Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jalapeño and Bacon Cheeseburgers

This spectacular recipe was created by three cooks: Norman Hamilton, Rick McMillen and Larry Okrend. Their recipe was so good that it won Weber's Best Burger competition in 2013. And grilling this burger over charcoal takes the taste to even greater heights. But before I get into the recipe, let me take a moment to talk charcoal.

There are two basic types of charcoal out there: lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes . Lump charcoal is that wild blonde you dated during your freshman year at college. It burns fast and red hot and it's all over in a flash. Charcoal briquettes are your mom. They burn steady and even and they are with you for the long haul. To be the consummate charcoal griller, you actually need to have both.

Lump charcoal is made by stacking logs in earthen pits and covering them with dirt and steel. The logs are lit on fire and the oxygen-starved fire will burn for several days. The low level fire burns off bark, sap and other impurities. When the fire goes out, what is left is pure carbon: lump charcoal.

The advantages of lump charcoal are two-fold. It gets very hot very fast, which makes it perfect for cooking items like steaks and burgers. It's higher cooking temperature is going to give you a much better sear. The other advantage is that it leaves very little ash behind. Because ash yield is only 5% of original volume, you don't have to empty that ash catcher very often. The downside to lump charcoal is that it loses heat quickly after it reaches it's peak temperature.

Charcoal briquettes are a mixture of soft coal, mineral carbon, limestone, powdered lump charcoal and cornstarch. The soft coal and mineral carbon add substantial longevity to the burn. The limestone creates the white ash and the cornstarch holds everything together. Kingsford is the most popular maker of briquettes and I use Kingsford Competition Briquettes for my extended grilling chores.

The advantages of charcoal briquettes are also two-fold. Their uniform size make grilling with them very predictable. Their chemical composition makes them burn longer and provide more even heat over the entire cooking period. The only downside to briquettes is that they leave a lot of ash behind. Ash yield is 35% of original volume, so you'll be cleaning that ash catcher after 2 or 3 uses of charcoal briquettes.

As I mentioned earlier, I truly believe you need to have both. Quick-cooking, sear-loving food like burgers and steaks beg for lump charcoal. Slower cooking items like roasts, ribs and whole chickens are much easier to do when using the long, steady heat of briquettes. And don't even dare ask me about using lighter fluid or lighter fluid infused briquettes. The only time you use those items are when your guests have asked for a little taste of Chernobyl. Buy yourself a Weber chimney to get your coals going!

Okay, let's get back to this award-winning burger recipe. You had darn better well grill this over lump charcoal. And if it were me, I would buy a chuck roast and grind my own meat in a food processor. This means you have had chain of control over your ground chuck and can cook it to medium rare if you so desire. If you buy store-bought ground meat, which consists of many parts from different animals, you are obligated for safety's sake to grill to medium well done (165º). This recipe serves four.

4 slices bacon
1 jar (12 ounces) sliced, pickled jalapeños, drained
1-½ pounds ground chuck
4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-½ teaspoons kosher salt
8 thin slices pepper jack cheese
4 hamburger buns, split


  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Drain the bacon on paper towels. Roughly chop the bacon into ½-inch pieces. 
  2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  3. Roughly chop half of the jalapeños and set aside the remaining sliced jalapeños. In a large bowl gently mix the ground chuck with the roughly chopped jalapeños, the goat cheese, the garlic, and the salt. With wet hands, gently form four loosely packed patties of equal size, each about ¾ inch thick. Don’t compact the meat too much or the patties will be tough. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1 inch wide in the center of each patty. This will help the patties cook evenly and prevent them from puffing on the grill. 
  4. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the patties over high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until cooked, (10 minutes), turning once. During the last minute of grilling time, add two slices of cheese to each patty to melt and toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat. 

Pairing: An ice cold pilsner.

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