The recent 4th of July celebration is just another reminder of our freedoms and contributions of this great country of ours. Both are often taken for granted. We wake up in the morning and just assume it’s safe to walk out the front door, and that there will be food on the table when we walk back through that door at the end of a long day’s hard work.

Have you ever noticed that about nine times out of ten there will be meat on the table, and hamburger is the meat of choice most often? There are more hamburgers eaten on the 4th of July than on any other day of the year. Does this cause you to pause and give thought to a new appreciation for that which is most affordable and available to all? The cost is nearly free, but the value is nearly priceless.

This is good news for everyone, but especially for livestock producers. To be such a major contributor for such a grand occasion can’t be taken for granted, nor can the hamburger be taken for granted, for it is the staple that binds both America and the meat and livestock industry together.

The hamburger is that one meat product that cuts across the entire beef industry, and from which every weight and grade become a contributor. From the finest dining pleasure of prime beef to that of the lowly cow standing upright at the manger — it all makes the hamburger. Each contributes to the mix and blend of all its parts to make whole – the hamburger.

Just as the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted by the continental congress on July 4, 1776, and wasn’t declared a federal legal holiday until 1941, we’re still waiting for the burger to receive its special day on the calendar.

The burger was discovered and declared official in a lot less time than that. It all happened in the year 1885 in Seymour, Wisconsin. A guy by the name of Charles Nagreen is credited for the achievement, and will be forever remembered as “Hamburger Charlie”.

State lawmakers have proudly laid claim to Wisconsin as the home of the hamburger. The State Assembly recently served up a proclamation that Seymour beat out other competitors such as Athens, TX, and New Haven, CO, for the coveted award of being the “Hamburger Capital” of the country.

Nagreen began selling his world-famous hamburger at age 15 at the first Seymour fair in 1885, and later at the Brown County and Outagamie County fairs. At that time he was doing meatballs on a stick and decided to flatten them out and put them between two pieces of bread, so people could walk around the fair eating the hamburger.

How times have changed! Some hundred plus years later we walk around the fair eating everything on a stick.

Though the burger may not be the health food of choice, it has been declared the all-American food of preference, not only on the 4th of July but every day. The burger has probably done more for the livestock industry than any other meat product. And the health issue is debatable, but that’s for another column.

The hamburger is always of greatest demand during the grilling season, but remember, lean is not always better. Let’s face it, when it comes to ground meat, fat adds flavor. Fat adds flavor to any cut of meat. Thus the need for marbling found in the higher quality cuts of meat. But adding fat is particularly important in hamburger, as most hamburger comes from low-quality cull cows. This meat contains little or no marbling and would be extremely dry and tasteless if it weren’t for the co-mingling and mixing of fat trim from higher quality cuts.

This stirs up a very controversial subject with me, as the lean fanatics in this country continue to push a lean and healthier alternative. My response is, “So is eating shoe leather, but what about taste and satiety value?” The harder we push lean, the faster we turn people away from the meat counter. I respect the claims of fat, but not at the expense of destroying the demand for high-quality meat — everything in moderation!

When selecting hamburger, don’t always go for the leanest, most expensive. It will destroy the experience of good outdoor cooking. Select the cheapest, fattiest burger you can find and control the fat content with the sizzle. Turn up the heat — flip quickly and sear in those rich and savory juices. Any excess fat will have been cooked out of the burger, while at the same time retaining an unbelievable, scrumptious flavor.

To better understand ground beef labels remember that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that lean burger must contain 10 grams of fat (4-1/2 grams saturated) or less per 4-ounce serving.

For extra-lean, the standard is 5 grams of fat (2 grams saturated) or less per serving. But don’t be misled by those labels. Neither meets the definition of a low-fat food, which is 3 grams of fat or less per serving.

You simply have to decide if low fat is your goal or is it eating good, as fat percentages can also be misleading. Ground beef labeled 90 percent lean sounds low in fat, but actually, packs more than 11 grams of fat per serving. And 95 percent lean has 6 grams per serving.

Appearance doesn’t help either. An absence of white flecks (marbling) doesn’t mean ground meat is low in fat, especially in red meat, where most of the fat is hidden in the muscle tissue. Again, your criteria for purchasing good tasting hamburger should be inexpensive, as more expensive in this case doesn’t mean better.

You actually can have it both ways, as in more flavor and less costly, by simply cooking off the excess fat. The browning process will cook off any excess. This also enhances appearance, and according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, this will reduce the fat content by as much as half. So, don’t take my word for it, the ‘diet folks’ are actually on my side.

Grilling is not just for the 4th of July – it’s the social barometer of neighborhood fence climbing and a patio get-together. It’s hard to stay away from the aroma of a barbeque or the relaxed atmosphere of friends and family gatherings. But nothing can ruin a good time more than poor meat selection or inappropriate cooking procedures.

Temperature and timing are the keys to a memorable cookout. Where there is smoke there is fire! Tend to business and watch what you’re doing very closely, as just one flare-up can make the difference between success and failure. A good cook will flip once and avoid burning.

Hope you had a great 4th of July – a memorable experience of fireworks illuminating the sky while savoring a big juicy burger.

How the ‘Big Boy’ Got Its Name

The Big Boy chain is best known for its trademark chubby boy in red-and-white checkered overalls holding a Big Boy sandwich. The inspiration for Big Boy’s name, as well as the model for its mascot, was Richard Woodruff (1932–1986) of “Glendale, California. When he was six years old, Woodruff walked into a diner called Bob’s Pantry, as Bob Wian was attempting to name his new hamburger. Wian said, “Hello, Big Boy” to Woodruff, and the name stuck. “Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam sketched Richard’s caricature, which became the character seen on the company trademark.  (photo credit: Wikipedia)