Summer Elk Burger

“There is no real need for decorations when throwing a barbecue party – let the summer garden, in all its vibrant and luscious splendor, speak for itself.”

― Pippa Middleton

This past month I submitted my elk tag application for fall 2019. As I reviewed the new regulations, harvest stats, and maps of the game unit areas, I couldn’t help but feel the thrill of the hunt again! Last October I was incredibly fortunate to harvest my first elk — and even more fortunate that a large squad of friends hiked up a 9,000 ft peak in the dark to help pack it out (and had burritos waiting in the car for dinner!). This winter was blissful, pulling out elk steaks, roasts, and plenty of ground meat. I perfected some meatball recipes, lots of pasta sauce recipes, and even elk osso buco. I wish I had kept track of all those recipes to share with you.

Peter & I quartering the elk before packing down the mountain in October 2018.

Now that I have my sights set on this hunting season, I feel like it is bad juju to have meat leftover from last season. Perhaps I’m superstitious, or just love sharing what I harvested, but before the tag lottery results are announced in July, I made it my goal to share as much of the remaining elk with friends. So last weekend, Peter and I hosted an inaugural summer grill party and made “smash burger” style elk burgers for a crowd.

A “smash burger” is the type of burger you get at a classic diner, dive bar, or drive-in (like my ultimate favorite : In-N-Out). The burger is smashed onto a flat-top griddle, simmered in its fat till crisp on the outside, with a slice of American cheese melted on top, and served on squishy potato roll, pickles, shredded iceberg, special sauce. Here are the key factors:

The ground beef should be at least 20 percent fat. Fat is flavor. My ground elk meat was ground with organic lamb trimmings for a juicy burger meat. Ground chuck works great. Atkinsons’ market offers pre-made “drive-in” patties. You’ll see the seasonal meat counter item only offered in the summertime. Grab a handful of meat and press it directly onto a hot skillet. If you want to cook outside, heat a cast-iron griddle over your grill flame. Make sure the griddle is hot hot. Smash burger with a spatula. Sprinkle with flaky salt. After a couple of minutes, when the bottom is crispy and the edges craggy, flip, sprinkle with flaky salt, add a slice of American cheese, and cook until the cheese is melted. Slide onto a soft hamburger bun. The classic is a potato roll, but I opt for the local Bigwood Bread brioche buns, toasted to add a little bit of structure to hold up to the juicy burger. Top off with some sort of mayo-ketchup special-sauce concoction, pickles, shredded lettuce, and tomato (but only if they are in season). This recipe is totally customizable, but definitely not gourmet. Just like at a fast-food joint, you should feel like a smash burger is a treat. But instead of feeling guilty, feel giddy that you made it at home in the comfort of your grill, yard, and guests. Enjoy!

Summer Elk Burger served with Tater-Tots (a Yeates family favorite) & side salad

Summer Elk Burger
6 Servings
20 Minute Cook Time

Burger Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil (for griddle)
  • 1 ½ pound ground elk OR ground beef chuck (20% fat), at room temperature
  • Flaky salt
  • 6 slices American cheese
  • 6 Big Wood Bread Brioche Buns OR potato rolls (toasted)
  • Special Sauce (see below)
  • Ketchup, mayonnaise, shredded iceberg lettuce, dill pickle slices, ripe in-season tomato slices (for serving)

Burger Recipe

  1. Heat a cast-iron griddle or large heavy skillet over medium-high until very hot, about 2 minutes, then lightly brush with vegetable oil. Divide ground beef into 6 equal portions (do not form patties).
  2. Working in batches if needed, place portions on griddle and smash flat with a spatula to form 4″-diameter patties (craggy edges are your friend). Season liberally with salt and cook, undisturbed, until outer edges are brown, about 2 minutes.
  3. Flip patties, season with salt, and place a slice of cheese on top of each patty. Cook until cheese droops and burgers are medium-rare, about 1 minute.
  4. Serve patties on toasted rolls with special sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, and tomato slices.

Special Sauce Ingredients

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp relish
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Optional : 1 Tbsp finely grated onion, 2 tsp adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo

Special Sauce Recipe

  1. Combine ingredients in a medium bowl and serve with burgers. Earn bonus points by bringing a jar to the next cookout.
Preferably you will enjoy the elk burger outside, after a long mountain bike ride, surrounded by friends at sunset.

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