When most people think of hamburgers, they envision flame-grilled patties with a seared exterior and juicy interior. While you can always cook hamburgers by grilling them, you shouldn’t discount smoking as a cooking method. Smoked hamburgers have a distinct flavor that’s not found in their grilled counterparts. But if you’re thinking about smoking hamburgers, there are a few things you should know to achieve the best flavor.
Benefits of Smoking Hamburgers
Smoking hamburgers offers several benefits. Unlike with grilling, smoking uses indirect heat, meaning there’s little or no chance of flareups. Even if the fat melts and drips into the fuel compartment, it shouldn’t trigger a flareup.
You’ll probably discover that smoking creates even juicer hamburgers than grilling. Because of the low cooking temperatures used for smoking, it doesn’t cause juices inside of meat to evaporate as quickly as grilling does.
Of course, the greatest benefit of smoking hamburgers is its unparalleled flavor. Grilling hamburgers involves cooking them over direct heat, such as a bed of burning charcoal. Smoking, on the other hand, involves cooking hamburgers over indirect heat produced by flavorful wood or wood chunks. As it smolders, the wood will infuse your hamburgers will flavorful smoke compounds.
Choose High-Fat Meat
You can smoke any type of hamburger meat, but high-fat meat typically yields better results than low-fat meat. When shopping for hamburger meat at the grocery store, pay attention to its fat content. Most hamburger meat, including ground beef, is labeled with its ratio of lean meat to fat. If a package of hamburger meat is labeled as “90% lean / 10% fat,” for example it contains 10% fat and 90% nonfat or lean meat.
Low-fat hamburger meat has fewer calories and less saturated fat than high-fat meat. The problem with low-fat hamburger meat, however, is that it doesn’t offer the same flavor or level of juiciness as high-fat hamburger meat. The fat in hamburger meat keeps it juicy and flavorful. Therefore, high-fat hamburger meat is recommended when smoking. So, how much fat should your hamburger have? A good rule of thumb is to choose hamburger meat with at least 20% fat. If it’s leaner than 20%, it won’t be as juicy or flavorful.
Select the Right Smoking Chunks
When smoking hamburgers, don’t underestimate the importance of using the right smoking chunks. Smoking chunks are small pieces of high-quality wood measuring a few inches long. Their small size allows them to produce lots of flavorful smoke when heated. Not all smoking chunks are the same, however. Each variety of smoking chunks has a unique flavor. Hickory, for instance, is well-known for its strong bacon-like flavor, which naturally complements most types of meat, including hamburgers. Cherry smoking chunks have a sweeter and more fruity flavor. And oak smoking chunks are an excellent all-around choice because of their mild yet versatile flavor.
While it’s possible to smoke hamburgers using wood chips, smoking chunks are recommended because of their ability to produce more smoke. Wood chips are often made of the same varieties of hardwood as smoking chunks. With their smaller and thinner size, though, they don’t produce as much smoke as smoking chunks.
Here are some tips on how to choose the right smoking chunks for hamburgers:
- Stick with a hardwood variety
- Make sure they have a low moisture content, such as that of kiln dried smoking chunks
- If you’re going to use a strong-flavored variety of smoking chunks, consider mixing it with a mild-flavored variety as well
Prepare Your Smoker or Grill
You can smoke hamburgers using a dedicated smoker or a traditional charcoal grill. To get started, go ahead and build a fire in your smoker or grill using either lump or briquette charcoal. Once the charcoal has turned white and developed a light layer of ash, you can add your smoking chunks.
There are different ways to add smoking chunks: You can toss them directly on the charcoal, or you can place them off to the side of the charcoal (or inside a smoker box). If the smoking chunks are directly on top of the charcoal, they’ll quickly burn while producing a lot of clean and flavorful smoke in the process. If the smoking chunks are next to the charcoal or inside a smoker box, they’ll burn more slowly and produce less smoke.
Smoke for 1 Hour
It takes longer to smoke hamburgers than it does to grill them. Assuming your smoker or grill has reached an internal temperature of roughly 220 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to smoke your hamburgers for about one hour.
During this time, avoid the temptation of opening your smoker or grill. You’ll still need to flip your hamburgers a few times to ensure they smoke evenly, but refrain from constantly opening and closing the lid. Each time you open your smoker or grill to check on your hamburgers, you’ll release the smoke. And with less smoke, your hamburgers won’t taste as delicious.
Sear With Direct Heat
After smoking your hamburgers for about one hour, you should sear them to create a crispy, semi-charred exterior. What’s the purpose of searing hamburgers exactly? When you sear your hamburgers, you’ll expose them to direct heat, thereby creating a more crispy texture that’s commonly associated with flame-grilled hamburgers.
To sear your hamburgers, you’ll need to cook them directly over a hot bed of charcoal. Therefore, you should start by building a second fire using a decent amount of lump or briquette charcoal inside your smoker or grill. Once the charcoal has reached an appropriate temperature, place your hamburgers back onto the grate — directly over the charcoal — and sear them for about three minutes on each side.
Don’t make the mistake of searing your hamburgers for too long. Remember, they’ve already been smoked for one hour, so over-searing them may cause them to dry out. To prevent this from happening, set a timer for three times. After allowing your hamburgers to sear for three minutes, flip them and sear the opposite side for the same length of time. After they’ve seared for three minutes on each side, remove your hamburgers from the cooking grate.
It’s important to note that you should only sear your hamburgers after smoking them, not before. While it sounds harmless, searing hamburgers before smoking them will negatively affect their flavor. If you sear then smoke your hamburgers, the patties won’t be able to absorb all of the flavorful smoke produced by the smoldering smoking chunks. Searing creates a hard exterior that restricts the amount of flavorful smoke your hamburgers can absorb. Therefore, you should only sear your hamburgers after smoking them.
Remove and Enjoy
Now it’s time to remove your smoked hamburgers and enjoy them. Depending on your preferences, you may want to add cheese, condiments, lettuce, tomatoes or other toppings. Regardless, when you take that first bite, you’ll realize why smoking is such a popular alternative to grilling hamburgers. Smoked hamburgers have a mouthwatering-delicious flavor and juicy texture that’s sure to draw compliments.
Find the best quality smoking chunks by visiting our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey that you can use in a smoker box when smoking hamburgers. We offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.