, add a sliced crunchy pickle.

6. Find the mustard. This is important… your burger needs mustard. I don’t care if you add ketchup, but mustard is key. And a nice mustard, too. We went for traditional hot Dijon on this, by Maille. There are tons of amazing mustard options, so don’t slack off and reach for the French’s.

7. Grill the bun, but not too much. I believe the bun should be warm and toasty, but still have some softness to it, especially the outside parts.

So, to review, the equation for juicy camp burger goodness is = local beef + no filler + cooked medium + cheese + bacon + smoke + crunchy acidity + mustard + toasty bun.

Now let me ask you, what’s your favourite burger side dish? We’ve been experimenting with seawater-boiled new potatoes, tossed in fresh dill, green onions and BUTTER. But I’ll save that for another post…

Diner en Blanc hits Halifax

Diner en Blanc, a large-scale outdoor picnic/spectacle/party, is coming to  Halifax for the first time on August 23rd. I was lucky enough to be included in a small group of food writers for a menu tasting of the picnic baskets that chefs Dave Smart (Front & Central) and Frederic Tandy (Ratinaud French Cuisine) have created for the event.

Basket #1 - Fish terrine (smoked salmon wrapped, cold smoked scallop in the middle, salmon rilette), grainy mustard potato salad

Basket #1 – Fish terrine (smoked salmon wrapped, cold smoked scallop in the middle, salmon rilette), grainy mustard potato salad

Drawing from the French background of Diner en Blanc (read more about the history here), the chefs (and preferred catering partners) put together four heavily French-influenced picnic menus, that will be available for pre-purchase online. These menus will be paired nicely with French and Nova Scotian wines by beverage sponsor Bishop’s Cellar. So, not to worry, we are in good hands. I won’t go too much into detail about the glamorous, secretive and exciting nature of the event; I’d rather show off the delicious French cuisine we tasted at the Kitchen Table in Ratinaud a couple days ago.

Which basket would I choose? It has to be Basket #3, dubbed “Le Big Deal”.  Sous vide lamb, foie gras and chutney, a cheese plate… and those pickled mushrooms! Incredible. Ideally, though, I’d like to be seated with friends so we could sample from all four baskets. Pricing is yet to be released and more details on the menu items will be available online when registration begins next week.

Scroll through the gallery below and read the captions for food descriptions.