Cut & Measure Unless I'm really familiar with a recipe, I usually prepare as much as I can ahead of time like measuring and chopping, so I can remain calm during the cooking process. Store your ingredients in ramekins and small bowls according to the order in which they are added to the recipe.
My Favorite Pan My favorite pan is a twenty dollar cast iron pan. I remember vividly how my step-father coveted his iron pan and warned us about not using soap to clean it. Seasoned and maintained properly, an iron pan can last forever. It is better than any non stick pan and far more durable. It's thick base holds heat better than any pan in my arsenal and prevents food from burning by dispersing the heat.
I first tasted a hickory smoked burger at a gastro pub with my friend Stephen. I was instantly inspired to create my own smoked burger. I'm pretty sure the pub used liquid smoke but I just can't take shortcuts, especially when I have a smoker in my backyard. This burger emphasizes the incredible taste of hickory with supporting ingredients that compliment the smoke, not compete with it.
Going the extra mile and grinding your own meat is well worth, it in my opinion. For starters, I know exactly what's in the meat (I like to use chuck). I can also grind in other ingredients during the process instead of overworking the beef during the mixing process. But, the most important reason is freshness. Sitting around in a package for a couple of days allows the meat to lose moisture and blend with the flavor of Styrofoam, cellophane and the little maxi pad they put on the bottom to absorb meat juice.
Start by cutting the chuck in slices small enough to fit into your grinder. Freeze the meat on a Jelly Roll Pan for thirty minutes. Partially freezing the meat prevents the fat from liquifying as it heats up in the grinder and allows the meat to be cut more cleanly. If you already have a KitchenAid mixer, just purchase the meat grinder attachment. A KitchenAid mixer isn't just for baking. I use mine all the time and have 3 or 4 attachments for it.
For this recipe, I am grinding roasted garlic into the mix. Curt the top off your garlic, spray it with a little olive oil and cook it for 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Feed the cooled garlic pieces in along with the meat every couple of slices. I often feed the salt and pepper gradually at this stage too so I don't overwork the ground beef trying to mix the spices. Overworking ground beef, draws out the juices, breaks down the fat and and makes the burger dense and tough.
Add the chopped onions and Worcestershire sauce and mix gently, trying not to disturb the meat as much as possible. Once the onions are evenly distributed, form the ground beef into even balls. Don't form them into patties until you are sure each ball is approximately the same size, ensuring you don't inadvertently overwork the meat resizing the patties. Firmly flatten each ball into a patty but do it in as a few steps as possible to keep the structure of the grind intact. Your patties should be firmly stuck together, just not overworked. I like 1/3 to 1/2 pound patties personally.
Place the patties in the smoker on a jelly roll pan, sans the parchment paper, and cook at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour for a medium well burger. Normally I like a medium rare burger but slow cooking keeps the burger juicy and the extra time allows for more smoke flavor. I like to use 4 chunks of hickory but feel free to use less if you just want a touch of smoke.
When the burgers are done, you may notice red edges. That's the smoke penetration and not raw meat. The burgers are going to taste great already but you may want to kiss them on the grill to make them look better. We eat as much with our eyes as our mouth so putting a nice set of marks on both sides, on a really hot grill, pumps up their appeal.
I used a ciabatta bun but I have also used potato, sliced focaccia and even sourdough slices... whatever floats your boat. Add in my Caramelized Onions with Bacon recipe, a little mayonnaise and some lettuce (like peppery arugula) and you have yourself a meal. Please, please, please don't put ketchup on this burger. It's designed to highlight the smoke and beef, not sugar and tomatoes.