Thu May 4, 2017
In the early years of dating my (now) wife, we frequented a burger joint by her school called Island Burgers and Shakes. It wasn't necessarily the quality of the burgers that was the draw, but the shear variety you could choose from—about 30 unique combinations, plus make your own. I grew fond of a Cajun seasoned blackened burger topped with pepper jack, bacon, and a spicy mayo and it became my go-to on just about every trip there. Intensity of flavor is always a hook for me, and that crusty, spicy sear paired with peppery cheese, hot mayo, and smoky bacon may sound over the top to some people, but I loved it. I don't think we actually ever returned to the shop after she graduated, and that burger had pretty much faded into the past until a burger-themed Meatwave back in February, when it creeped back into my head and prodded me to make it, and I'm glad I did because the delicious results brought back some fond memories.
Of course a blackened burger needs to begin with the right seasoning. Luckily I've experimented with this brand of Cajun spice mix before on chicken and catfish and have already settled on a recipe that brings together the right amount of earthiness, heat, and herbs to make what I consider a pretty exemplary specimen. So to start off these burgers, I pulled all the required spices from the pantry—paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne—and made enough of the seasoning to generously coat at least six patties.
I believe the sauce that adorned the burger of inspiration was likely a simple hot sauce and mayo mix, but I figured I could do better by making a true, complex remoulade. This was another area where I was well versed, with a Louisiana remoulade being my dip of choice whenever I serve fried pickles, which I do fairly regularly. This sauce has a whole lot going on, with a creamy mayonnaise getting layers of heat from mustards, cayenne, and hot sauce, tang and tartness by way of lemon and capers, and freshness from parsley and scallions. Worcestershire and garlic are also added in, which just tacks on even more complexity.
Next, to make the patties, I ground up a couple pounds of fatty beef chuck. Back in New York I had stopped grinding at home most of the time since I had a great butcher where I picked out my chuck and had them grind it for me, but I've yet to find a proper and reasonably priced butcher near my new home in North Carolina. So I'm back to grinding myself, which I do in two steps—first grinding through the large die, then sending the meat back through using the small die. This process makes sure the fat gets evenly distributed throughout.
After forming 1/3-pound patties and pressing a little dimple in the center with my thumb—this trick helps the burgers hold their shape when cooking—I seasoned them all over. It's the depth and power of the blackened exterior that has stuck with me the most about that burger from my past, so I saw no need for restraint to get something similar at home.
It's wasn't just the seasoning though that was memorable, but also the very deep, crusty sear that defined that burger (which sometimes was actually pushed too far into burnt territory if I'm being honest). For the best sear, a super hot fire is your best friend. I cooked these over a freshly lit batch coals, which is when the charcoal is at its hottest. The patties browned in no time, and I continued to flip them often which helped keep them cooking evenly and prevented the outside from making the leap from crusty to outright burnt.
Once well seared and just shy of medium-rare inside—best tested using a thermometer to see if they're at 110°F in the center—I moved the patties over indirect heat and placed a slice of pepper jack on each one. I then covered the grill and waited until the cheese was melted and the meat had risen about 15°F to its final ideal temperature.
After buttering and toasting some brioche rolls, I placed a slice of lettuce on each, followed by the patty, bacon, and a healthy amount of remoulade. I can say that this burger had better looks than any I had gotten at Island Burger, but would the taste hold up to memory?
It sure did, and then some. In the first few bites I realized that, more often than not, those burgers of the past were over done on the outside. While the beef was certainly prominent, that seasoning was strong enough to stand its ground, giving the patty the right earthy and spicy flavor with no burnt taste. The pepper jack did double work in balancing out that spice, while adding another peppery layer into the mix. The grill-cooked bacon added a nice crunch and smokiness, while the remoulade was a the perfect complex saucy compliment to the already deeply flavored burger. Looking back, I think there's a reason I let those blackened burgers fall to the wayside—there were both better burger options in New York and and I slowly became less drawn to such overpowering flavors—but these ones I made at home righted any previous wrongs in quality and taste, and I wholeheartedly recommend trying them out.
Blackened Cheeseburgers with Bacon and Louisiana Remoulade
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 30 Minutes
- 6 servings
- For the Remoulade
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Louisiana-style hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
- 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic
- 1 teaspoon capers, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon mild paprika
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh scallions
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- For the Blackening Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2lbs ground beef chuck, 80% lean
- 6 slices pepper jack cheese
- 6 brioche rolls, halved
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 6-9 slices cooked bacon
- 6 pieces of green leaf lettuce
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the remoulade: In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, parsley, hot sauce, whole-grain mustard, garlic, capers, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, scallion, salt, and cayenne pepper. Transfer to an airtight container and let sit in refrigerator for at least 1 hour prior to use.
- To make the blackening seasoning: In a small bowl, mix together paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
- Break off 1/3 pound of ground beef and gently shape into a patty, working the meat until it just holds together. Using your thumb, create a dimple in the middle of the burger. Repeat with remaining ground beef. Season patties liberally all over with blackening seasoning.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place patties on hot side of grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until well charred and center of burgers register 110°F on an instant read thermometer inserted into center of patty. Move burgers to cool side of grill, top with cheese, cover, and continue to cook until cheese is melted and burgers register 125°F for medium rare or 135°F for medium. Transfer burgers to a plate.
- Butter cut sides of rolls and place on hot side of grill until toasted, about 1 minute. Transfer buns to a serving platter, spread each cut side with remoulade, and top each with a patty, lettuce, and bacon. Serve immediately.