The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Winter Wish Granted

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In years past when I didn’t ∫think I could direct grill in the winter what was it I really missed?? You are looking at it above: a grilled cheeseburger. Yesterday that wish was granted and I couldn’t be happier about it.

In my last blog entry
DIRECT GRILLING IN THE WINTER?? I described my discovery that with my current gas grill it seemed I could direct grill in the winter. Now I used my grill all through the winter but it was for indirectly grilled or rotisserie grilled roasts. On my other grills I had steaks take over an hour. I never knew when they were really done. It was dark out and I kept bringing it inside and cutting into it to see if it was done and then running back out with it for more grill time. While I could do this with a steak it really didn’t seem practical with a burger. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason for how long it was taking and just wasn’t worth the effort.


My first winter burgers deserved the best. So I made a batch of hamburger rolls

Fast forward to this winter where I decided to see if my new gas grill was up to the direct grilling task. I found out the answer was yes. A couple days ago when I was writing my blog about it and mentioned I would keep experimenting with it, I thought let’s just go straight to trying a burger. A grilled hamburger was the one simple pleasure I probably missed the most in the winter. So yesterday morning I was going to have a burger for lunch. I also decided if I was lucky enough to be able to make a burger, it couldn’t be just any burger. I had to find one that was special and worthy of this attempt. Next I decided I wasn’t going to go out and by hamburger rolls and potato chips. This special event rated fresh baked hamburger rolls and Hand Cut French Fries. As it turned out lunch became supper, but it was worth the wait.


The ingredients for the burgers were assembled. They were very much like mini meat loafs.

In the day that had passed after I wrote my DIRECT GRILLING IN THE WINTER??? blog entry, I’d done a little research about my two working theories. The first was that the mass of my grill’s cast iron burners helped it retain more heat than the lightweight burners in my prior grills. The second was that some of my problems may have been caused by a propane tank that was nearly empty. The cold made for less pressure in the tank, which in turn made for a colder flame. So far everything I have turned up seems to support my theories. I found sales pitches for various grills where they also pointed to the mass of the grill grates helping them retain the heat. I hadn’t even thought of this, but my grill also has heavy grill grates too. So more mass in the burners, metal flame tamers that collect and even out the heat and heavy grill grates all seem to help my latest grill cope with the cold.


Onions and garlic are sauteed for about 5 minutes and some cumin and ginger powder were added in.

Research on using propane in the winter also seemed to support my theory. I saw charts for balloonists on the pressure of propane at various air temps and there were special instructions for cold weather use. Several sites that talked about heating with propane in the winter suggested keeping the tank over half full because there would be more pressure which was more important in the cold weather. So I do think I am on to something. In the past it is quite possible I may have been using a propane tank that was less than half full. I do know that when I made my wings the other day the heat fell off as I went along and the tank was below half full. With a new tank yesterday I had steady temps in weather that was 15 degrees (8 C) colder. I have no way to test out my theory on grill design and mass, but it certainly can’t hurt.


Bread crumbs are mixed with milk and set for 10 minutes. The breadcrumbs help keep the burgers from being too soupy.

Back to the burgers. I picked a burger recipe from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling called “Chopped” Steak w/ Ketchup Glaze. It was very much like a meatloaf recipe, complete with topping it with ketchup. But before I could think about the burgers, I had to make the rolls. Now if you didn’t believe the simple pleasure I missed the most in the winter was grilled burgers, let me add more evidence: The baking class I took at King Arthur Flour was with the express purpose of learning how to bake bread so I could make my own hamburger rolls. This was only the second time I’ve made my own rolls. While I still have work to do on them, they were already better than what I can buy at the supermarket.


The ingredients are ready to form into patties.

Once the buns were cooling, I had to run to the store to get meat and baking potatoes. When I returned it was mid-afternoon and time to start the burgers as they took some time to prep. First I sauteed the onions and garlic and added in the ground ginger and cumin. While these cooled I combined the milk and bread crumbs and let them set for 10 minutes. After that it was time to combine the sauteed onions and garlic with the milk and breadcrumbs and the meat, mustard, egg, olive oil, salt & pepper. These burgers were very soft and soupy. I recognized this from the Veal Burgers I have made. They were so soft they seemed like they’d fall apart and drop through the grill grates. The veal burgers used milk, I started adding the bread crumbs to try to bind them. This recipe used the bread crumbs, plus it used egg which would help bind the meat. They also had you refrigerate the finished patties for 30 minutes. Another problem was the soft veal burgers wanted to stick to the grill grates. The Weber recipe called for you to brush or spray the patties with olive oil. All in all it was about 90 minutes of prep time.


The finished 1/3 pound patties are refrigerated for 30 minutes to help bind them together.

While the burgers were being chilled in the fridge, I prepped the Hand Cut French Fries. This was another Weber recipe and was quite simple. You cut the potato, tossed it in olive oil, salt & pepper & grilled it. This recipe gave me the opportunity to try out my Stephen Raichlen grill baskets. This tool consisted of an assembly of 4 gridded baskets which allows you to trap and grill small loose items that would otherwise fall through the normal grill grates. What set this one apart from the other grill baskets I have is the detachable handle. My other grill baskets have a long fixed handle. This causes two problems. The first is you can’t close the lid, which is important in the winter. Secondly my grill has a raised lip around the front and sides. This keeps food from sliding off the grill which is a good thing. But with grill tools that used fixed handles, the utensil doesn’t lie flat on the grill. When I made these fries before the grill baskets touch the grill grate at the back and sloped up nearly 2” (5 cm) at the front. As a result the fries didn’t cook evenly. There was no such problem here as the handle simple detached and the unit laid flat on the grill. When it was time to flip you reattached the handle long enough to do that.


I cooked the buns and the hand cut fries first so I could best use the grill surface area. The fries were in the middle where the heat would be most uniform. If the buns near the edge took 60 not 30 seconds to cook no biggie. As it turned out the temps were good almost out to the edges.

So how did I make out? Well I preheated the grill longer, fired up more burners than I needed to give me a large warm area and set the temperature knobs a little higher than usual. The new propane tank was giving me good heat and I could see flames coming from the burners. The other day when the tank got below 1/4 full the flames and the heat both had died down. The fries took longer than the recipe called for, but this had happened in the Summer too. One thing you need to watch when grilling potatoes is the temperature and also time. Too hot or too long and the potatoes go from raw to charred at the blink of an eye. I did pretty well but a few of the smaller fries had burnt ends. A minute less would probably have been perfect. Breads are the same as potatoes in that you really need to get the right time and temperature. The buns cooked up just like I would have expected in the summer.


The burgers were sprayed with EVOO and the grill grates were rubbed with EVOO to keep these soft burgers from sticking to the grate.

As for the main event, the burgers cooked up fine. In addition to spraying them with olive oil I made sure the grill grate was well oiled to. I used olive oil on a paper towel held in my tongs to oil the grill grate. The burgers took about an extra minute to grill per side which wasn’t bad at all. The recipe called for 5-7 minutes a side for these 1/3 pound burgers. This is what I would have guessed and the fact these burgers had been chilled for 30 minutes. That alone could have accounted for the extra time. After the burgers were flipped they were topped with ketchup. With two minutes left I topped them with some aged cheddar. Bottom line: Other than it being cold and dark at 5:00PM this was no different than cooking these burgers in the summer. Fantastic news indeed.


The burgers received a topping of ketchup after they were flipped.

How did they taste? Really great!!! They tasted like a cross between meatloaf and a hamburger. They were much more flavorful that a regular burger and very moist too. Next time I will use the spicy ketchup from the smoked meatloaf recipe I do. The home made buns were great with a sweet, yeast flavor you don’t get with the store bought ones. As for the fries they are very simple to make and taste great. You may have noticed I cooked those before the burgers. It kept the timing simple and allowed me to keep the food centered in the middle of the grill where the most even temperatures were. I gave the fires a quick zap in the microwave to reheat them and they were great.


With two minutes to go the burgers were topped with cheese.

My research on cold weather propane use turned up a statistic that 68% of the people were using their grills year round now in the US. This was way up compared to 5 years ago. It didn’t break it down by region, but I’d guess that it is higher in warm regions and lower in cold. But from what I have found if you have the right grill and you use a propane tank that is at least half full, you stand a good chance of success. As I mentioned before, just try a few practice runs before you volunteer to cook for a holiday or special event. As for me, it would appear I may be able to make what I want just about anytime I want it. Yesterday was a happy day for me indeed!!



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