Michael Symon — Iron Chef, TV personality, and co-star of The Chew — may have a vegan wife and vegetable-friendly family, but he’s pretty much an expert on all things meat. We spoke with chef Symon about the perfect burger, the secret to great grilling sides, and, as a change of pace, how to cook with tea (courtesy of his collaboration with Lipton).
What makes a perfect cheeseburger?
It starts with the meat itself. You need at least 20 percent fat in the meat. Then you need a good burger to bun ratio. A mistake a lot of people make is using an enormous bun. It should be smaller and softer like a potato roll. Season it with salt and pepper on the grill, then cook so it's charred on the outside. Make sure the cheese is completely melted, and add some raw onion and mustard. I’m from Cleveland. We don’t do ketchup on burgers.
What’s your favorite grilling side?
For me, I always look to my garden for inspiration. When we get a little bit later in the summer, I make something with tomatoes and corn. I love a good grilled corn and tomato salad. Then, if I go to the market and there are great peaches, I will make a peach vinaigrette with iced tea. I’m also a sucker for coleslaw. I make it on the lighter side with vinaigrette instead of mayo. I use savoy and red cabbage, the vinaigrette, cider vinegar and poppy seed , cilantro or tarragon, and salt and pepper. You keep it really simple and bright and you’re in a good place.
What's the secret to making great iced tea from scratch?
When I was a kid growing up my mom would make what she called sun tea. It’s filtered water, sliced lemons, and teabags, and she would put them in a jug and place it outside in the porch in the sun and wait until the lemon infused. We’d put very little sugar in it; it was lemon, teabags, and water. To me, that’s my favorite flavor. But I’m not as patient as my mom when I make tea.
How do you cook or grill with tea?
You think about things you love together. We drank iced tea often when we were growing up. I love fried chicken. I brine the chicken in the Lipton half-and-half iced tea mix and fry it in a cast iron pan with mustard. The tea adds some moisture to it and you get a flavorful piece of chicken. For dessert, I will take a peach or berry iced tea and make it granita out of it. You can serve it with fresh fruit even to make it healthy.