It’s another grilling season and we can’t help but take full advantage of it.  Call it a primal instinct, or just football fever settling in for the winter, but something keeps drawing us back to the grill. In fact, year-round grilling has become increasingly popular.

 Photography - Ryan Robert @ Robert Olin Studios

Photography - Ryan Robert @ Robert Olin Studios

The Shot

A juicy, sizzling hot burger is a low-effort, high-payoff summer classic.  But capturing the delicious taste appeal on camera is not so easy. It requires a well-seasoned stylist, precise timing, a complex rig set-up and just the right amount of special effects. 

The concept was to create an outdoor shot, but keep the control afforded by the indoor studio. Robert Olin rigged up a stationary grill top, and used a long lens (150mm) to come in close on the food. This accomplished a few key points: 1. They could capture the nicely charred look of the meat and juicy accents. 2. They didn’t need to use an actual grill in the studio. Using a real grill limited our lighting freedom and perspective. 3. If they used an actual grill, they would have had a large black rim surrounding the food and a very shallow bowl for the coals, thus limiting their lighting ability. They also didn’t want it to look like the grill grate was resting right on the coals. 

Creating the appearance of a grill also allowed them to have their light sources unimpeded by the black rim of most grills and they were free to light 360 degrees around the food. They had numerous lighting sources. Again, they wanted to create an outdoor feel, so they had to recreate the sun as well as the sky. They put a very large broad source above the set to emulate the sky and control their shadows and contrast. They then positioned a point source coming from the front right to represent our sun. Since their coals and fire were too dim to cast any real light from the underside of the grate, they put a point light source under the food as well with a warming gel, to simulate the fire. They also focused a light on the coals, so the coals would be appropriately lit.

The Flame

They used a custom flame rig to control the exact placement timing and size of the flames. A snaking collection of metal valves, bottles and glass tubes, they can control exactly where, when and how large the flames appear.  This way they don't disrupt and already perfectly styled piece of meat.  In this case, a light, almost translucent flare helps to keep the look realistic and the attention on the patty.

The Smoke

No special effects here! Just an all-natural by-product of the flames and the spark that hints at a wonderfully smoky, char-grilled flavor

The Spark

Another custom rig was used, that pushes flammable powder through a small tube that opens up just below the grill grates.  When the powder hits the flame, it ignites into a brief flurry of sparks that replicates what naturally happens when a burger is flipped.

The Recipe

Grill a Better Burger 4 servings
1 1/2 pounds grass fed beef
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 thin slices cheddar cheese (optional)
4 soft sesame buns, split

Preheat a grill to high. Put the uncooked beef (use beef that is no leaner than 85% A little fat keeps burgers moist and flavorful.) in a bowl and add the onion and garlic – no salt yet – then create 4 light and loosely formed patties and immediately grill them at medium-low to medium heat; sprinkle each burger with salt right before you put it on the grill. Keep the lid closed and grill until marked on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and grill until the other side is marked and the patties feel firm, 3 to 5 more minutes, they’re perfectly done when they measure 160 degrees inside; if desired, top each burger with 2 slices cheese (don’t put cold cheese on them & never American) during the last 2 minutes of cooking and cover with foil to melt. Let the burgers stand two or 3 minutes to allow juice to redistribute. And don’t stop at the burger, get good quality buns!