Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

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 20130403_173853_edit0smell 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.

20130423_175517_edit0You 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.

25 responses

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to a buttered, toasted bun. No hamburger is complete or nearly as tasty without it. Grilled burgers are on the menu for next week!

    April 25, 2013 at 7:22 am

  2. Liz

    gastronomic gumshoe–another winner!!! That burger looks amazing and I don’t even like burgers. Yours would beat the pants off any restaurant patty for sure.

    April 25, 2013 at 8:55 am

    • Well thank you kindly, Liz. 70 degrees this weekend…I think something good on the grill is in order!

      April 26, 2013 at 6:24 am

  3. I may have to move the burgers up in the menu after reading this! Yummy! We like to stuff ours, grilled onions and blue cheese is our fav!

    April 25, 2013 at 9:51 am

  4. The opening statement said it all! That’s why we do what we do and love why we do it. Even though it seems down on the BBQ/Grilling list, a burger done right is a simple thing of beauty.

    April 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    • Well put yourself. Yup one doesn’t need a nice steak or a big brisket flat, or a fleet of ribs as an excuse to fire up the grill. Its all good any time we might have a chance to tarry over the coals.

      Thanks for checking in on us, mrdodd!

      April 26, 2013 at 6:29 am

  5. Mmmm … burgers …

    April 26, 2013 at 3:41 am

  6. I love my burgers simple and straightforward, salt and pepper and thats about it, 80% so they are moist. Getting hungry thinking about it, I think mastering the perfect burger is not as easy as one may think, there is an art to grilling a great burger. Buttered grilled bun a must and lots of fixings. I like everything about yours and wish I had one right now!!!

    April 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    • Ah yes, simple is good too. Let the meat do the talking. Nothing wrong with that. Burgers are an empty vessel for those that make them, to make of them as they wish. And maybe that is why so many people then like them in the first place. Naw. They’re just good!

      April 27, 2013 at 9:42 pm

  7. Superb. A top burger is still one of the great pleasures in life, and that’s from an Englishman that thinks European food is the finest. Good work.

    April 27, 2013 at 6:14 am

  8. Sounds wonderful. I’ll grill some burgers tonight. However, I mix the hamburger meat with venison. (50/50) Better than steak! 🙂

    April 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

  9. So now, what were the sides that night?
    Perhaps some Macaroni Salad?
    Here’s a great recipe :

    April 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    • Ah yes, good choice, auntidoni. Good choice indeed. Love macaroni salad! Great recipe too!

      April 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

  10. Pingback: News from around the BBQ Blogsphere | The Arrogant Swine

  11. Nothing better than hot cheesy meat on a toasted bun. Looks awesome.

    April 28, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  12. I like your eldest brother’s “cheeseburger” philosopy. If a restaurant can’t make this singularly wonderful basic properly, then oh well. I employ a similar tactic for visiting Mexican restaurants, always sampling their tacos first. ‘Cause if a Mexican restaurant can’t make a decent taco, then, oh well…:)

    In the meantime, kudos for your ode to the venerable cheeseburger, my all-time-favorite food. And properly grilled of course…with a little lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. Maybe a little mayo. And then…the Pièce de résistance…the grillin’ of the bun!

    You guys so do it right!

    May 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

    • Well thank you kindly, willcjr. I like your Mexican spin on it too. Very true!

      May 8, 2013 at 6:36 pm

  13. Pingback: Stalking The Big Mac: One Patron’s Sortie Into Hamburger Immortality | Patrons of the Pit

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