Tag Archive for ‘cheeseburgers’

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

When I first began my barbecue journey, I never considered the prospect of smoking burgers. Usually, in a low and slow cooking environment, you will find yourself smoking big cuts of meat like brisket, pork shoulders and racks of ribs low and slow, because these are generally tougher cuts of meat that need time for the collagen within these types of meat to break down, which results in juicy, tender bites of flavor in the guise of edible goodness that all but melts in your mouth.

When I purchased a Barrel House Cooker in the spring of 2018, this was my first tried and true experience with hot-and-fast style barbecue, a veritable art form in the realm of cooking that I took to and fell in love with quickly. Drum smokers, like the Barrel House Cooker, naturally lend themselves to hot-and-fast barbecuing, as usually you aren’t using a water pan in most cases and the meat is closer to the fire source than in traditional low-and-slow barbecue. In hot-and-fast smoking, rather than cooking meats at a temperature range of 225 to 275 degrees, you are rolling along with temperatures along the lines of 300 to 325 degrees. In my Barrel House Cooker, if the thermometer on the lid is reading between 250 to 275, I know that the meat inside the smoker is likely being cooked between 300 to 325 degrees since it is closer to the heat source.

But that is based on smoking in a drum cooker. What about in an offset stick burning smoker? Can you smoke hot-and-fast barbecue in one of those contraptions? The answer is an emphatic yes.

A few days ago, a local grocery store around these parts ran a monthly sale, and one of the things on sale was a 5-lb. family pack of ground chuck (73% lean/27% fat*) for $1.79/lb. Regardless of your feelings on ground beef with a rich amount of fat, that is an undeniable great price.

* – If you are wondering whether or not 73/27 ground beef is optimal for burgers, allow your reservations to relax and take a look here, where I break down my opinion on the fatty, delicious burgers.

However, another item that was marked down was not only chicken leg quarters for $.55 cents/lb, but chicken thighs for $.50 cents/lb. I picked up a pack of the ground chuck, the chicken leg quarters and chicken thighs. Upon making it back home, with time to spare for the day, I fired up my vertical offset smoker with intentions of only smoking the chicken leg quarters and thighs.

In order to cook hot-and-fast in an offset smoker, you want both your intake and exhaust vents wide open. When I began this particular cook, I filled up a big charcoal chimney with original Kingsford charcoal briquettes, using two lighter cubes, and waited about 20-25 minutes for the coals to completely ash over before dumping them into my firebox. Directly afterwards, I added a log of hickory wood, a log of cherry wood and an extra chunk — chunks that I typically only use in my Weber Smokey Mountain and both Barrel House Cookers — of cherry wood.

It didn’t take long for the smoker to fire up to 350 degrees as the wood caught fire pretty quickly, and this is when I added the chicken leg quarters and thighs. After around 35 to 40 minutes, I probed each piece of the chicken with a meat thermometer and they were all in the 170-180 range (perfect for dark meat chicken) and removed them from the pit. By this time, my smoker’s temperature gauge was still reading 325 degrees, and I didn’t want to close it up and choke the fire just yet, and as I was considering what I wanted to do next, a voice inside my head emitted, “Burgers, Troy! Burgers!”

Some may consider it a sin straight out of the grilling and barbecue Bible to cook burgers in any other way than on a scorching hot cast iron pan, a flat top griddle surface or directly over a fire in a grill, so forgive me for this sin, but if it is a sin, I recommend you try committing this sin as well, because it is a delicious act of barbecue blasphemy if I have ever tasted one. Now, I love grilled burgers and smash burgers cooked on my griddle as much as the next pseudo-pitmaster and burger fanatic, but smoked burgers should have a place in the hierarchy of barbecue directories.

I have heard detractors of smoked burgers speak of their firm thoughts and feelings about how burgers should be cooked directly on a hot pan or over a fire, as they will defend this traditional method of cooking by stating that smoking will dry out a burger. My retort to this would be to say that their point of view is only valid if you are smoking burgers that feature a fat content of more than 80%. Remember: I had just purchased a fresh pack of 27% fat ground beef.

Smoked cheeseburger
With a high fat content, unless you allow a burger to sit in your smoker for longer than an hour, it is next to impossible to dry it out. You would have to blatantly try your best to dry it out.

When I form my patties in order to shape ground beef into a burger, I form a ball and rarely measure it out. I usually make bigger burger patties than most people, because not only will a great deal of fat render from such a high percentage of it embedded in the ground beef, I am biased in favor of bigger burgers, especially one that will fit on a nice sized bun, like a brioche bun, which is what I ate this smoked burger on. Anyhow, after I form a ball, using both hands I smash it flat into a circle to the best my abilities (arguably questionable ones at that) and form multiple dimples underneath and on top of the burger to account for the shrinking that is inevitable when the meat is cooked. I seasoned the burgers on both sides of the surface with Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub.

Before I added the burgers to the smoker, I added a smaller log of hickory wood, which bumped my smoker’s temperatures back up to 350 degrees. As for when I ultimately placed the burgers onto the pit, I placed them as close to the fire source as possible. Again, I wanted to smoke these burgers quickly. Another thing that a smoked burger detractor might say is that this is tantamount to cooking a burger in an oven. Well, sure, I will accept that claim, as instead of an oven, the burger is being ‘baked’ in a smoker and infused with delicious smoky notes of heaven. That is not something that should deter anyone from giving this a try.

You could move the burgers further away from the heat source and smoke them longer, but closer to the heat source in my smoker? They cooked to 155 degrees in 20 minutes. They developed a beautiful, red-like color (from the cherry wood, I assume, as it is one of my favorite smoking wood sources for most grub, and it imparts a color I am all too familiar with, with other barbecued food) with a formidable crisp along the edges from being close to the fire.

I topped both burgers with a 4-cheese blend of cheese slices that I picked up from Kroger (their brand), which featured a mix of cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby and mozzarella cheese. On one burger patty, I forgot to top it with cheese while it was still in the smoker, so I added it afterwards, but with the other burger I topped it with cheese while it was still in the pit and closed the lid for 30-45 seconds until it adequately melted.

I must not fail to mention that I had some apple wood smoked bacon sitting in the fridge that I also added to the smoker, so you can consider it ‘double smoked bacon.’ This is something that bacon pundits might holler at me over, saying that bacon should be cooked in its own rendered fat in a pan, but I will ignore them after it is cooked when I devour the salty, smoky piggy sticks of glory.

Smoked double bacon cheeseburger
Consider the above to be a smoked double bacon cheeseburger, held together with a brioche bun.

Don’t write off smoked burgers just because it is an unorthodox cooking style. It is a tasty treat, and not only will your taste buds wind up being pleased with the result, but your family will undoubtedly thank you after they bite into one.

Classic Double Bacon Cheeseburger

Double bacon cheeseburger

Do these burgers make my bun look big? “Uh, no, honey.”

If we are talking about plain ol’ good grub, there are few things I enjoy more than a cheeseburger, and even more than a cheeseburger? Make that a double bacon cheeseburger. I said “plain ol’ good grub”, but when it comes to flavor content, your taste buds’ perception will be disagreeing with that.

“Double bacon cheeseburger” is a string of words designed to scare the life out of a vegan. Double the meat, double the tears. Double bacon cheeseburgers might as well be the garlic to the vampire that is a vegan. Hey, vegans, if you happen to be checking out this post, frowning and readying yourself to write a self-righteous comment, allow me to humbly let you know that I am merely half-joking with what I just said. Actually, wait, what are you doing on a barbecue-based website if you are a vegan? Where am I?

Right. There are thousands of food blogs on the internet, and for good reason. Food is the gateway to any human being’s heart. Very rarely have I met someone who has the weak mentality of, “food is fuel, and that’s that.” We eat delicious, fatty, chock-full’o’carbs, calorically dense grub because it spikes our dopamine receptors as soon as it hits our tastebuds. There are fancy recipes to share, secret recipes that your great grandma April that become unconcealed with the world and unique ideas to be emitted to the world. But sometimes there is a time and place to post a classic.

Enter the double bacon cheeseburger. Without looking, I surmise that there are thousands upon thousands of blogs that feature a post about them, so what is my intent in sharing mine? Asides from having a naturally inclined penchant for sharing good grub with the world in the guise of the internet, these burgers are sure to knock your socks off, so enough with the bloviating and onto my version of not only a double bacon cheeseburger, but a grilled double bacon cheeseburger.

First things first, I used 73% lean/27% fat ground beef. Before you scoff at that, vociferating that it is too fatty, check this resource out on how to make the best burgers with 73/27 ground chuck. I often buy 73/27 because the family packs (5 lbs.) at my local grocery store wind up at a $1.99/lb. price point, and that is too good to pass up. One could argue that the shrinkage from fat being rendered from the meat as it cooks is too costly, even at that price, but I disagree. What yields from the cook is a juicy, flavorful burger with a nice crust if your heat is optimal.

Grilling cheeseburgers, featuring bubbly cheeseRecipe:
— Ground beef
— Your choice of seasoning
— Bacon
— Cheese (I used American)
— Buns

That’s it. Look, I like burgers in all types of ways, from a classic burger featuring iceberg lettuce, a thin slice of a tomato, a slice or two from an onion and cheese, but sometimes a grizzled man wants a double bacon cheeseburger as is, and that’s the route I went with this simple, ‘so easy a caveman can do it’ recipe.

1.) Preheat your grill. I always use a charcoal grill, so I start off firing up a large charcoal chimney almost full of briquettes. I’m usually rolling with classic Kingsford Original, because I would rather use my money on buying food that would otherwise be spent on more expensive charcoal brands, and Kingsford does the job just as well as anything else, not to mention its price point is more attractive than other charcoal brands, asides from Royal Oak.

2.) Form your patties by creating a ball from the ground beef. I never weigh my patties so I can’t give you an exact estimation of the weight; part of this reason is because, for the friends and family that I cook for, some members of that group want smaller burgers while others want larger burgers. For me, I say, go big or go home. After you create the ball, smash it flat with the palm of your hands and create a couple of dimples (indentations) in the surface. Some folks recommend making one big dimple, but I make a couple of dimples in the center of the burger. With fatty ground beef, when you cook it, it tends to puff up as the fat renders and the protein contracts. The dimple(s) aid to minimize the burger shrinking and prevents it from turning into a grilled meatball. Not that there is anything wrong with a grilled meatball, but in this case you want a burger, not a meatball. Note: when I form my patties for grilling them, I make them as thin as I possibly can, even with the dimples, because they will cook faster and more evenly. If you are having trouble with this, don’t worry: practice makes perfect.

3.) Rub both sides of the patties with whatever your favorite burger seasoning is. Salt and pepper is fine, but I used Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub. It is the best seasoning/rub in the game for any kind of beef. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.

4.) Once your fire is hot and ready, when the coals have grayed and ashed over on top, add them to your grill. I like to use 2-zone cooking 99.9% of the time. Even with burgers, this can be beneficial, which I’ll explain why. Add your grate, close the lid and allow your grill to preheat for about fifteen minutes. Note: I like to add a competition blend of wood chips (oak, apple and hickory are my preferences) to the fire for extra flavor in the meat. This is purely optional.

5.) Once the grill is preheated, remove the lid and place a cast iron skillet (with bacon in it, of course) onto the part of the grate that is directly over the coals. The bacon will cook in no time if your charcoal is hot enough. When the bacon is finished, remove it and place it onto a place with a paper towel before setting the cast iron aside on a surface that can adequately handle the residual heat of the skillet.

6.) Add your burgers directly on the grate over the coals. The sweet spot, for me, is five minutes on each side. I usually never have any issues with this. Sometimes I will go five minutes on the first side, and after the flip I will go three minutes on the other side. You will know when to flip your burger when you see the bottom edges browning up nicely and when remnants of juices are pooling on top of your burger. The juices is an indicator that the middle of the burger is being thoroughly cooked and a sign that you need to flip them over. After the first flip is when you should top the burgers with cheese.

7.) Once done, plate them up. Be sure to toast up some buns. I like to give burgers a rest before I chow into them, as this allows the juices to reassimilate into the meat. I would be lying if I said I’m not tempted to immediately dig in. Assemble your burger the way you want to, and you are ready to chow down. Always close the intake and exhaust vents of your grill in order to choke the fire. Doing so allows you the ability to reuse the charcoal for the next cook (if you are grilling; I don’t recommend reusing charcoal for barbecuing/smoking, which is something I will cover in a later post).

Important: with fatty ground beef, you may find that the rendered fat dripping onto the hot charcoal causing an excessive amount of flames kissing your burger. Of course, you do want some of the fire to shoot up and French kiss these burgers, but if you are having trouble and finding that you are experiencing way too much char on the outside of your burgers (“taste the meat, not the heat” as Hank Hill would say), then close the lid as the burgers cook. This will be fine, as long as you have your intake and exhaust vents wide open. Some people recommend spraying the coals with water as a method to reduce the flames, but I’m not big on that, as this can reduce the heat of the coals which will not only effect cooking times but also the crust you are aiming for. A formidable crust is what transcends an average burger into an exceptional burger.

Bacon and grilled cheeseburgers
While I believe smash burgers cooked on a griddle (I’m shouting the good name of Blackstone Products every single time I say this) are superior to any other burger cooking method, sometimes I crave burgers cooked over a scorching hot fire, and this was one of those times. I love the smoky flavor imparted into a burger from being cooked over charcoal. The juices that drip onto the hot coals, creating a vapor that rises and bastes the meat, is out of this world delicious.

I highly recommend that you give these double bacon cheeseburgers a shot. In doing so, I have to toot my own horn and urge you to use not only the dimpling method when forming the patty, as well as the Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub, but also to give the aforementioned variety of wood chips (oak, apple and cherry) a shot because it adds an entirely new dimension of flavor that you are otherwise missing out on.

Cooking Burgers Using 73/27 Ground Beef

73/27 burgers on the Blackstone Griddle with caramelized onions and mushrooms

Here are 16 burgers, made out of 73/27 ground beef, that I cooked on my Blackstone Griddle for a birthday party, along with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Notice how none of them puffed up. Note: these are smash burgers.

Whenever I read about cooking up the best burgers one can concoct, it seems that most people use 80% lean/20% fat ground beef for optimal the optimal lean:fat ratio. Just enough fat to keep the patties moist and juicy, but lean enough for the burger to stand on its own. But what about 73% lean/27% fat ground beef?

Burgers are one of my favorite foods, unabashedly so. My family and friends love them, so when they are visiting, I find myself making them quite often. While I agree that 80/20 is a fantastic ratio of ground beef in a patty to cook up, more often than not I’m buying 73/27 ground beef from my local grocery store (Grant’s Supermarket, in southwest Virginia, if you are wondering) — they often feature it on sale for $1.99/lb. in 5-lb. family packs, so the prospect of having that much meat to throw down for the whole family for just $10 is a game changer. Even more mind-blowing is that sometimes this grocery store will price it, on certain days, at $.99 cents/lb., which is crazy to even think about.

A lot of people will shun that style of ground beef and pay a little extra for 80/20 ground beef, because they’ll consider the fat/overall collective ‘weight’ loss (in the mass of the meat) resulting from during the cooking of the 73/27 ground beef as throwing money down the drain, but here’s the kicker: any time you are cooking burgers with high fat content it is fine, because the best burgers in the world that you can create come from not only the finished product being juicy, but also when the burger is cooking in its own fat. There is nothing like eating a burger with a crust formed thanks to the glorious Maillard reaction (caused by overall contact from the exterior of the burger on a scorching hot cooking surface) that is juicy and oh-so melt in your mouth good internally.

Yes, with 73/27 you will experience substantial fat running out of the meat and running wild in the process, but you should never fear this becoming an issue. Again, the best burgers in the world cook in their own rendered fat.

I will offer this one caveat, though: if you are cooking burgers that feature a high fat content like this in a skillet, particularly a scorching hot cast iron that is properly preheated for maximum crust formation, be wary of how many burgers you are playing into the pan. What happens is, say, if you are cooking four medium-to-large burgers in one skillet, there is going to be a ton of fat that will pool out, and when you flip the burgers, there is potential for the crust to not be the best. This is why I recommend buying an outdoor griddle, as they (Blackstone, Camp Chef, Royal Gourmet, Blue Rhino, etc.) feature grease drains that will remove the excessive amount of grease that covers the cooking surface. However, if you are limited to a cast iron skillet, two burgers at a time with some grease poured out between each cook of the batch of burgers you plan on making will help aid you in your quest for making the best burgers possible.

There are, basically, two burger cooking methods, and one I consider superior than the others, but let’s go through both:

1.) The classic, standard patted-out burger: this is the type of burger you shape into a patty yourself. It is great, nonetheless, but here is what can lead to disaster and ultimately a burger that will be smaller than the bun you place it onto: when you form the patty, no matter how much you flatten it out into a perfect circular shape, it is going to puff up as the fat renders and the proteins contract. You can counteract this by making a shallow indention (the ‘dimple’ method) in the middle of the burger before placing it onto a hot cooking surface, about an inch or so wide. When making burgers this way, especially if I’m going to be cooking them on my charcoal grills, I have also experimented with making small slits in the burger patties with a knife along with the indention, and it has never failed me.

2.) Smash burgers (the best burger method, in my humble opinion): this is by far and away the superior method when it comes to making burgers. I wrote about it here. What you do is, instead of patting the ground beef into a patty, you make a meatball out of it, and the size of the meatball is up to you, and I don’t recommend making it too big (you can always make thin double-burgers on a bun). But you lightly pack the ground beef into a meatball, not forming it too tightly and leaving it slightly loose, and afterwards when you place it onto the screaming hot cooking surface, take a burger press or a cast iron press and smash it down. This does not force out any of the juices that you want to remain in your burger, as the internal meat has not began cooking yet. What this does do, however, is flatten the burger out to achieve maximum surface contact with the burger against the surface of the material you are cooking with, which will yield not only the best crust ever but also keep the meat moist and juicy on the inside. Since the burger is flattened properly, it won’t take but just a few minutes to be ready to flip for a sear on the other side of the meat. The finished product is a juicy inside with a delectable crust on the outside.

While 80/20 may be ‘superior’ in a sense, because it is widely viewed as the standard for the optimal lean-to-fat content of a burger, you shouldn’t sleep on 73/27 just because of the 7% higher fat content. When I’ve made burgers, whether it is using the indention method on pre-patted patties or smashburgers, I have little to no issues with the meat puffing up during the cooking process. It may thicken up a little bit, but your worries should be far and few between.

As always, though, the temperature of your cooking surface will determine the quality of your burger. If your heat isn’t high enough, it will be lackluster because you aren’t going to create the crust that you want in every satisfying bite you take. Use these tips in this post and I promise you that it will change the game of your burgers.