That's right, an entire week devoted to the hamburger, the staple of American diets. I loved it - because I, like all right-thinking, red-blooded Americans, love hamburgers.
Growing up, every Wednesday night at my house was hamburger night. My mom would fry them up in a skillet and then deep-fry some frozen French fries in a big, deep skillet full of vegetable oil.
I would eat mine with ketchup. That's it - just ketchup. I was a very plain child and had to be convinced later in life of the beauty of condiments. For a long time, I didn't even like cheese on my hamburgers. Can you imagine? Lunacy.
Hamburgers were also my food of choice when eating out - especially from McDonald's. As an adult, whenever I eat McDonald's I feel like I have to make some kind of excuse for myself: I was in a hurry. It was the only thing available. I had a weird craving. Clearly some part of me sees eating at McDonald's as some kind of moral failing on my part.
As a child, though, no rationalization was needed. I, like all other children ever, loved McDonald's. Besides liking the atmosphere, the Happy Meals and the characters, I genuinely loved the food. You could have showed me that documentary "Super Size Me," where the guy eats nothing but McDonald's for 30 days and his organs turn to dog poop, and it wouldn't have deterred me from my love one bit.
These days, I greatly prefer home cooking to eating out, and working kidneys to McDonald's, so it's rare that you'll find me carrying a bag with golden arches on it. When cooking at home, though, despite how much I love a good hamburger, I rarely make them for myself.
See, I've never felt I was very good at hamburgers. My patties always fell apart. I always burned them, or they were too dry. So even though I loved them, I only ate them when I found a restaurant that made them particularly well, or at cookouts when someone else was manning the grill.
The Food Network's Burger Week was all the inspiration I needed to try my hand at making a good hamburger. I mean, why should it be so hard? It's ground beef over heat! There's no whisking or whipping or sauteing or deglazing. I should be able to handle that!
And if I couldn't? Well, then maybe ... maybe I didn't have a right to think of myself as a good cook. Or an American.
Or ... a man.
So I spent a little time in front of the television, watching the Food Network, taking notes and planning my burger. After a little while, I had enough information and decided it was time to man up and try my hand at the ever-elusive hamburger.
My girlfriend and her family would serve as my guinea pigs. This provided me with two problems. The first problem was that my girlfriend's mother is very particular about the doneness of her meat. If she was going to eat one of my burgers, it would have to be cooked to meet her high standards.
The second problem, and the more substantial one of the two, is that my girlfriend doesn't like hamburgers. She apparently got sick on burgers once and hasn't been able to eat them since. So, not only did I have to make a passable hamburger, I had to make a hamburger good enough that somebody who doesn't like hamburgers would eat it.
No problem. I simply needed to apply the lessons I learned from the Food Network:
1. Use a slightly fatty cut of meat. I used ground chuck. A little fat in the meat helps the patties stay together.
2. Don't let the patties get warm when you're making them. That means handle them as little as possible and run your hands under cold water if you think they're getting too warm.
3. Make your patties thick enough that they're slightly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside.
4. Cook over a medium heat. If your fire's too hot, you'll burn the outside of the burgers to a crisp before the inside has time to cook. If you're fire's not hot enough, you'll be there forever.
5. Put your burgers on the grill and leave them alone. Don't flip them constantly or move them around. Let them cook!
6. Toast your buns.
7. Experiment with flavors. The key to making my girlfriend enjoy the burger was giving her something to taste that she didn't expect. To this end, I put a little french onion soup mix in with the ground beef when I made my patties (I know it's an old trick, but it's a good one).
I also stole a couple of ideas from the Food Network. I soaked some onions in lemon juice and then cooked them for about 10 minutes in a grill pan. You wouldn't believe how good that made them taste. I also mixed some wasabi and soy sauce with some mayonnaise as a condiment. Delicious.
The end result? My girlfriend ate two burgers. Success!
Patrick Drury can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patrick recently published his first book, "PatchWorks Volume One," a collection of his columns. To purchase the book, visit http://www.cafepress.com/patchworks.54813581