There’s a time and a place for an over the top cheeseburger with a million additions, but there’s something comforting about a classic cheeseburger recipe. We’re doing a reverse sear method using a grill and wood chunks to give your Grilled Cheeseburger an incredible smoked flavor and that perfect char to finish.
I love going to a restaurant and seeing a broad menu of burger options. We have a restaurant near us with over 15 burger choices. I can pretty much guarantee some burger flavor combination that will fit my mood. But sometimes, what I really crave, is that classic All-American cheeseburger that focuses on a simple but great quality ground beef, fresh veggies like white onion, fresh crunchy lettuce, tomato, and a bun.
The flavor takes me back to back yard BBQs with family in the summer and that scent of charcoal burning and in this case we are adding just a little more flavor by smoking it first and then finishing with a sear.
So we thought, why not give a nod to that classic burger recipe but add a slight twist. A smoky twist, and follow a sort-of reverse sear method to our meat to give an extra layer of flavor — a smoked kick.
Key Ingredient – Good Ground Beef
We specifically use Snake River Farms ground beef which is an amazing American Wagyu ground beef. And while you can do it yourself, it requires a grinder and a lot of people don’t have one. So you have to rely on your butcher, mail order provider, or grocery store.
With ground beef you can expect it to come from various parts of the cow, but commonly it’s ground chuck. Sometimes a butcher will grind up a brisket, because it has a great fat to meat ratio.
And no matter where the beef is ground from, you want to be sure you have a good fat to lean ratio. You will see ground beef in the case with a label, like 80/20 or 85/15. This refers to how much lean meat vs. fat you are getting in the cut. Fat adds flavor and moisture to a burger, and that is why we are going with one of those two ratios. If you go lean like 97/3 you will run into the burger overcooking quickly.
- Bun – We always default to a good brioche style bun for the soft and buttery flavor. It also grills up quickly.
- Cheese – Cheddar cheese slices are great for a reverse seared cheeseburger. You can also use any good melting cheese like pepper jack or Monterey jack cheese. We skip American cheese.
- Onion – The fresh bite and flavor of white onion are delicious. You can also go with the milder yellow onion or the more pungent red onion. Slice it thin.
- Dill Pickle – Traditional dill pickle slices are our favorite. If you are feeling ambitious you can also add your own pickled flavor using our quick pickle recipe.
- Lettuce – Butter lettuce is crisp and flavorful. You can also opt for romaine or red or green leaf lettuce as well. Avoid iceberg as it has very little flavor.
- Condiments – Mustard and ketchup is all we use.
We add the beef into a large bowl and keep it very simple with a little dry rub specific to beef. Our beef seasoning is a mix of herbs and spices and contains no sugar. For a simpler seasoning you can use our SPG seasoning which is equal parts kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and granulated garlic.
Then we add a touch of Worcestershire Sauce to add a savory element and mix with our hands.
Form into ¼ inch burgers which are roughly .25 pounds. Consider weighing the meat with a kitchen scale to keep them even.
Grilled Burgers with a Reverse Sear
For this Cheeseburger Recipe we are cooking on our kettle grill.
- We’ll start on a smoky and low heat setting like 225 degrees F, and will place in an indirect cooking setup. In order to get the lower heat, you only fill your charcoal starter a quarter of the way, otherwise it’ll burn too hot.
- When coal is ready, place in an indirect set up and add a couple of wood chunks, add meat when the temperature of the meat is 225 degrees F.
- Smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour, when the internal temperature of the burger reaches 140 degrees F. Remove the burgers from the grill.
- Add more charcoal when you are done with the smoke stage, and then get the fire hot! We target 450 degrees.
- Place the burger over direct heat and grill for 3 minutes on one side. Then flip and add cheese to the top of the burger. Close lid and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the burger reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
About temperature: We use our Thermoworks MK4 Thermapen for all our temperature monitoring. They are the best in the market. The Thermoworks Thermopop is also great at a lower price.
Gas Grill Variation: Follow our guide on how to smoke on a gas grill if you are looking to make this on your gas grill.
Building The Burger
Add your favorite fresh ingredients, condiments, and dig in with a side of fries an a glass of wine. Our favorite cheeseburger additions are really simple too:
- Brioche bun. We love the soft buttery flavor of a good brioche bun
- Fresh leafy lettuce like butter lettuce, red or green leaf lettuce
- Freshly sliced tomato
- Sliced dill pickles
- White or red onions thinly sliced
- Yellow mustard and ketchup
It really is that easy, and that extra grilled cheeseburger smoke will add a great flavor.
Cheeseburger and Wine Pairings
I’ve written before on what it means to be a good “burger wine”. When it comes to pairing wine with cheeseburgers, the options are equally endless. I would argue that there is probably a burger for every single bottle of wine out there, and vice versa. It boils down to what kind of burger. Meat or veggie burger. Toppings and condiments. How it’s cooked and prepared.
For these grilled cheeseburger recipe, they have a great smoked element, combined with the savory meat, and a variety of toppings. I like to play with the smoke elements to enhance that great flavor. Grenache or Syrah from the Rhone region of France are excellent bets. Tempranillo, either from Spain, or even some local Oregon versions are awesome too. You can even go for Malbec from Argentina.
I wouldn’t recommend anything too overly tannic though (like Cabernet Sauvignon). Let’s keep them fruity, spicy, and smoky for this burger.
Other Grilled Burger Recipes
We have a variety of burger and slider recipes. Below are a few of our favorites.
- Grilled Smash Burgers – Pressed on a plancha and finished with cheese and caramelized onions.
- Turkey Burgers That Don’t Suck – Add some bacon paste and you have the perfect ground turkey burger.
- Chorizo and Beef Burger with Poblano Peppers – A mix of pork chorizo and ground beef for a Mexican inspired burger.
- Fresh Salmon Burger – Not the canned stuff. We use fresh salmon for the best salmon burger.
You can go with a classic French fry or elevate your sides with a few of the following recipes.
- Oven Roasted Potatoes – These have the texture of a French fry but much easier to make. The secret is par boiling the potatoes.
- Duck Fat Potatoes – Roasting yellow potatoes with duck fat is next level flavor.
- Smoked Beer Battered Onion Rings – It may seem like a lot of steps – but it is incredible.
This recipe was first published in March of 2018 and updated in May of 2023 with updated recipe instructions and highlights.
Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.
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