“Here is where the metal meets the meat concerning burger-craft, and moreover, what separates you from the indoor chef – and that is smoke. Most folk don’t think to smoke their hamburgers, but let it be said, because its true, they are also missing something out of their lives.” -PotP
It was by all accounts a wintry evening at the pit. The recent snows had firmed up now, from the bone chilling cold. Crispy sounding to walk on, like Styrofoam on a cold kitchen floor. Tentacles of ice adhere like winter weeds to the faithful Weber water smoker, whilst the chill winds swirled from a darkened sky. The moon hung stoically behind a soft veil of gray, barely leaking through, scarcely there it seemed, as a night-light to the heavens. And the aromatic plumes of cherry wood smoke bellowed forth from an active pit, one of which I huddled dear to, this cold, winter’s eve in Minnesota.
On the grill tonight, an old staple – the hamburger. Now every grill keeper worth their tongs has sought to conquer this section of the menu. It is what most of us started out with, or cut our teeth on, so-to-speak. And no faction of the grilling arts, perhaps, says more about your grilling style, than the humble burger. Want to get a better idea of a grill jockey’s mojo, consider first his hamburger. It is a pit keeper’s thumb print. For instance, what ratio ground beef is used? Or is it just a frozen, mass-produced patty? Is there anything inside the burger?Are the buns toasted? Would your Grand mother be proud of your hamburger?
We love a good burger here at the pit. But then, who doesn’t. It’s an American way of life, hamburgers are, like the venerable, and ever-iconic, Big Mac. You know the jingle, “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun“. A few years back, I was loitering in the shadow of the infamous golden arches, where I had re-acquainted myself with their flagship burger. By golly, I thunk, the burger wouldn’t be half bad if it were done proper like, out on the pit that is. Surely with a few altercations, and a little tweaking, hark, it might even be a pleasant, yet reasonable experience. And so, after the passage of several years, I finally got around to making my own Big Mac – PotP style of course. I guess I sort of changed most everything about it, save for the special sauce, but man did it turn out! So grab a lovely beverage and settle in for a spell, and we will tell you a little more how it was done, and how it came to be, this the culinary remake of a franchise burger.
To start with, no frozen patties here, folks. But that is a given among our readership, for you all are reasonable folk when it comes to your hamburgers. Never would you render your innate craft so low as for the seductive, frozen pucks stacked like poker chips in the back recesses of your refrigerator. Never! We used a pound 80/20 ground beef from a local farm, raised drug-free on the cool plains of Minnesota. Now the Big Mac has two patties, but that is just likely a marketing gimmick if you ask us. Why have two patties when one, half-pound “proper-sized patty” will do just fine. Mercy! So we formed a couple of manly patties, lightly seasoned in garlic and onion salt. Next we brought them out to the grill, which was already puffing away.
Here is where the metal meets the meat concerning burger-craft, and moreover, what separates you from the indoor chef – and that is smoke. Most folk don’t think to smoke their hamburgers, but let it be said, because its true, they are also missing something out of their lives. Oak would be an excellent choice here iffin you have the means. Likewise, hickory or even mesquite if you go lightly. What we used however, and with great effect, was a baseball-sized chunk of cherry wood, which was just the trick for these husky beef patties. We placed them opposite the hot coals the entire time, never once exposing them to direct heat. The idea was to take them slowly, and infuse a good matter of smokey goodness that which every pit keeper and kin alike, crave.
Lid on, burgers in-direct, cherry wood smoke lightly puffing through the dampers, glory! The heck with the winter time blues, for there is no such thing patron to a well-loved pit. It’s token fiery bosom is well enough to keep us warm, if not but for our passionate resolve as well. Bank those embers tall boys, for neither ice, nor snow, nor the dark of night will keep us from our appointed BBQ!
Anyways, and with modest fanfare, prepare your buns with a light buttering. Whilst you’re at it, slice a tomato nice and thick, and like-wise with a good red onion, and a pickle, if you’re into that sort of thing. Chop a hunk of lettuce to size. Get your favorite cheese sliced and ready to roll too, along with your very best accompaniments. And then, when the time is right, deploy the “special sauce“. The big mac is known for its signature sauce. A little mayonnaise mixed with sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Or if you’re feeling a wee bit lazy, like we were, Thousand Island salad dressing will of course do the trick too.
Whence the burgers have pooled somewhat, in other words, juices have collected atop the patties, and/or they have engaged in a mild curl or sorts, flip them over, still opposite the hot coals. Toss on some more smoke wood if you need to, and let them finish up there, at their leisure, until firm to the tong, or your desired interpretation of the word done. Lastly, toast the buns accordingly, and dutifully, for this is your song, people, your triumph in hamburger technology! So make it count, and take some pride in your spoils. And when all of this is done, and you have supped another inch off your favorite beverage, roll up your sleeves, patrons, and assemble then your masterpiece. Indeed, be inclined.
So next time you’re thinking of swinging into the golden arches for a big mac, don’t. Rest assured, you can do better, a world better indeed, patron to the pit. And if your wife makes homemade french fries, all the better. Amen.