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.
(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.
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.
Nor 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? :)
Smoked Brisket Burgers
Makes 6 burgers
2 lbs ground beef brisket
2 tbsp Montreal steak spice blend
6 Light Brioche Buns
½ lb applewood-smoked cheddar cheese, thinly sliced or crumbled
Spicy Onion Jam (see below)
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 ½" 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
¼ cup water
½ tsp dried Mexican oregano
½ 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)