Wisconsin Apple Smoked Cheddar Cheeseburger

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by Matt of Chubby Werewolf

With autumn fast approaching, even those of us in distant Maine find our minds turning toward football and tailgate parties. For my part, I’ve been thinking about crafting a burger in honor of one of my favorite college football teams: the Wisconsin Badgers. After the Badgers’ incredible 2010 season—culminating in an appearance at the Rose Bowl—I knew that this burger must not be a slouch. So before setting out on my mission, I established some guidelines for myself:

  1. My burger, like the team’s mascot badger, should have a real “bite” to it.
  2. Because the burger is being made in honor of a Wisconsin football team, I wanted to use Wisconsin Cheese…and I really wanted the cheese (along with the meat, of course) to be the star of the show.
  3. The burger should be one that—minimal prep work aside—could be made on site at your average tailgate party.
My first order of business was to find the perfect Wisconsin Cheese. I wasn’t looking for very long before I discovered a Wisconsin Apple Smoked Cheddar, hand-rubbed with paprika, that seemed like a terrific fit for my burger. Of course, every good tailgate chef should taste the ingredients he or she is working with, so that is just what I did. To my delight, this mild cheese had a smooth, light smoky flavor. The paprika added just the right amount of zing, and it worked nicely with the smokiness.
With phase one of my project complete, I moved on to some of the other components. I sourced both my hamburger meat and seeded buns from the Rosemont Market, a local market/bakery that specializes in regional and sustainable foods. The hamburger meat was a special beef blend composed of two-thirds brisket and one-third short rib, all from 100% grass-fed Red Devon cattle. I hadn’t initially planned on topping my burger with a pork ingredient but, after spying a beautiful- looking slab of double-smoked bacon in the butcher’s case, I ordered up a pound of it, cut into thick strips. (If you are cooking your cheeseburger at a tailgate party, you can always prep the bacon in advance.)
To provide the burger with that extra smack in the face I was looking for, I decided to top it with slices of raw red onion, roasted red peppers, and a simple chipotle mayo that you can prepare in advance (recipe below). I had a jar of roasted red peppers in my pantry that I’d been wanting to put to use for some time, but I think if I had to do it over again, I’d opt for fresh peppers that I could simply stick on the grill for a nice char.
With my ingredients gathered, I set out to work. As with football, grilling cheeseburgers is all about the fundamentals. Season your meat with salt and pepper. Don’t pack your patties too tightly, or you’ll dry out the meat. Keep your desired temperature in mind when making your burger patties. Don’t run your grill too hot: if flames are enveloping your burger, it’s way too hot. Flip your burgers once, and only once. Most important, don’t be afraid to have a little bit of fun with your cheeseburger.
So how did my Badger Cheeseburger experiment turn out? I was delighted with it. Even accompanied by four other ingredients (not including the meat and bun), the Wisconsin Cheddar really shone on this cheeseburger. The slightly spicy, slightly smoky flavor of the cheese harmonized nicely with the salty flavor of the double-smoked bacon, the crisp red onion, the gorgeous red peppers and the zingy chipotle mayo. In short, it was a touchdown.

Wisconsin Apple Smoked Cheddar Cheeseburger

Serves 6

Cheeseburgers

2 pounds ground beef blend (I used 2⁄3 brisket and 1⁄3 short rib)
Wisconsin Apple Smoked Cheddar (enough to top each burger)
12 slices of thick-cut double-smoked bacon
1 medium-sized red onion
Roasted or charred red peppers
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Simple Chipotle Mayo

1 cup of mayonnaise
3 chipotles in adobo sauce (2 if you prefer a less spicy mayo)
3/4 tablespoon of adobo sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Season your hamburger meat with salt and pepper.

Form six hamburger patties of approximately the same size, being careful not to pack the burgers too tightly.

Place on preheated outdoor grill, flipping once during the cooking process.

Add cheese to burgers, and close grill lid for a minute or so before removing the burgers.

After letting the cheeseburgers rest, top with bacon, sliced red onion, red peppers (cutting them into the shape of a Wisconsin logo is not required, but makes them extra tasty!) and chipotle mayo.

Add all mayo ingredients, except for salt and pepper, to a food processor and puree until thoroughly blended. Add salt and pepper and taste.

If not spicy enough, you can fold in a little more adobo sauce with a wooden spoon. If too spicy, fold in a bit more mayo. Store in refrigerator or cooler until you are ready to use.