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I have a Pit Barrel Cooker. I have made hamburgers on it before but I keep running into several issues. When it comes to anything else, brisket, ribs, chicken, etc. everything turns out great! But hamburgers, even with the provided online videos, my burgers always come out like I just fried them on the stove. I try to regulate the heat by closing the circular air vent on the front but then my fire dies down too fast and it doesn't seem the burgers are being cooked properly. I use 80% ground beef and my burgers also always shrink up like crazy. Does anyone have a proper method of using the Pit Barrel Cooker to get slow cooked, bbq tasting burgers?

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    There isn't a point in slow cooking burgers -- they don't have enough connective tissue to break down to make it worth while and will likely dry out if you try a slow long cook. On a grill, you normally do a 2 zone fire, start with the hot side, get the browning, and if its not done to your liking with that, move to the cooler side to finish. – Batman Sep 2 '16 at 17:16
  • @Batman have you used a Pit Barrel Cooker? I'm just trying to get burgers that aren't shrunken flash fried pieces of meat. Besides, I know your game, you just want me to try something on my cooker that isn't possible so you can sneak up on me and take me back to Arkham. – El Bromista Sep 2 '16 at 17:20
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    I haven't used the pit barrel, but I'm just pointing out the fact that burgers are an innately fast and hot cook unlike brisket or ribs due to being small ground up meat from mostly more tender areas. You don't have the time to get smoke flavor on a burger. – Batman Sep 2 '16 at 17:26
  • One point of a 80/20 burger is to try to keep in some of that moisture (fat). Slow cooking will defeat that pretty much every time. It may sound backwards, but if you are intent upon trying slower cooking, then try a leaner grind, 20% is usually fat added and the added fat will melt and be lost fast, while the leaner meat sometimes has more chance of retaining a little bit of the fat content it had. The method Batman is suggesting, to try to sear the burger to seal it then slow finish to pick up more flavor it a shot but your particular set-up may not allow that. – dlb Sep 2 '16 at 19:01
  • If you're running a thick patty, reverse searing might be a good shot too -- start indirect finish direct. – Batman Sep 4 '16 at 20:17
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There is no method because you cannot do it. Ground meats lose moisture rapidly when cooked as much of the fat is not contained within the meat itself, but mixed in. This mixed in fat melts rapidly and runs out. The fat that is marbled within the meat itself is lost faster as the ground strands have much more surface area. Therefore, if you cook a burger low and slow it will end up dry.

Slow cooking and long roasting is only good when a piece of meat has enough marbled fat so it will still be juicy when cooked, and a low surface area to slow moisture loss (ie it's fairly big). Burger cooking on the other hand is a race to get a good crust and to the right temperature before losing all moisture.

As for shrinking up this is normal for burgers and you cannot prevent the process from happening. You can, however, shape them flatter and thinner to compensate. I make a flat, thin-ish burger patty, then I use my palm to make the middle slightly thinner than the outside. The result is a burger that has the right shape after cooking. If you start with a thick burger patty you'll more often end up with a meatball shape at the end.

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Use a coarser grind, make the patties larger, and cook at a low temperature (no more than 225f). Temperatures can be difficult to regulare with such a small amount of food in such a large cooker. You will want to put the burgers as far away from the fire as possible, and you will need a big thermal mass like a very large pan of water to try to regulate and normalize the heat. Finally, while you have not specified your cooking conditions, my gut tells me you are cooking your burgers for far too long. Try 45-60 minutes.

It is possible to make good smoked burgers, you just need to adjust for the variables that will cause your poor outcomes, starting with what I have suggested above.

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  • Although this is a helpful answer for general guidelines, I'm looking more for something that deals with the Pit Barrel Cooker or at the very least a customized drum cooker that stands upright. Everyone frustratingly seems to think this is impossible to make a burger with that cooked-in bbq taste. This isn't true because I know of people who slow cook/bbq burgers and they don't turn out dry or small. The only problem is they don't use a Pit Barrel Cooker. I'm not necessarily looking for slow cooking, just that it tastes like a bbq hamburger and isn't the size of a sausage patty. – El Bromista Sep 6 '16 at 18:05
  • What do you define as "bbq taste" and "slow cooked"? Have you asked them how they do it? (I'm guessing that if there is smokey flavor, its liquid smoke) – Batman Sep 6 '16 at 18:50
  • Everything in my answer would be equally applicable to a drum smoker as any other. Especially the part about regulating temps with a large thermal mass. I think you need to better understand the concepts involved with barbecue a bit better before moving to advanced topics such as this one. – Sean Hart Sep 6 '16 at 23:23
  • @SeanHart I'm not trying to question your methods, just want specifics to my cooker. I can use a pan of water, but that would cut my cooking area down quite a bit if I placed on the cooking grate. So do I need to do something clever with the placement of it? I can also use the rebar to regulate temp as well, but do I use both or just one? Or maybe someone uses strictly wood (with just a small amount of charcoal) in their Pit Barrel Cooker, to avoid the additional heat that charcoal provides, but then I may oversmoke the burgers. I actually like your answer but need specifics. – El Bromista Sep 7 '16 at 16:10

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