Fire & Spice Grilled Burgers with Chipotle Aioli

Fire & Spice Burgers with Chipotle Aioli | LunaCafeI’m on a grind-my-own-hamburger kick this summer, so thought I’d share another sublime grilled burger that trotted out of the OtherWorldly Kitchen this past week.

This one is loaded with fire, spice, and smoke, and has that essential ingredient I call Big Taste. For the Summertime Beef & Brew Grilled Burgers posted earlier, I used beef chuck shoulder, but for my Fire & Spice Burgers, I was seduced by a mountain of well-marbled boneless beef short ribs in the butcher case. It was that luscious fat that got me all dreamy eyed.

Fire & Spice Burgers with Chipotle Aioli | LunaCafe

Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts makes a fabulous burger called Triple-Beef Cheeseburgers with Spiced Ketchup and Red Vinegar Pickles, which we loved on our last visit to Boston. Bon Appétit magazine features it in the September 2010 issue. The interesting thing about the recipe is the different beef cuts that are ground together to make the burger: 1 part beef brisket, 1 part boneless beef short ribs, 1 part hanger steak, one-fourth part beef suet, and one-eighth part beef bone marrow. The emphasis is on cuts that deliver plenty of beefy flavor. Tenderness is not an issue when you intend to grind the meat. So by all means, feel free to try out different beef cuts and combinations of cuts to see what rings your bell.

Fire & Spice Burgers with Chipotle Aioli | LunaCafe

However, if you want your burgers to be tender and juicy, they must contain from 16% to 20% fat, and you must not overcook the burgers (medium rare at most). If you need to add fat to your grind, follow Craigie on Main’s lead and ask a specialty butcher for beef suet.

Oh yes, and you must grind the meat yourself, or at least select it and have the butcher custom grind it for you. A pound of ground mystery meat from the grocery case is not going to make a heavenly burger, no matter how much you doll it up. For a little more money and effort, you can have the best burger in the world, right from your own kitchen.

Fire & Spice Burgers with Chipotle Aioli | LunaCafe

Because I wasn’t able to do a side-by-side comparison, I can’t tell you which is the better burger meat—beef chuck shoulder or boneless beef short ribs. I can say, however, that both have a full quotient of beefy flavor and are nicely juicy when sufficient fat is included in the grind. Next time, I’ll try a mixture.

We had already grilled and eaten a couple of the burgers and were surfing the web in tandem on our laptops when I spied a post on The Famous Shack Burger. I paid attention to the combination of cuts (beef sirloin, well-marbled beef chuck, and well-marbled beef brisket), but what really grabbed me was the Shack Sauce. Why hadn’t it occurred to me to make a sauce for the Fire & Spice Burgers? The grill was still hot, so I ran to the kitchen, whipped up a Chipotle Aioli in two minutes flat and yelled, “Hey, James, you want another burger?” He did. Of course.

Fire & Spice Burgers with Chipotle Aioli | LunaCafe

Fire & Spice Grilled Burgers with Chipotle Aioli

There’s a lot of flavor going on in this burger, but not so much as to overshadow the beef itself. Heat, spice, and smoke, along with poblano and red bell peppers create a lip smacking experience. You can use store-bought mayo on the buns, but Chipotle Aioli really makes the burger sing and takes only minutes to prepare.

Neat Trick   If you have time, rinse the uncut meat under cold water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Salt rather liberally (but don’t go crazy), place in a glass baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and frig for 18-24 hours (or longer). Then chunk the meat just before grinding it. The salt will have permeated every portion of the meat and your burger will thus be perfectly seasoned. No need to add extra salt to the mix.

2 pounds well-marbled beef chuck or boneless short ribs (or combination thereof), cut in to 1-inch chunks and well chilled (aim for 16%-20% fat)

2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, ribbed, and minced (1/2 cup diced)
1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, ribbed, and minced(1/2 cup diced)
1/4 large red onion (1/2 cup finely minced red onion)
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped to a mush

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon fine sea salt (skip if you salted the meat beforehand)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil, for grilling


Chipotle Aioli (see recipe below)

7 soft, artisan buns (focaccia, ciabatta, seed rolls, or potato rolls), cut in half, lightly toasted (and buttered lightly if desired)
sliced aged cheddar cheese, optional
sliced ripe avocado
thinly sliced sweet or red onions
watercress (or arugula or baby lettuces)

Italian Giardiniera, optional

  1. Put the meat, leaving space between the chunks, on an edged baking sheet and put in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  2. Using a meat grinder fitted with the coarse disk (largest holes), grind the very cold meat into a mixing bowl. Gently fold in the egg yolks.
  3. Changing to the medium disk, grind the beef again.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, break up the ground meat with your hands. Do this lightly as you don’t want to compress the meat.
  5. Add poblano chile, red bell pepper, onion, garlic, and chipotle chiles and toss lightly to thoroughly distribute. Reserve in the frig.
  6. To release the flavor of the spices and herbs, in a small saute pan, melt the butter and then saute the cumin, oregano, and coriander for about 1 minute, just until the full aroma hits your nose. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  7. Use your hands to combine the burger mixture, spice mixture, salt, and pepper   together, being careful not to compress the mixture. There are photos of this process here.
  8. To test the seasoning level, heat a little oil in a small saute pan and saute a teaspoon of the hamburger mixture to cook through. Let cool briefly and sample. If the mixture needs more of anything, especially salt or pepper, add it now.
  9. Shape the meat mixture into six to seven, 3½-inch diameter, 1-inch thick patties. To obtain perfectly round patties, use a pancake ring to help with the shaping.
  10. Wrap each patty in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook. The patties can be made the day before you plan to cook them. They actually seem to get better with some resting time.
  11. Preheat a barbecue grill to medium-high. When it’s hot, brush the grill with vegetable oil.
  12. Put the burgers on the grill, and adjust the heat so that they don’t overbrown while cooking through. Close the lid. It usually takes 3-4 minutes of cooking per side to achieve medium-rare burgers. Turn the burgers only once during cooking and do not poke or press down on them.
  13. If desired, add cheese to the top of each burger during the last 2 minutes of grilling. If necessary, put the lid on the grill for a minute to melt the cheese.
  14. Remove the burger patties to a clean plate and assemble the burgers.
  15. To assemble, slather each bun half with Chipotle Aioli. Lay the burger patties on the bottom half of the buns and top with avocado, onions, and watercress.  Add the top half of the buns to the stacks, and serve immediately.

Makes seven, 3½-inch diameter, 1-inch thick burger patties; or seven hamburgers.

Chipotle Aioli

½ cup best quality mayonnaise (I use Best Foods)
4 baby dill pickles or equivalent (I used Vslasic Garlic, Dill & Onion Petit Pickles)
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (available canned in Mexican section of grocery store)
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled
¼ teaspoon smoked mild or hot paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne

  1. Put all ingredients into a small processor or blender and process until smooth.
  2. Taste for flavor balance and adjust as necessary.
  3. Remove to a small container, cover, and frig until needed.

Makes about 1 cup.


Boston.Com: Burger War!
Epicurious: The Best Burgers in America
FoodGawker: Burger Gallery
Oregon Live: Want a Good Burger? Portland Has Plenty.
Portland Hamburgers Blog
Saveur: Fifteen Heavenly Burgers
Seattle Met Magazine: Best Burgers
Serious Eats: The Fake Shack
Serious Eats: The Burger Lab: Mastering the Art of Burger Blending with Eight Cuts of Beef
Serious Eats: 12 Burgers in 8 Hours, a Burger Bender
Serious Eats: Where to Get Boston’s Best Burger
Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest 2010
Sutter Home: The World’s Largest Burgerbase
TasteSpotting: Burger Gallery

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  1. Susan says

    I tried grinding beef in my food processor a couple of times and it worked okay; just okay. Since then, I’ve had the butcher at the Supermarket do it for me; much better. I’ve had brisket and chuck ground together, more chuck than brisket, but the meat is almost too soft once it’s grilled. It’s needs a bit more chewiness to suit me. What cut would add that, or do I need to reduce the fat in the mix?

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Susan, that’s interesting. I’m not a big fan of processor grinding/chopping either. The final texture is as you say, just okay. I finally broke down and bought the meat grinder attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer. It works beautifully.

      This chewy thing you’re talking about; it might have to do with too little handling. I’ve noticed this myself. I am very careful not to compact the meat as I shape the patty and sometimes it’s too loose. Do you think that could be the issue? It would be a great experiment to slightly over handle one small patty and then minimally handle another, then fry them side by side and compare the results. I will do this mysld next time I make burgers. I rather doubt that you have more than 20% fat in your mix, so that’s probably not the cause.

  2. says

    This looks awesome. I have never tried grinding my own meat. Your endorsement of the superior flavor might be enough to make me try. There is a restaurant near us that serves a sandwich with a chipotle aioli, and it makes the sandwich. Thanks for the recipe. I’m looking forward to trying it.
    City Share recently posted…Week 13My Profile

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Thanks City Share! Initially it seems like a lot of work to grind your own meat, but really, it’s so quick and easy. And after you do it once and taste the result, you are unlikely to go back to the ground stuff. :-)


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