“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.
A golden light spilled over a green lawn, song birds trilled from the Alders, and the summer breeze felt sweet to my face. It was paradise in suburbia. A Great Blue Heron stood paralyzed at the grassy banks of the pond, as if a token statue and reminder of the virtue of patience. And a soft, curl of smoke wisps off the coals maturing in the pit. Another evening at the old kettle grill, patented hither, virtue of the slower ways. For one must go out of his way, from time to time, to kindle some coals, and re-acquaint if you will, from what this mighty globe spins so swiftly about. Like the heron, yonder, the Cottonwood leaves rustling in the breeze, and the two, sizable hamburgers about to land on the grill. Nothing quite so fine as the prefect hamburger. And you don’t need to go to a greasy spoon to get one. Let me tell you about them, if you’ve got time, and how they went this night, patron to the pit.
The age-old hamburger is but a stalwart staple on the grilling front. Chances are, if you have a grill, and use it, you’ve made a hamburger or two in your day. I once looked up who invented the hamburger, and I found no less than a half-dozen people making the claim to be that guy. So I gave up, figuring what is lost in the meat-grinder of history is aptly made up for in tummy-filling goodness. Because at the end of the day, good is good, and hamburgers, regardless of who invented them, are pretty dang good.
There are a hundred and one different ways in which to cook a burger, but in our humble opinion, the best means are procured simply, and over the open flame. We started out with two lovingly formed patties, 80-20 as it were, and seasoned them with another offering from the local BBQ giant, Famous Dave Anderson, and his famous steak and burger seasoning. We also employed the secret weapon to handsome hamburgers -the thumb-sized depression right smack in the middle of the patty. If you’ve ever found your hamburgers to be curling up by the end of the cook, resembling for all the world, the contours of a potato chip, try pressing your thumb or knuckle into the patties, making a little divot there, before they hit the grill. This, along with steering clear of the leaner grinds, go a long ways towards a handsome, shapely patty worthy of your next BBQ.
Grill your burgers as you will. You know how to do that. Direct heat for a bit, if you like a little crunch and crust to your beef, or, leave it in-direct the entire cook. It is art, and it is up to you. When a good pool of blood has formed in your depression, flip thy meat with gladness, for you are nearing the end. A master burger flipper, oddly enough, need only flip his burger one time, if he has done it right. It is difficult, however, to resist flipping our meats, so fret not if you do. At the end of the day, it is our high privilege to pamper them. To let them know that we love them. Tho if you ever spy a brother pressing down on his hamburger patty, igniting flames that which reach for the heavens, snatch his spatula from him at once, for he knows not what he is doing. For any one who compresses a hamburger fairly sizzling, also drains it of its inherent juices which make it worthy. Naughty naughty! There is little room for such folly about a prosperous pit.
Near the end of the cook, we rolled around a couple of corn cobs, and toasted up the buns of course. We all would do well to take the extra moments, and toast our buns. It gives your end game that winning edge. Anyways, whilst I finished up things on the grill, my beloved bride plied her craft in the kitchen, contributing to the All-American feast. She sliced up two large potatoes, into long, narrow shafts, and rinsing them in ice water, and then lowered them into some hot peanut oil for a few minutes, procuring some darn attractive, and equally tasty, home-made french fries. As my fellow patron would say, “Bam!”
After plating up my vittles, I bid a fare well to the lonely Heron, still standing stoically in the pond. You are a hearty bird, as birds go, and more patient than a hundred men I know. For me however, it is time for supper, and my bride she awaits. I brought the burgers and corn indoors, sided it with those wonderful home made french fries, and we settled into our booth, courtesy of the home diner. There upon, and with guiltless abandon, we feasted. In the wake of grilling deeds well-done, we consumed thy plunder. And it was good. Those burger joints don’t have anything on a good pit. Nor those who aspire to use them. Amen.
Good old burgers and fries. As good as any greasy spoon, or diner, that’s for sure. And way more fun, patron to the pit.