Smokey and the Burger – Smoked Brisket Burgers with Spicy Onion Jam

Smoked Brisket Burgers w/ Spicy Onion JamOver the years, I’ve learned that The Boy will eventually ask two questions about any new ingredient (and quite a few not-so-new ones).

The first is “Do you think we can make ice cream with it?”

The second is “Do you think we can smoke it?”

When I told him that I wanted to make brisket burgers for Canadian Beef‘s “Who Rules the Grill?” contest, he naturally went straight to question #2.  “Can we make smoked brisket burgers? I bet that would be awesome!”

Being the good girlfriend that I am, I conceded that smoked brisket burgers might very well be awesome. So, smoke them we did.

Since this contest is all about showing off Canadian beef, I wanted these burgers to reflect that, in a no-nonsense, no-fillers, no-egg, nothing-but-the-beef-ma’am kind of way.  Since a purist’s burger consists of nothing more than beef and seasonings, it was really important to start with fresh-ground, good-quality, flavourful cut of beef (like brisket), rather than a run-of-the-mill package of supermarket ground beef. To achieve that, we picked up a brisket flat roast from our friendly neighbourhood butcher shop, and then ground at home using the small die for maximum freshness… however, if you don’t have a grinder at home, just ask your butcher to grind the brisket for you – most butcher shops will happily do it if you ask nicely enough.

Fresh Burgers

(Come to think of it, now that we own a proper meat grinder, I’ll probably be hearing another question pretty often… namely “Can we grind it up and make sausage with it?”)

Anyway, back to the burgers. A dash of Montreal steak spice was all we added, gently mixed in to avoid overhandling the beef, before shaping into six very generously sized patties. From there, onto the smoker they went, emerging a little more than half an hour later with the distinctly smoky flavour, bright pink smoke ring and chin-dripping juiciness that are the hallmarks of any good BBQed meat. The last step was a quick sear over high heat to crisp everything up.

Grilling Burgers

But wait… there’s more!

After all, the bun is as much a part of a hamburger as the patty, right? A perfect burger requires a perfect bun, which is why I baked up a batch of Light Brioche Buns while the burgers were smoking. These are, without a doubt, the Cadillac of hamburger buns – substantial enough to hold a good-sized burger without falling apart, but still as light and fluffy and rich as anything with “brioche” in its name ought to be. There’s simply no other bun in existence that could possibly compete with a fresh batch of these babies, all warm and golden-brown from the oven.

Smoked Brisket Burgers w/ Spicy Onion JamNor can we forget the toppings. My original plan was to go a little crazy with bacon and avocado and barbecue sauce and cheese, but The Boy reined me in by reminding me that toppings should enhance the burger, not outshine or overwhelm it.  In the end, I pared my list down to two toppings – a crumbling of applewood-smoked cheddar melted into gooey submission and a generous dollop of a homemade Spicy Onion Jam. Like well-trained backup singers, these two toppings add notes of tangy sweetness and mellow smokiness that accentuate the burger’s straightforward smoky beefiness without distracting from it. A lettuce leaf for cool contrast is really the only other thing needed to achieve perfect harmony.

Sure, it’s a heck of a lot of work for something as straightforward as a burger, but what awaits you at the end of all that hot, sweaty work is completely worth it – I’m talking about a sloppy, smoky, sweet, spicy, vinegary, cheesy, meaty, burp-out-loud and rub-your-belly-in-contentment masterpiece. It’s proof positive that The Boy’s obsession with throwing everything in the smoker pays off sometimes.

Thankfully, he has yet to ask if we can make brisket ice cream.  I have a feeling that wouldn’t turn out quite so well.

Note: This recipe is being submitted as an entry to Canadian Beef‘s “Who Rules the Grill?” contest. Because I like beef, I like grilling and I like contests… so how could I say no? :)
If you’d like to submit an entry showing off your own bad-ass grilling skills, check out the contest details here.


Smoked Brisket Burgers
Makes 6 burgers

2 lbs ground beef brisket
2 tbsp Montreal steak spice blend
6 Light Brioche Buns
1/2 lb applewood-smoked cheddar cheese, thinly sliced or crumbled
Spicy Onion Jam (see below)
Leaf lettuce

In a large bowl, combine ground brisket and steak spice. Using your hands, gently mix to incorporate the seasoning, being careful not to overwork the mixture. Divide the mixture into six equally-sized portions, and shape into 1″ thick patties. Using your thumb, make a small indentation in the middle of each burger, about 1/2″ deep. Cover and chill for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak 4-6 chunks of hardwood (preferably mesquite) in a bowl of water.
Preheat a charcoal grill, pushing the coals over to one side of the grill so that the burgers can be cooked over indirect heat.
Once the grill reaches 225F, put a chunk or two of soaked hardwood directly on the hot coals. As soon as the wood begins to smoke, arrange the burger patties on the grate, away from direct heat. Close the lid.
Smoke patties over indirect heat until their internal temperature reaches 130F, about 30-45 minutes, turning them over once after 20 minutes. (Do not smoke more than 45 minutes, even if the burgers haven’t quite reached the target temperature). Whenever the smoke begins to taper off, add another chunk of wood to the coals.
Move the burgers over to direct heat and sear for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 150F.  Top each patty with a little cheese during the last minute of cooking. (If you’re a toasted bun fan, split the buns and toast them on the grill for a minute or two at this stage.)
Serve the burgers on brioche buns, topping each one with a large spoonful of Spicy Onion Jam and a leaf of lettuce just before serving.


Spicy Onion Jam
Makes about 2 cups

4 tbsp olive oil
2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large sweet onions (Vidalia or Walla Walla), peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or 3 for the extra-spicy version)
3 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp honey
Fresh ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan set over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add water, oregano and salt. Reduce heat to low.
Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 45-60 minutes or until very soft and golden brown in colour.  If the onions begin to stick or burn at any point, add a tablespoon or two of water and continue cooking.
Meanwhile, combine chipotle peppers, vinegar and honey in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Spoon in a tablespoon or two of adobo sauce, and process into a smooth puree.
Stir the chipotle puree into the caramelized onions, and continue cooking for 5 minutes, until thick and jam-like. Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper to taste. Once cooled, spoon into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Jam will keep for about 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
(Leftovers make a fabulous addition to grilled cheese or roast beef sandwiches, BTW, as well as a great accompaniment to cheese plates or ploughman’s lunches)


  1. says

    I can almost smell the burger out of the images, the whole idea looks divine just a small question, I have never actually tasted spicy onion jam , is it suppose to taste spicy or sweet or am I just being silly here.

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks, Steve. The chipotles do add a little heat, but it’s balanced out by the sweetness of the caramelized onions… so I guess the answer is spicy AND sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

  2. Janet@fromcupcakestocaviar says

    These sound amazing! I can’t figure out which I like the sound of more; the burgers or the Onion jam!

  3. Brooke - in Oregon says

    Sounds tasty!! Can you can up the onion relish or does it need to be used fresh?

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks, Brooke! I’m not entirely sure if the onion jam is safe for hot water bath canning, since there’s not that much vinegar and onions are on the low-acid side of the spectrum. Should be fine with a pressure canner, though.
      The other option would be to freeze it. I haven’t tried yet, but I suspect it’ll do just fine… that’s what I do with most of my chutneys and relishes.

  4. Lemons and Anchovies says

    I’m drooling, not just for the burgers or buns but also for the onion jam. I came across a recipe a few months ago that I wanted to try but now I’m tossing that in place of yours. Love it all!

  5. kita says

    Ooooh girl. You are right up my ally with this one. I can’t wait to try this. I haven’t tried straight up ground brisket yet for burgers but I am loving this… and then smoking them… I can’t wait to try this!!

  6. Adora's Box says

    That is a pretty awesome burger. So much labour went into it but I bet it was well worth it in the end. I love the onion jam that went with it. It will go nicely with English sausages.

  7. Sandra says

    This is a good burger and the Spicy Onion Jam, OH MY!! I can see me putting that on just about everything.

  8. Anna says

    Hi Isabelle, first I loooooooooved your new site, I was a bit confused but girl what a great job it is. Now the burger….Wow…the idea is awesome, the pictures are amazing I have only one tiny complain…why the heck you don’t live here in LA? Santa Monica to be more clear. Whyyyyyyyy? LOL
    I would be a happier person if I had you as a neighbor or even business partner.I would totally open a food joint with you girl.

    • Isabelle says

      Heh. I don’t know if I could ever leave my beloved Canada, but if I did, Cali would be high up on my list of places to move. Maybe someday! :)

  9. Rochelle says

    I’m seriously trying not to drool over here! I’ve got to get me a smoker and at some point my own meat grinder too.

    The photo with the melty applewood-smoked cheese is just killing me. Having a serious craving for a good burger now and I feel the need to make some onion jam if only to eat it out of the jar with a spoon after :D

  10. Tori @ The Shiksa in the Kitchen says

    Smoked brisket burgers? That is indeed an awesome idea. Best of luck with the contest, Isabelle!

  11. Peggy says

    What a great looking burger! Smoked brisket burgers? Genius!!

    And p.s. I haven’t been by in a while, but I love the new layout/design of the site (and the new title!) =)

  12. katescakesandbakes says

    Wow! These look AMAZINGGG! I’m a newbie to the blog and thoroughly enjoying reading your yummy-sounding posts! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Food Traveler says

    This looks delicious. Have you ever tried it with a horseradish sauce? that seems like it would add a killer kick.

    • Isabelle says

      Good call! Horseradish (or a horseradish aioli) would probably be a fabulous choice for these burgers, though I think I’d omit the onion jam if that was the case. I think the two flavours might clash with each other.

  14. Lacey @ says

    Your photos and recipes are great! We’d love for you to submit your stuff to! :)

  15. Jen H says

    Wow! Amazing sounding burgers! My guy got a smoker for Christmas and love brisket, so I’m thinking we may have to tackle this recipe very soon. I tend to appreciate the recipes that take all day, since they always taste the best. Good luck in the contest!

    • Isabelle says

      Yay for smokers! I’m sure that once he starts smoking stuff, your guy will end up just as obsessed with his smoker as mine is. :)

  16. Jeff says

    Amazing!!!! Instant droolage. The onion Jam especially intrigues me! Nice work!

  17. Yuri says

    My bf has been asking me to make him burgers but I’m just not inspired… These look AMAZING and love the spicy onion jam :)

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks, Wendy. You don’t necessarily need a smoker for these – I’ve provided instructions for smoking a regular charcoal grill, which does a perfectly fine job. The only special equipment you’ll need is hardwood chunks, which can be picked up anywhere where BBQ supplies are sold.

  18. Pretend Chef says

    Your post had my guy racing from across the room to check out these burgers. You have us both salivating. These burgers sound amazing and oh so delicious. I’ve never had a smoked burger before and can only imagine the flavor these pack. We need to rush out to buy a smoker and meat grinder STAT. Yummy! Love the new blog design.

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks! BTW, because these burgers only need to smoke for 30-45 minutes, you don’t necessarily need a smoker to make them – the instructions I’ve provided are for a regular charcoal grill (or you can adapt it for a gas grill by using foil packets of soaked wood chips instead of whole chunks). Not that I’d ever discourage anyone from buying a smoker. We love ours! :)

  19. Alicia @ Aligirl Cooks says

    Yum! Your spicy onion jam looks delicious. I’m always looking for recipes to go with my burgers!

  20. kelly says

    Isabelle, these sound amazing! I was literally salivating while reading this. Burgers are my hands-down absolute favorite food in the world and smoking them just seems like it would be heaven. I curse my tiny apartment for its lack of outdoor space and my grad student lifestyle for limiting my funds, else I’d purchase a smoker and a meat grinder in a heart beat (probably the meat grinder first… I’ve been dying to make my own sausage lately). Anyway, I also wanted to tell you that I love the new layout/title of your blog! So clean & a great concept!

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks, Kelly! I feel your pain – I’ve had my share of teensy apartments over the years. On the bright side, you can still make the onion jam with minimal equipment… and it’s pretty darn awesome even on regular pan-fried burgers. (Actually, it’s pretty darn awesome. Period. Full stop.)


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