Pulled Pork Burgers
Smoking up a ton of pulled pork and then figured out new ways to use the leftovers was an annual tradition of mine and the reason you find so many recipes that utilize this smoked meat on this site. During the height of the pandemic, I stopped smoking pork butts because I didn't have the usual crowd to help me eat such a massive piece of meat, but I got things back on track in 2022 when I smoked two giant pieces of mojo pulled pork. Having almost one full butt leftover also meant I got to jump back into the leftover game, and these pulled pork burgers were a welcome outcome of that.
I started out this recipe with a little disconnect between the pork and the burgers I had to bridge. The pork was originally done with a Cuban mojo flavoring, giving it a light garlicky and citrusy touch. The burgers I was envisioning though leaned more towards a Carolina influence with a slaw and pickle topping. Getting the pork into North Carolina territory wasn't hard though because I merely doused it in a spicy vinegar sauce as I was reheating it and the strong tang of apple cider vinegar overtook all the sour orange notes and left the meat very much tasting like nothing but Carolina.
I didn't stick strictly to North Carolina though, and that can be seen in the slaw recipe. The most common, and my favorite, coleslaws around North Carolina are generally incredibly simple mixtures of finely shredded cabbage with a light vinegar dressing, usually with some minimal seasoning like pepper or celery seed. I used a dressing recipe I previously developed that was along those lines, but I did make a more common vegetable mixture with carrots and onion joining the cabbage for added depth. Like with all my coleslaws, I first mixed the shredded veggies with salt and sugar to draw out moisture, which leaves them perfectly crisp-tender and well seasoned.
The dressing also wasn't solely vinegar-based, with me opting to add a bit of mayo into a mix for a very light creaminess and a little extra thickness that clings better to the cabbage mixture. I'm a big fan of celery seed as a seasoning, so I used that along with black pepper as the minimal additional elements that gave the slaw a little extra character.
From here on out, the recipe is nothing more than standard burgers, which means it's not much of a recipe at all. I keep things very simple for my burgers, usually opting for beef chuck that has at least 20% fat content. I form the one-third pound patties by working the meat just enough that it holds together and I finish the formation by putting a little indent with my thumb in the center, which helps the patty from shrinking too severely as it cooks. After that, only a good seasoning of salt is pepper is left before heading to the grill.
A good sear is the hallmark of the best grilled burger, so I go with a high heat fire that can get that crusty exterior quickly before the interior overcooks. For the best sear and most even doneness, flipping the patty regularly is my path to optimal results. I like my burgers on the rare side, so I shoot for an internal temperature between 125-130°F, which is just shy of medium-rare territory to account for some carryover cooking that can occur once the burgers have left the grill.
To assemble the burgers, I nestled the patty in a sesame seed bun and topped with a generous portion of pulled pork, coleslaw, and a few dill pickle chips. I had mustard on hand in case I felt the burger needed any boost in flavor or moisture, but for my taste, nothing else was required and I loved how it came together as it was. With the exception of bacon, I tend to feel like extra meat on top of an already heavily flavored beef patty is overkill, but I found the pork to be a really interesting pairing because, even though is certainly added more heft and fat, it also added a heavy tang and spiciness by way of the vinegar sauce that came through and worked well with the beef. The slaw brought in additional tang, but more than anything, it added a cooling crunch that got an extra boost from the pickles too. I wholeheartedly loved these burgers, but perhaps even more exciting than the meal itself was the return of the pulled pork leftovers, something I think I missed more than I realized during the pandemic times.
Pulled Pork Burgers
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 25 Minutes
- Cook 10 Minutes
- Total 35 Minutes
- For the Coleslaw
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large head green cabbage (about 3 1/2 pounds), finely shredded on a mandoline or by hand and chopped fine
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced and roughly chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- For the Burgers
- 2lbs ground beef chuck, 80% lean
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups pulled pork, reheated if cold
- 6 hamburger buns, preferably sesame seed buns
- 12-13 dill pickle chips
- To make the coleslaw: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, vinegar, mayonnaise, celery seeds, and black pepper. Set aside. Place cabbage, onion, and carrot in a large bowl, sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup sugar and salt, and toss to combine. Let stand five minutes, then transfer to a large colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Transfer cabbage mixture to a salad spinner and spin dry. Alternatively, transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and blot mixture dry with more towels. Return cabbage mixture to a large bowl, add in dressing, and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and/or sugar.
- To make the burgers: 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 salt and pepper.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals evenly across charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean grilling grate. Place patties on grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until well charred and burgers register 125°F for medium-rare or 135°F for medium on an instant read thermometer inserted into center of patty. Transfer burger patties to buns and top with pulled pork, coleslaw, and pickles. Serve immediately.