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Whenever I fry hamburgers I can't help but notice that they create a lot of smoke. I have brand new non-stick pans, and an electric stove. I cook them on setting 6, where the stoves max is 8. I don't add any oil because if I do it pops and goes everywhere.

I have a thermometer that I use when cooking, and I keep cooking until they reach 170 all around. I think I'm doing it right, I put the burgers down, let them cook for about 4 minutes, poke the thermometer in to create some venting holes, flip them over. Repeat this process until they reach 170. Usually about half-way through they start to smoke pretty bad. Am I cooking them too high? It already takes what seems like forever to cook them through.

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Are they cheap pans? What kind of meat? What percentage fat (i.e. 80/20 chuck, 90/10 sirloin)? –  Ocaasi Aug 7 '10 at 0:53
    
The pans are farberware, I guess they would be considered cheap, and the meat was 80/20. –  Jason Taylor Aug 7 '10 at 13:49
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are a couple of things that jump out at me:

  • 170 F (77 C) - This is overkill for ground beef. The USDA guidelines recommend 160 F (71 C).

  • Venting holes - This is unnecessary. There is no need to "vent" a hamburger. What you're doing is creating holes for the juices to flow out of and get vaporized on the pan. This is likely a significant source of the smoking you describe. Keep those juices in!

I'm not familiar with electric stoves, so I'm not sure if 6/8 is too hot or not, but it might be. I cook my burgers on a gas stove at medium-high flame and generally do 5 mins per side for a medium burger (I grind my own beef). My burgers are about an 3/4" - 1" thick too. So you might have your stove too hot, try turning it down a smidge.

Update

I want to clarify regarding the "blood" you are worried about. It's a common misconception that the red liquid packaged with beef is blood. It's not. Beef is drained of virtually all blood when it is slaughtered. Beef is 75% water, so the liquid you see is mostly water and the pink hue comes from the iron & oxygen binding protein myoglobin which exists in muscle tissue. When cooking, the juices you are releasing are taking a lot of the flavor with them. This liquid is a combination of liquified fat, water, and proteins. You can verify this at the USDA site for beef.

Another common misconception is that a completely grey-brown interior indicates well done. According to the USDA, 25% of burgers turn brown before being fully cooked; this can happen as low as 135 F (57 C). The inverse is true as well, some beef can be cooked to the USDA recommended safe temperature 160 F (71 C) and still retain some light pinkness in the center.

If your concern is merely safety, cooking the beef to an interior temperature of 160 F is sufficient, regardless of it's hue. If you you're cooking it beyond that just because you don't like the sight of pink meat, well you're overcooking your burgers and doing yourself a bit of injustice. :)

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Well, the whole "juices" bit scares me. When I poke the holes, a ton of blood comes running out of these things. I don't like undercooked meat, the thought disgusts me. I need it to be completely cooked, no blood at all. I tried cooking them without poking holes before I got the thermometer, and the middle was not done while the outside was burning. I'll try cooking them on a lower temperature next time, maybe lower and longer? –  Jason Taylor Aug 7 '10 at 13:47
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Agreed -- the smoking's likely from the 'venting holes'. If you like them well done, I'd recommend cooking thinner burgers if you're concerned with the middle being well done. –  Joe Aug 7 '10 at 14:04
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The juices running out are not blood. Some of it is the fat that has liquified and some of it is water and myoglobin - a protein that works like hemoglobin only in muscle instead of blood. Myoglobin is why the meat is red/pink. –  Jay R. Aug 7 '10 at 14:26
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Also, by adding holes, your encouraging dry/tough burgers. Once all the moisture is gone, that's when it will start smoking because the temperature of the outside of the meat goes through the roof. –  Rake36 Aug 7 '10 at 19:22
    
This is awesome. Thank you so much. I was always under the impression that the red stuff was blood. Now that you mention it, my hamburgers are always quite tough :D I can't wait to get some hamburger next week and try this again. Perhaps they'll be better than I ever had before? –  Jason Taylor Aug 8 '10 at 2:12
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Even if your pan isn't way too hot and you don't poke holes in your burgers, if your pan is a lot bigger than your burger, the pan where there's no food soaking up heat can get a lot hotter, and any fat or juices that wind up out on the hot zone can burn/smoke. Use a pan that fits your food better, or better yet, cook more burgers at once!

Also, a lot of what looks like smoke is atomized fat mixed with steam. If it doesn't smell like burning, it's more likely that than actual smoke. It's not ideal to have all that floating around your kitchen and settling on surfaces you'll just have to clean, and it'll still set off your smoke alarm sometimes, but it's not smoke.

Finally, I would not use a non-stick pan for a burger. Too much risk of the pan getting overheated, which can make the non-stick coating brittle (and some people worry about dangerous gases being released too, but I don't go that far). I only use non-stick when I'm cooking with moderate heat or there's enough food to cover the bottom of the pan pretty completely. For a burger I get the pan quite hot before putting the meat in--far too hot for an empty non-stick pan.

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Maybe they're nervous ;>) - Hobodave is right on the money, it's all about the temperature and absolutely not poking holes in the poor things. Hamburgers should only be flipped once, if you are cooking a thick burger, but a lid on top for a few minutes to make sure the middle cooks and then when you see the bottom edges turn the color you want, flip it. Generally speaking when you gently poke the middle and it is getting more and more firm, that's how well its getting cooked, that technique will do away with the Thermo'.

Lastly, if you're pre-oiling the pan with Olive Oil, that can cause it to smoke as well, but, again usually if the temperature is turned up too high.

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I have to respectfully disagree, you actually want to flip the burgers often. I have yet to hear any solid reason for that old wives' tale that you must only flip once, and Kenji has some very compelling evidence to the contrary here: aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/02/… –  stephennmcdonald Nov 12 '10 at 21:45
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