Smoked Burgers With Fennel and Pear Slaw

These home ground chuck steak burgers are smoked and then seared for simple burger perfection.
Mat Cotton
Mat Cotton
Smoked burger with chips on serving platter

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Everyone loves burgers. That is a fact.

Well, maybe not vegans. Or vegetarians. Ok, ALMOST everyone loves burgers. And for a very good reason. Burgers are delicious.

By using the right cut of meat and grinding it yourself you can do amazing things with the simplest of ingredients.

This recipe for reverse seared smoked burgers is simple to cook, and will still blow the socks off everyone who tries it!

The most important thing is to keep it super simple, not to overwork your meat (that’s what she said!) and remember the 80/20 rule.

That is 80% meat, 20% fat.

Tips for smoking burgers

1. Use the right cut of meat

So, which cut of beef do you use for burgers? I find that chuck steak has the perfect mix of lean meat to fat and gives you the ideal 80/20 ratio. It’s generally all I use, but if I have some leftover brisket trimmings, I throw them in there too.

When I make burgers, I like to make my own brioche buns, but store-bought is fine too.

2. Use the right toppings to complement the smokey burger

Use whichever toppings you like, but I have included my recipe for a simple fennel and pear slaw, which cuts nicely through the smokiness of the burger.

I like to use sliced beetroot. I can hear some of you gasp and recoil in horror through the screen. But it’s an Aussie staple in burgers. Use it or don’t, it’s up to you.

Oh, and of course, cheese!

3. Start low and slow and then finish with a quick sear

You’ll also need a smoker, ideally with an area for hot and fast ( I have used my reverse flow smoker for this recipe, with GrillGrates on top of the firebox).

You don’t necessarily need to finish the burgers with a hot and fast sear, but it will create a great crust at the end with the Maillard reaction.

If you can only set up your smoker for low and slow you can always sear the burgers in a raging hot cast iron pan before serving.

Grinding your meat

If you haven’t got a meat grinder, and you eat a lot of burgers, I highly recommend purchasing one! If you haven’t, just get your meat supplier or butcher to grind your chuck on a coarse grind setting the same day you plan on making burgers.

I like my burgers cooked medium, around 140-145°F. This is below the USDA recommended safe temperature for ground beef so the way to ensure safe burgers at that temp is to grind your own beef at home.

Food safety 101

The reason for this is that all the nasty stuff lives on the OUTSIDE of meat, and doesn’t penetrate through.

This is why its perfectly safe to eat steaks rare – the method of cooking kills the bacteria that may be present on the outside of the meat.

If you use ground meat however, all that surface bacteria has been ground into the patty itself. Using your own grinder at home means you can control the entire process.

Firstly, you’ll need to grind your chuck. I use an electric meat grinder, but a hand grinder works just as well.

Get your grinder nice and cold before starting

Now, this next part is VERY important. The metal parts of your grinder – and the meat itself – needs to be COLD. VERY COLD.

Think Arnold Swartzenegger in that terrible Batman film. Mr Freeze.

Seriously, it should almost hurt to touch the metal grinder without gloves.

The reason for this is simple. A meat grinder has moving parts that create friction, and friction creates heat.

That heat will start to render that delicious fat that you are wanting to keep within the meat to make your burger moist and juicy.

To get your grinder as cold as possible, put all metal parts in the freezer for at least a couple of hours. Also put a metal bowl in there too (if you can fit it) to catch the ground chuck before forming into burgers.

The chuck I keep in the fridge and put into the freezer about half an hour before grinding.

You can then cut up into chunks or strips and feed through the grinder into the cold metal bowl. 

Making the burger patties

Once you’ve ground your meat (or picked some up from the store) it’s time to form your burgers.

You should aim for around 1/3lb per burger.

I use a burger form, which is essentially a plastic burger mold, but this really isn’t necessary.

You can easily form your patties by making a ball midway between a golf and a tennis ball. Its easier to do this with wet hands, so that the meat doesn’t stick to your hands.

Place the ball on a flat, clean surface, and press down with the flat of your hand until it’s around 1/2″ thick, then form into a traditional ‘hockey puck’ shape with your hands.

Its important not to overwork your ground chuck for two reasons:

  1. Your hands will warm it up and you should remember we don’t want heat
  2. You want to maintain a nice course ground mince for ultimate juiciness. Overworking it will turn it into a giant, dry meatball.

Once you’ve formed the number of burgers you want, you should use your thumb to make a little ‘crater’ in the top of your burger.

This will stop your burger swelling into more of a ball shape during cooking.

Now, I can see some of you wondering if I’ve missed a step somewhere. “Where’s the egg?”, I hear you ask. “What about breadcrumbs?”, you say while scratching your head and scrolling back to see if you missed something. “Herbs?” “At least Salt & Pepper!”, you shout incredulously at the screen.

Nope, none of these things. Not yet, at least. Just ground chuck, 80% meat to 20% fat. THAT’S IT!

All the flavor you want is right there in the chuck.

Put your burger patties back in the fridge, otherwise, they may fall apart when you put them on the grill.

Set your smoker up for low and slow

Ok, now you want to light your smoker and get the temperature to around 225°F.

If that’s a quick process with your type of smoker, you may want to hold off a bit.

I use a big 48″x24″ reverse flow offset, which takes around 2 beers (or 45 minutes) to get up to temperature, so I light now to give it plenty of time.

If you happen to have an offset as well and want to pick up some tips for managing the fire we have a guide you can check out.

Once your smoker is heating up, it’s time to make the slaw…

Making the coleslaw

If you want to keep it ultra simple feel free to slice up some lettuce and tomatoes and call it a day.

But I think this pear and fennel slaw goes excellently with smoked burgers, as the light, creamy tanginess of the slaw cuts through the smoke in the burger and brings everything together nicely.

You’ll need a couple of carrots, half a head of red cabbage, the same amount of green cabbage, a couple of pears (try not to pick a floury variety), and a bulb of fennel.

I find this makes approximately 4000% more than I ever need for the burgers, but I keep it in the fridge in a sealed container and use it on baked potatoes with grated cheddar, or as a side to a nice steak in the following day or two.

My kids are also weird and like to eat it by the spoonful too, so it always gets eaten.

To make the slaw, coarsely grate the carrot and the pear (peel and core it first), and using a mandolin or a sharp knife, finely slice the cabbage and the fennel.

In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and pepper (a pinch of each to taste), the sugar and the mayo. Then throw in all the other ingredients and combine together.

Taste, and if you prefer your slaw a little creamier, put some more mayo in it.

I’m not your dad, do what you like. And that is literally it. Simple.

Get those burgers on the grill

Right, time to get those burgers out of the fridge and on to the grill.

“We’re putting salt and pepper on them now, right?” I can hear you thinking.

No, we’re not.

If you put salt on them, the salt will draw all the moisture out of the burger during cooking and you’ll end up with a burger drier than the outback.

I put my burgers on a rack because its easier to put them all on the smoker together and means I don’t have my smoker open more than necessary.

You want to put them on the smoker for around 30 minutes if you intend to finish them hot and fast, and around 45 minutes if you can’t be bothered.

I use Ironbark, which is an Australian hardwood, but cherry or hickory will work well too.

While your burgers are smoking, slice some cooked beetroot (Cue screams of horror again!), and lightly toast the brioche buns after halving them.

I find that toasting the buns prevents them from going all soggy and falling apart. It also adds some nice texture.

If you’re not searing your burgers at the end (which you should), then put a slice of cheddar on them about 5 minutes before pulling them out.

Finish up with a quick sear

If you are finishing the burgers hot and fast, pull them out after around 30 minutes or around 10-15°F below your target temperature.

Your hot and fast method should be ready if it’s not your smoker.

For example, if you’re using a grill, get this cranking as high as it will go.

Remember, we are using this to get some additional color and Maillard reaction flavors into your delicious burger.

NOW is the time to add a little oil, and salt and pepper – only if you are finishing your burgers hot and fast. The burgers will need around a minute on one side, flip, add a slice of cheese, and another minute.

Remove from the grill, and you’re ready to build your burger.

Build your burgers

I generally add my burger pattie with cheese to the bottom bun, top with beetroot (I know, I know), then the slaw.

If you’re feeling extra cheeky, you can add a bit of your favorite BBQ sauce too.

Serve with fries, onion rings, some of the inevitable extra slaw on the side, pickles, and your favorite beer. A nice Pale Ale goes perfectly.

And that, my friends, is a recipe for not only a great burger, but a perfect Sunday afternoon. Or arvo, if you’re here in Australia. Cheers mate.

Smoked burger with chips on serving platter

Smoked Burgers with Pear & Fennel Slaw

5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Author: Mat Cotton

Ingredients

For the burgers

  • Ground chuck steak (around 1/3lb per burger)
  • Brioche buns
  • Cheddar cheese slices
  • Beetroot Optional

For the pear & fennel slaw

  • 2 carrots, coarsely grated
  • 2 pears,  coarsely grated
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp mayo
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

To make the burger patties

  • Grind chuck steak on a coarse grind.
  • Using wet hands, form into patties of approxiately 1/3lb. Using your thumb or back of a teaspoon, make little dimples or craters into top of burgers, and refrigerate.

To make the coleslaw

  • Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and mayo in a large bowl, then add all other ingredients and stir together.

To cook the burgers

  • Smoke burgers at 225°F for 30 minutes.
  • Lightly brush burgers with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and place on a hot grill.
  • Finish burgers for a minute on the first side, flip, and add a slice of cheddar. Finish second side for a further minute.
  • Lightly toast buttered buns, and slice some beetroot.
  • Build burger with slaw on top. Add BBQ sauce if desired

Mat Cotton

Mat Cotton

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