The Cheeseburger: A Pit Keeper’s Thumb Print
What a pleasant thing it is to walk past your patio door, and see your old grill out there, puffing away in a cloud of hickory. To smell the wood smoke in the air, and know something tasty is developing, cooking, and residing just out yonder, under that beat up lid. It soothes a man, I must say. It is well with his soul. For there is just something about putting meat to flame and cooking it there, whilst the fresh air encircles you, that for a while at least, we are content and in need of very little else. And maybe that’s why, come to think of it, we like to cook slowly around here, if for any other reason than to extend the moments – these the fellowship of the coals. It is our twinkle, every time we light the pit, and watch the smoke curl there.
Now every man I ever knew, and a lot of women too, if there was one thing they were good at on the grill, it was big cheese burger. And rightly so, for that’s what most folk start off with, in their formative, teeth-cutting years at the grill front. My eldest brother has long-held to the tactic, when visiting a restaurant for the first time, that the safest, and most efficient stroke you can play there is to try their cheeseburger. For they are not likely first off to screw it up, but more over, in a gastronomic gumshoe sort of way, you can tell a great deal about the rest of their fare, their cook, and their establishment as a whole, but from the mere details revealed in their humble hamburger. How much pride have they taken in preparing it? What is the grade of beef? Do they bother to toast the bun? How much did it cost? Likewise on the grill. It is a pit junkie’s thumb print, the hamburger. And everybody who has flipped a patty has one. Every finger print is a little different it seems, and like a thumb into an ink pad, it is our most basic impression onto the BBQ arena. Want to get an idea of a pit keeper’s prowess, consider first his cheeseburger. Thus, and with a good bed of coals, let us make it a favorable one at least.
You can do a lot of things with hamburgers. Stuff them full of various odds and ends, from bell peppers and corn to blue cheese or hot sauce. Some cast iron constitutions do all of the above at once, and wager it a good day. But if you have supper guests coming over, as we did this evening, and their palates you are not yet acquainted with, it is a wise move for the pit master to keep the meat simple. Provide a cornucopia of toppings and condiments on the side, and let the unknown taste buds hence arriving paint their own masterpiece. And that’s just what we did. Started with 80/20 ground beef, which if you haven’t heard, is the optimal ratio for hamburgers. Leaner blends tend to fall apart on the grill, and lack a little less flavor. Anyways, before the patties were even formed, I worked in to the beef, an envelope of Lipton Onion Soup Mix to give it some flavor. Formed some rather massive patties, half-pound colon busters if you will. Hard to tell in the pictures, but easily appreciated in person. Placed them on the grate opposite the hot coals, and pressed a golf ball-sized depression into the center of each one to thwart the often occurring “curl”, an unsightly malady that burgers sometimes do. The depression punch is purely a cosmetic move for the end game. Next, and to add a nice touch you don’t often get with a hamburger, I added a couple chunks of hickory to the coals, for a pleasant smokey tint to the beef. Nothing like a smoke ring on your cheeseburger to set a man right!
You can leave the burgers over indirect heat the whole way, tho some prefer to do it all right over the coals, hot and fast like. It’s up to your pit master instincts. But one thing you should always take the time to do is to toast your buns. And get the best buns the bakery has, or better yet, make your own. And one of the best ways to toast them is to butter each half, and plunk them on the hot side of the grill. Tend to them like a needy relationship. Like a puppy keen to poop on your new carpet. Check them every few seconds with your tongs. For they can burn easily, and all your hard labors might soon go up in flame. But nothing quite so brings your burger to the next level than a perfectly toasted bun. Man. And never has a dinner guest not appreciate this simple, yet effective effort.
In the end, each person had a 1/2 pound Colby Jack cheese burger with the works, larger than their face, and towering off the plate like a meat monolith. Mercy! Basic grilling 101. Filling. Tasty. And an American favorite for sure. It is the cheeseburger. Your pit keeper’s thumb print.