A cool wind stirs, as the last of a golden light ebbs over the neighborhood roof tops, their silhouetted chimney stacks puffing contentedly against a pale, autumn sky. Where geese occasionally cruise on the wing, first stars appear, and the moon holds still, suspended in time, above the old Cottonwood tree down by the pond. A tree almost, but not quite yet ready to give up its beloved leaves. Umpteen thousands of them, born of green, the shapely spawn of the Populus deltoides, such as the Latins have coined, and my but how they have fluttered brightly the summer long. A life of sunny days and rainy nights. Of storms and droughts. Of bluebird skies that would never end. Now one by one, laying to rest in fields of gold.
Oh what a show the Minnesota trees are putting on right now. By the time this is published, most of the leaves, save for the stubborn, old oaks, will have parted ways with their respective tree, and made their rendezvous with decay on the forest floor. One can’t help but to marvel at the beauty of it all right now, and I guess if you’re anything like us, kindle a good fire in the pit, and cook something there. To flip meat over flame whilst the leaves rain down upon thee. It’s good times, people. And while the coals come up to speed here, let us head inside, shall we, and see how we prepared tonight’s protein.
Now, just as I do not know how many leaves have fallen in my yard, likewise, I cannot tell you how many cheeseburgers I have grilled in my life. Both tallies are rather uncountable, I should wager, and neither will ever be enough. Oh how I fancy a good burger. When guests are to come over, burgers are at once an easy dinner solution that most people, save for the odd, toothless relative, seem to devour with a haste usually reserved for flannel clad individuals on a diet with a disturbing affection for maple glazed doughnuts. You know who you are. Burgers are just good, people. And they always will be. Here then is this patron’s go-to burger recipe when rumbling tummies come calling.
What we do is disperse one envelope of onion soup mix evenly through a pound or so of 80-20 ground beef . The soup mix, if you like that sort of thing, adds a delicious ensemble of flavor, that which favors beef, and can nary attempt to be any simpler. Work it into the meat good and thorough and get your hands dirty. It’s OK. Good meat responds to the hands that which pamper it. Anyways, that’s it for the seasoning. In point of fact, it’s more than enough. In the steel bowl towards the back, in case you were wondering, resides a few spuds from the fertile fields of Idaho, lovingly shaped by my beautiful bride into a plethora of french fries for to swim in the electric deep fryer. Nothing accents your burger craft with more authority than a batch of home-made french fries. Do go out of your way some time, and try it.
Burgers deployed over the iron grate, opposite the hot coals. You can cook burgers anyway you want. If you want to go directly over the coals, and cook them hot and fast, then let it be so. Today, however, I was in the mood to mosey. To take the scenic path as far as grill craft is concerned. So we placed them indirect, and tossed on a hunk of mesquite wood too.
After a fashion, the old, porcelain enameled lid was set in place, and the damper adjusted just so. Naturally there after I assumed the proper pit master position, in the outdoor man chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, lovely beverage within reach, and the brim of my hat tipped up in a rather nonchalant manner. The blue-tinted smoke spiraled out of the vent in long, magical tendrils, dissipating into the ether, and smelled point-blank out of this world. I hear the tell-tale honk from one of Minnesota’s patented voices, the Canadian goose, who it seems is always aloft this time of year – the benediction of Autumn. It brings a smile to my face, as I lean back and look over the kettle lid, at the old Cottonwood tree, standing handsome at the edge of the pond. It’s upper most canopy still lit in the evening sun. It’s leaves softly clacking in the breeze. And for a while at least, all the world spins as it should. These are but the moments pit-side we cling to, and try to remember come the frigid, short days of winter. And so I sat there in the quietude, with wood smoke rising, trying to remember. Amen.
God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December – James M Barrie
Mesquite Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers, Darting Canadian Geese, Autumn Awesomeness & Deep Moments – it’s all there, people, and patron to the pit.
Loitering pond-side, the old Weber kettle puffing quietly away, sweet sugar maple smoldering, wafting into the air. I lay aside the pit, in the thick, green grass there, immobile, in a fashion usually reserved for a coronary thrombosis I suppose. But I didn’t care. I was “hanging ten“, as the surfers out way of Waikiki would say. And the world was mine. Just staring up at the clouds as they roll past a beautiful, blue sky. Like Huckleberry Finn on the grassy banks of the Mississippi, I was at ease with everything. A cool summers breeze murmured amid Spruce , and tweety birds on high, serenaded the evening sun. The neighbors are probably used to seeing me “belly-up” in the grass like this, with the ilk of a hobo beside my smoking pits. But I’m slowly getting them trained in, by and by, and the pay off is high. For rarely now, whence I engage in such childish admissions, am I caught there and taken for dead.
On the grill tonight, we’ve got a dandy. Maple planked bacon cheese burgers. Kind of a two-part post, the first part being the recent write-up on Superior planks. Some of you expressed an interest in seeing more how this planking thing is done, and so that is what we’re up to today, at the patron’s pit. Its real easy to do, and will cast the viable illusion also, of being an experienced and highly-gifted pit master. Which is always nice.
The very first order of business when planking is to soak the wood thoroughly. Doesn’t matter how good your plank is, if it ain’t soaked, you will be singing a sorrowful rendition of Kumbaya around your flaming spoils should you neglect this key step. So just do it. An hour in the sink is suitable for most. But the longer the better. Then, whence your coals, or hark, even your gas grill is up and burning, go ahead then and lay the soaked plank on the grate and over direct heat. Let it preheat there a touch if you please, but you don’t even have to do that. Thus, and at last, place your intended vittles over the plank, and pause momentarily to appreciate the oddity of meat on wood. We formed some nice patties from some 80-20 ground beef, and laid a couple of strips of thick bacon on there too, for good measure. No man worth his tongs will ever argue the judicious use of premium bacon, and we weren’t about to tonight. Then place the lid over your grill, and assume your customary BBQ position – in the lawn chair, lovely beverage in hand, toes pointed to the heavens. And with this, you are half done already, and nearly a budding expert in the planking arts.
It is that easy folks. You nary need even touch it now until its done. You will want to, and its fine I suppose if you do flip the burger over, but we did not. It doesn’t need to be. When the lid is on, and the wood is acting like a heat shield of sorts, the grill turns into some what of an oven like atmosphere. Would you flip a burger in the oven? I don’t think so! That is half the magic of planking. The other joy tarries in the smoke. Depending on what flavor of plank you pick out, and some folks even soak them in apple juice, or wine, or what ever, the steam and smoke which rises forth, not to mention a hint of tree oil, dutifully impregnates your spoils with a woodsy authenticness like none other. As one of our readers, Carnivore Confidential, once said in his blog, “You don’t have a smoker? You don’t need one!” And its true. A more primal way of infusing smokey goodness into your supper, you shall not soon divine. Meat on wood over flame. Simplicity at its best. And poetry on the pit!
You can plank darn near anything too. From meats to vegetables to mashed potatoes, and even mushrooms. But perhaps the best use of planks is for the delicate fish fillet. No more dropping through the grate! Just put it on the plank and cook it. No flipping. No mess. No worries. So the next day, and with fish on my mind, I re-soaked the used plank. If you get good thick, hardwood planks, like that of Superior Planks, you can re-use them quite a bit. After a good soak in the sink, I placed the used-plank back on the hot grill along with some Tilapia fillets. Same process. Put the lid on and just let them do their thing. Many hard core plankers forego the seasonings all together, and just let the plank do the talking. And with that wood smoke and natural oils, turns out them old trees have a thing or two to say about good eating. Amen.
Like all fish, when they flake easily with a fork, they are ready for an immediate rendezvous with your belly! Smoked to perfection and kissed by smoldering wood. Man!
Maple Planked Bacon Cheese Burgers and Tilapia too, just because. Two of many things highly suitable for plank cooking. If you haven’t tried it yet, well, what the heck are you waiting for!
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.