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Old 01-03-2013, 08:54 PM   #1
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Grilled Burgers Don't Taste Grilled.

I've been a burger connoisseur all my life. I've had some mighty tasty burgers in my 50 years. I believe there are rules that should never be broken when preparing a great burger. I prefer my burgers grilled and I've experienced some great grilled burgers in my life. As much as I love a good burger, I just cannot seem to make a great one, myself. I've been grilling burgers for 30+ years and the closest I can get to great is just "okay". When I go out for a grilled burger they always have this wonderful, very smoky grilled flavor. It's hard to describe, really. I guess the best way to describe what my homemade burgers lack is that although they're grilled, they taste more like they're just heated up on a grill. They don't have that very important "missing" smokiness to them. When they're grilling they smell absolutely divine. They should taste like they smell but they don't.
So, here's where I've been to try to conquer the perfect burger.

1. I've tried gas and charcoal, no difference.
2. I've tried charcoal with fuel or without fuel.
3. The last grill I had had been seasoned for 10 years.
4. The grill had everything you could think of cooked on it.
5. Burgers only get flipped once.
6. I only use ground chuck.
7. I've tried ground brisket and a mixture of both.
8. I've had the supermarket grind chuck roast right in front of me.
9. I use salt and pepper only, and only after the meat hits the grill.
10. I barely knead the meat. I can still see the grinding in the beef patty.
11. Ive cooked them from medium to burnt to a crisp.
12. I've tried adding a drop of liquid smoke to the meat (gross)
13. I've tried brushing vegetable oil and olive oil on the meat before grilling.
14. I've tried buying premium beef from a butcher.
15. I've let them sit at room temp. for 45 minutes before grilling.
16. I usually close the grill lid for the entire process but I've tried leaving it open.

I've been over to friends' houses and had grilled burgers that were absolutely fantastic. When I ask them what their secret is, they don't quite know what this smokiness is that I speak of. In other words, they aren't doing anything special.

What am I not getting, here? I just want my burgers to be better than just "okay".

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Old 01-03-2013, 09:18 PM   #2
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One of the places I used to eat at many years ago had a reputation for outstanding burgers. Even though they were cooked on a griddle, they had a nice smoky flavor. One day I had a chance to talk to cook. Their secret: liquid smoke was added to the meat.

I'm not saying all places do that. I personally think grilling over lump charcoal gives burgers noticeable smokiness, but when you can't do that because of time or weather constraints, liquid smoke is a nice shortcut. I don't think there is anything gross about it because it really is nothing but alcohol infused with smoke.
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Old 01-03-2013, 09:36 PM   #3
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Yep. Liquid smoke is the answer. 'SV' the burgers. add a couple of drops of the liquid smoke to the ground beef. Nothing else. When the burgers are cooked remove from SV and quickly sear on the grill.
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Old 01-03-2013, 11:14 PM   #4
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Old 01-04-2013, 05:51 AM   #5
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I use 80% hamburg and grill over high, direct heat. You need to get the juices dripping down, getting the flames to come up and lick the burgers causing all kinds of smoke. If you can close your lid and not snuff out the flames, all the better.
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Old 01-04-2013, 06:21 AM   #6
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i agree with mr. canis that you have to cook a somewhat fatty burger over high heat to get "that taste". it's about the fat smoke as well as the char.

also, a gas grill is nice but unless you're cooking a load of burgers to get a lot of fat smoke going, it won't be the same. even then i prefer to cook over lump hardwood when possible, like steve mentioned, to get additional real smoke flavour. i'm not a fan of liquid smoke unless i's way in the background, almost unnoticable.

i just started looking (again) into getting my first full sized weber kettle grill, the 22 1/2" gold series, mostly because i miss cooking things like burgers and shish kebabs over real coals for that authentic taste. i gave in to the gassy dark side a number of years ago for convenience, but with the rare exceptions of when i've used my little smokey joe on outings to a lake or picnic area, my grilling has suffered like jabba the hut on weight watchers .
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Old 01-04-2013, 08:31 AM   #7
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I appreciate everyone's feedback. I've tried Liquid Smoke in my ground beef but that is definitely not the flavor I'm after. I don't know, maybe I'm just crazy. I've seen other people just throw ground chuck on the grill with nothing else added and the burgers have this magnificent, smoky, I don't know, caramelized flavor? I just feel that my burgers should taste like they smell when they're grilling, but they don't. That wonderful grilling smell should carry on through the burger but I'm unable to accomplish it. They basically taste like they're fried, but on a grate.

Last year I was at a friend’s house and I couldn't believe how good the burgers were. I asked his Wife (she was preparing the patties) what she was doing that made them so incredibly awesome. She didn't really know what to say because all she was doing was forming ground chuck into patties and her Husband was throwing them on a gas grill.

My grill has a stainless steel grate, would cooking on an iron or ceramic grate make a difference?
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Old 01-04-2013, 08:55 AM   #8
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The only way you can get the flavor you're after is when the liquids and fat drip down from the meat as it cooks onto the heat source and carbonize. That's what differentiates grilling from other cooking methods... which is also why it drives me nuts seeing people "grill" on aluminum foil, but that's beside the point. And it only makes sense, considering there's no other source of the smoky, grill-ey flavor if you omit liquid smoke from the equation. Try using a higher amount of fat in your burgers, like 70/30 so you can get more fat dripping into the heat source, and maybe use a hotter fire to get proper grill marks if you aren't already--another source of grill flavor. If nothing else, a few woodchips soaked in water for 30 minutes and thrown onto the fire can boost the smoke factor too.
Oh yeah and I'd think that putting patties on at room temperature or just a little below would aid in the melting of the fat in the burger to make more smoke as it drips
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:14 AM   #9
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Skip the liquid smoke. Personally, I agree that it's disgusting.

Always season meat before you cook it, so add the salt as you are making the patty. I think that might be part of the issue.

Grill the meat over fairly high heat to get the nicely charred crust -- also a big part of a burgers flavor.
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:35 AM   #10
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When I grill, I only use hardwood charcoal, started in a chimney. 80/20 beef, gently formed patty and only seasoned with salt and pepper. I set up a screaming hot zone to get a great crust and a cool zone to finish to correct doneness. I get those that range from threatened to medium rare. I won't ruin the meat by cooking it past med-rare. If I really want smoke, I throw some soaked cherry or pecan chunks on the hot side and use the cover.
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