Tonight we had an impromptu gathering of the preschool-pick-up-patrol. I was itching for alcohol and suggested a kid-friendly watering hole (Axis Cafe or Bakar Fitness Center's Cafe are fine spots). But the children had a different agenda. Within the span of their 15 minute playground time, a host of breakdowns and fights ensued. These kids weren't up for public exposure. So, we hit whole foods and grabbed a movable feast that landed in my backyard.

It was finally time to introduce our friends, the Fletchers, to the perfect way to prepare a burger. I've spent years sampling burgers, trying recipes and techniques. Condiments, herbs, spices, onions, eggs - everybody has an opinion. Most wind up like meatloaf. For me, as with many foods, I find the secret to perfection is the most basic and essential approach. When you deconstruct a hamburger and add up the elemental components, you can focus on coaxing the individual flavors to their finest.

With that said, here is my approach.

The meat. I like chuck. Chuck is good. I've tried sirloin, tenderloin, rib eye and other various cuts of inappropriate burger meat. But a nice fatty slab of chuck roast is a good start. That's right. I said slab. Because we're gonna grind. Fresh. Now. The biggest secret to making a perfect burger is that the meat needs to be ground within a couple of hours of grilling. I grind twice on my kitchen aid. The less handling the better. I don't trust the market to grind for me. Do it yourself.

Seasoning and shaping. The only seasoning necessary is salt and pepper. Liberally. Mixed it up lightly and spread the fat around. Form your patties nice and thick. The hot grill will cook them fast and if you want a medium rare burger, it needs to be pretty thick. Minimize handling.

Grilling. Charcoal. Hot. Take your gas grill and use it for zucchini kebabs or something. Break out the Weber and use natural charcoal heated in a chimney - no briquettes. Start by taking some red onion slices (about 1/4") tossed in olive oil and grill until nice marks are formed and they start to soften. This will prime your grill for the burgers. Cook over direct heat and turn once. Do not over handle. Press with your finger to determine doneness. They should feel firm on the outside but soft in the center.

Bun. I like brioche. Sponge bread is good. Kaiser rolls will do. Whatever it is, toast it on the grill. Don't be shy. Get a little dirty. Butter them if you've got balls.

Accouterments. These burgers are so good, they can be appreciated with nothing. I like the grilled red onions (see above). A fried egg. Blue cheese. Stinky cheese. Gruyere. Ketchup. Mustard. Pickles. Arugula. Radicchio. Horseradish sauce. I think if you use the burger as a base your creative talents will come through in your toppings. Don't over do it.

Tonight we had a radicchio salad with 5 year-old balsamic, shallot and parmigiano. David found some obscure beers and we picked over the kid's leftover Whole Foods frozen onion rings (yes they are really good). For dessert we warmed some walnut brownies and cut them up with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

It may be April, but it sure feels like summer is here.