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

Wagyu Cheeseburger

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While I don’t have an “official” BBQ Bucket List, if I did, this item would have made the short list. Kobe and Wagyu beef have entered into the public consciousness these last 5 years. I was curious to try grilling some up to see if I could taste a big difference and discover what all the fuss was about. This past Saturday I got a chance to try some Wagyu ground beef and this blog will describe that event.

Big Picture: Kobe beef describes meat from 4 breeds of Japanese Wagyu cattle, which were raised under ideal conditions in Kobe, Japan. The meat is extremely tender and well-marbled with a fat content of around 40%. The lineage of the Kobe beef stock is carefully tracked through multiple generations and there are only about 3,000 cattle in the Kobe beef herd. This all comes at a price though: a rib-eye steak from Kobe beef can cost over $100.00 per steak. In the 1970’s Wagyu cattle from Japan were exported to other countries including the US. These cattle were cross-bred with domestic Angus cattle. This was intentional and was intended to make the cattle easier to raise in our climate and also give them a flavor that the Americans are more familiar with. There is quite a bit of mislabelling of this beef, which seems to be purely intentional. You will often see some beef labelled as Kobe beef or American Kobe beef. Unless the beef is raised and slaughtered in the Kobe region of Japan, it is not Kobe beef. If you look at the finer print of the beef called Kobe here in the U.S., you will often find it is Wagyu beef raised in America.

My Story: I was attending NewEGGlandfest VIII in Brentwood, NH about an hour away from home. Who should be there but some folks from the butcher shop I use: Alpine Butcher Shop of Lowell, MA. I often get hard to find or special cuts of meat there. They have a wide selection of unusual or hard-to-find meats. From time to time, I have shown them pictures of what I do with their meats and I had mentioned my Big Green Eggs and Eggfests like the NewEGGlandfest. They evidently had paid attention to what I had told them, because 3 of them had made the trip. I had been away from my grills for far too long, and I was planning on making a recipe called Korean Burgers when i got home. In talking to one of the butcher/owners, I found they carried Wagyu beef in one pound frozen packages. The price was only about double what a good grade of ground beef cost. On my way home I began thinking: “What better way to break back into grilling than by grilling some premium ground beef.” This may be the first and last time I bought this grade of meat, but the timing seemed right.

Prep: As promised, the meat was frozen and in one pound packages. I was told to defrost it by placing the package in cold water for 45 minutes. While the meat was defrosting, I looked up some recipes for grilling the ground Waygu beef. I was purely interested in the cooking method, not the ingredients or toppings. I had already decided to keep things simple, I wanted the beef to be the center of attention. I would use no seasonings other than salt and pepper. I would apply these on the grill once the burgers started grilling. I didn’t want to mix the salt and pepper in with the meat ahead of time because the salt might start drying out the meat. For toppings and condiments I also kept it simple: some high quality white American cheese and no condiments. Where I was going to be adding the salt and pepper as the burgers cooked on the grill, I premixed them into one container. This way I could add them together and minimize my lid-open time. While the meat was defrosting, I fired up the Big Green Egg which was set up for direct grilling with the cast iron grill grate. I tried out some of the Stump Chunks fire starters to light the fire. I will write a separate blog about my initial impressions of the Stump Chunks. I was shooting for a grilling temperature of 425 degrees (218 C).


Once the meat was defrosted, I opened the package and began forming three 1/3 pound (15 gm) patties. Conventional wisdom says 1/3 pound (15 gm) patties are the ideal sized patty for the perfect burger. They have the “ideal” ratio of surface area, interior area and thickness. When I opened the wrapping I immediately noticed a big difference in color. This ground beef was a pink, almost salmon color and not the normal red color I normally associate with ground beef. I guess I had noticed the color earlier, but at that time I associated the color with the meat being frozen. I figured what I was seeing was ice or condensation on the surface which was masking the red color underneath. As it turned out I was wrong, this was the color. Once I thought little more about it the reason was apparent: This meet has around a 40 percent fat content and red and white makes pink. Once I began forming the patties I immediately noticed the second big difference with the Wagyu ground beef. It had a very soft, uniform and creamy texture. It didn’t feel like individual strands of ground beef like I was used to. I used a very light touch forming the patties and they were quite soft and somewhat loose. I was a bit worried about them holding together on the grill. The consistency of the patties reminded me of some veal burgers I made about 10 years ago. These veal burgers were very soft and creamy too, but this was after adding some bread soaked in milk (a panade) to the mix. The similarities of the Wagyu to the veal burgers set alarm bells off. These veal burgers took several attempts on my part to achieve success, because they stuck to the grill grates like glue. On subsequent attempts I added some egg and breadcrumbs to the mix to help firm up the veal patties. These Wagyu burgers were going to be pure beef, with nothing added to the mix, so I needed to take grate care-pun intended. I brushed and oiled the grill grate not once, but twice. I also kept the formed patties in the fridge to firm them up until I was ready to toss them on the grill.


Grilling: Once I had the grill stabilized at 425 (218C) I put the patties on. Almost from the minute they hit the grill grate, I began to see little tiny flare-ups in the charcoal. The flare ups quickly began to increase in size. There was also quite a bit of beefy smelling smoke created. I donned my leather welders gloves to add the salt and pepper mixture to the first side. I was able to get the lid closed fairly quickly. There was still quite a bit of smoke coming out of the chimney of the Egg, but shining the flashlight of my iPhone down the chimney and peering carefully down the chimney it appeared the flareups had gone out. I am guessing the smoke was from fat dripping onto the coals, but with the tight seal of the Egg there wasn’t enough oxygen to create a flare up. The recipe I was using for cooking the burgers said 4-5 minutes per side at 425 (218 C), so I checked the meat at 4 minutes. There was some juice pooling on the top surface which was a sign that the meat should be flipped. With the lid opened, the flareups also began again.I put on the welders gloves to turn the patties. I used a spatula with the thinnest blade that I owned to turn the patties. I was able to very carefully and slowly work the spatula under the patties and flip them. When the flipped patties landed back on the grill grate there was a large flare up each time. I was pleased to see that I only had one small piece of one burger stick to the grill. Bullet dodged.


Based on how the first side cooked, I figured 4 minutes on the second side was about right. I opened the lid at the 2:30 minute mark and quickly checked the temp with my Thermapen, this reading confirmed I was on target for 160 degrees (71 C) at 4 minutes. I had to add the cheese bare-handed and it was interesting because the grill was flaring up again. I had to drop the cheese onto the patties from several inches overhead to avoid getting burned. The first piece of cheese I added got one edge singed a bit from the flare ups occurring while I added the cheese to the other burgers. I got the lid closed and had about a minute left to go before they would be done. At 4 minutes I pulled the patties. They came off the grill easier than the first side had. I took them into the Kitchen and covered them for a 10 minute rest as per the recipe.


Moistness: The first bite confirmed these were the moistest burgers I had ever tasted. When I grind my own meat I often don’t take the meat all the way up to 160 degrees (71 C) because it does tend to dry things out. This meat had no fillings or additives inside to help with the moistness and it was taken all the way to 160 and was still extremely moist. It wasn’t a juicy wet moistness but more a creamy buttery moistness.

Consistency: To my surprise these burgers did not have a consistency that I associate with ground beef. I mentioned the creamy buttery moistness, but this also extended into the consistency as well. The texture was very smooth and did not seem like it was made from strands or pieces of ground meat. I really haven’t experienced meat with this consistency before. The ground veal burgers I made came somewhat close. They were soft and moist but still had a more coarse consistency than these Wagyu patties.

Taste: The moistness of these patties was a bit of a surprise, the consistency was very surprising, but the biggest surprise was the taste. I expected that the flavor would just be a more intense grilled ground beef flavor due to the extra fat content. These burgers had an intense meaty flavor but I really couldn’t put my finger on what it reminded me of. It was unlike any beef burger I had tasted and very intense. Now it wasn’t necessarily better than the best, but it was right up there and different.


This was a very interesting experiment and the results were not at all what I expected. This was an excellent meal, but here is what surprised me: If you put a blindfold on me and gave me some pieces of this meat, I never would have guessed I was eating a beef hamburger. It was very moist, like the best hamburgers can be, but it didn’t chew or taste like any burger I have tried before. At about double the price of good ground beef, it certainly will not become a regular part of my diet. I liked it well enough that I will consider making it for fellow burger lovers for some special occasions. I am very happy I got to try this.



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