Whenever we’re in Rhode Island where Italian food is king, we try to stop by Village Pizza in Hope Valley for meatball grinders hot out of the pizza oven. A good meatball grinder pulls together garlicy meatballs, rich tomato gravy, good quality melted mozzarella cheese, and if you want, grilled onions and peppers on a toasted Italian grinder roll. Back home in Nashville, life without house-made sopresatta (aka “soupy”), pasta fagioli, eggplant parm, and big, fat grinders at every neighbor pizza parlor and meat market means get in the kitchen and do your best with what you have available. Which is how we started making grinder burgers (Italian meatball burgers).
When you give it some thought, the “meatball” resolves ground beef’s inherent drawbacks. Let’s face it, ground beef by itself is dull. You’ve browned ground beef for chili or spaghetti sauce so you’ve seen the pan of bland, gray meat simmering in water oily water. When grilled as a burger ground beef picks up a little char and smoke flavor, but in the end, the patties often taste mostly like the condiments (or the pretzel bun who’s 15 minutes is about up). Meatballs, on the other hand, are joined together with bread crumbs, milk, and egg, and spiced up with lots of garlic, Italian seasonings, and Parmesan cheese (check out our Cheater Chef Easy Ratio Oven Meatballs).
A meatball burger would bring together the amped-up ground beef with grill smoke and sear. And even smothered with condiments and toppings, the flavorful beef would still hold its own. For the Grinder Burger, we skipped the milk, egg, and bread crumbs and concentrated on blending the ground beef with Italian meatball flavors, not just sprinkling seasonings on top. We always grill more flavorful ground chuck because its higher fat content will get you a better-charred crust. And for the sauce, you can use a good quality jarred version or in a few minutes, you can make Mindy’s spectacular homemade tomato sauce.
For the cheese, go with regular mozzarella for better melting (not fresh mootz). Throw oiled sliced onions and peppers on the grill, too, if you like. Good bread is critical for a successful grinder or burger. Publix bakery hamburger buns are the best in town (Pharmacy Burger and other too-bready burger parlors would benefit by switching to these). Whatever you pick be sure it’s a sturdy enough carrier to toast on the grill and hold up under the sauce. A grinder burger is a great burger. Far from bland, the meat has great flavor throughout and a smoky charred exterior. And even a good quality jarred spaghetti sauce doesn’t distract from the result. To avoid wearing any of it, serve the burgers open-faced with a knife and fork.
- For the Burger Patties:
- 2 pounds ground beef or ground chuck
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoons black pepper
- Red sauce (Italian gravy)
- 8 slices good mozzarella cheese
- Grilled or roasted sliced bell peppers, optional
- 8 Italian buns or sliced Italian bread
Combine the burger patty ingredients in a large bowl and blend. Make 7 or 8 well-rounded patties.
Grill burgers on well-oiled, hot grates over medium-high heat. Flip after about 4 minutes and rotate burgers to manage your grill’s hot spots.
Now place the mozzarella slices on the burgers. While the cheese is melting and the burgers are reaching your degree of doneness, toast the buns or bread over medium heat until golden brown.
Using an instant-read thermometer remove the patties at 125F for rare/medium rare, 135F for medium.
Set grilled burgers on toasted buns and top generously with sauce and grilled peppers.