"A Hamburger is warm and fragrant and juicy. A hamburger is soft and non-threatening. It personifies the Great Mother herself, who has nourished us from the beginning. A hamburger is an icon of layered circles, the circle being at once the most spiritual and the most sensual of shapes. A hamburger is companionable and faintly erotic: the nipple of the Goddess, the bountiful belly-ball of Eve." -- Tom Robbins from "The Genius Waitress" in Esquire, 1983
Once upon a time, hamburgers were the All-American inexpensive meal that Dad was allowed to immolate in the back yard until they looked, and tasted like, black hockey pucks. Then came McDonald's and burgers became tan and tasted like a tanned hide.
To the observant burger anthropologist, there are at least a dozen distinctive species and subspecies of burger. Like sports teams, everyone has a favorite. Most hamburgers are distinguished mainly by the condiments. But condiments don't make the burger. The meat does. And how you cook it.
To learn the burger making secrets of the pros, read my article on The Zen of Hamburgers, how to Grind Your Own Burgers, and my recipes for Steakhouse Burgers, and Diner Burgers.
But first, let's play culinary anthropologist and study the menu of the major species of burger.
For the sake of argument, I will define a hamburger as a sandwich with a patty made mostly from ground beef, cooked, and served between halves of a bun or two pieces of bread that can be garnished with an infinite number of condiments.
If I've missed a legit style, let us know:
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This is the burger that wakes me up in the middle of the night. It is floating above my bed, just out of reach, dripping on my forehead and whispering provocatively, "eeeeat me, eeeeat me."
E-coli O157:H7 is primarily a problem in ground meats, not steaks. USDA recommends all ground meats be cooked to 160F to be safe. In fact, there may be ways to serve safe meat cooked to lower temps. In future articles, when I publish some recipes, I will discuss the issue in detail. Until then, if you wish to read more on the subject, please read my article on Food Safety, Knife Safety, and Grill Safety.
A note to vegans and omnivores
Made from ground steak, not scraps of lips and tail, it's adipose at 8 ounces and 3/4" thick and goes bumper to bumper on a 4" bun, with a chocolate brown crunchy crust whose savor is accented with a soupcon of charred beef fat amplified by more than a kiss of salinity, and, when broached, it bursts like a grape in my mouth coating it with earthy beefy flavor that says "I am not a lowly peasant meal, I am not an assembly line product, I am a rare treat that is American cuisine at its epitome because to make me properly you've gotta have your stuff together."
In the steakhouse, its dominion, this steakburger is usually broiled under scorching hot gas flames until the proteins metamorphose and the lipids in the fats char. It sits on a pillowy soft bun capable of absorbing its ample juices, buttered and toasted enough to add richness and crackly texture, simply adorned with lettuce, tomato, perhaps salty/smoky/crunchy bacon, perhaps a viscous layer of melted cheddar, and your choice of ketchup, mustard, mayo, or a blend of all three. In such a state, it transmogrifies from simple sandwich to feast. Forget everything you think you know about cooking burgers. Click here for my recipe for the perfect Steakhouse Burger.
The Smashed Burger. A popular variant of the Diner Burger is The Smashed Burger which starts as a golf ball sized meatball and gets smashed into the plancha to achieve maximum surface contact and jagged crunchy edges. This method is popular in diners across the nation, but the epitome is the Shake Shack with three locations in NYC and a cult following that forms long lines.
The Onion Burger. An excellent variant of the style is The Onion Burger, where raw onions are pressed into the raw top of the patty while the first side is on the griddle, and when it is flipped, they caramelize and get sweet in the burger grease and practically fuse to the surface.
Jucy Lucy and other Stuffed Burgers
Slyders. These burgers are cooked with steam rather than dry heat. White Castle "Slyders" (a.k.a. Sliders) are the most famous steamed burgers, so named because they slide right down. And yes, they were originally trademarked with a "y". That's one at right.
First a layer of chopped onion bits that have been defanged by soaking in water go on a medium hot griddle, then the 2.5" square patties go on top of them, never touching the griddle, each with five holes punched in them to speed cooking and to distribute the onion flavor, then some salt is sprinkled on the squares, then one lonesome crinkle cut dill pickle slice goes over the center hole, then the bun bottoms, face down, then the bun tops. They sit there and steam in the mist from the onions and the meat, without a lid, just the buns on top. No flipping necessary. Take home a sack.
Connecticut Cheeseburgs. Serious devotees of steamers are partial to the hefty, gooey versions served in Connecticut, especially Ted's Steamed Cheeseburg in Meriden, described below under regional burger styles. Yes, it is "Cheeseburg" without the "er".
Dome Burgers. A variant of the Steamed Burger can be found in scores of diners across the nation. The patty is cooked on a griddle under a metal dome, combining dry heat from below, and steam from above. Some short order cooks even sprinkle water or shaved ice under the dome to create more steam.
Deep Fried Burgers
In Jefferson City, MO, Paddy Malone's Yogi Burger is a half pound patty that is dipped in batter and then deep fried, topped with Thousand Island Dressing and all the fixins' and served on Texas Toast. Is that Irish?
The Novelty Burger
Finally, we have the Novelty Burger. One might be charitable and call them creative burgers made by innovative chefs, but most don't deserve the elevation.
Silly Burgers. Every pub looking to differentiate itself from the beer hall across the street feels the need to tweak the formula beyond rational. They come with all manner of mix-ins, ranging from the insanely hot Bhut jolokia (a.k.a. the "Indian ghost chile") to hard boiled eggs. Another Silly Burger, perhaps the silliest of them all, is the Luther Burger, named after an early fan, singer/songwriter Luther Vandross. It is a patty between two donuts or donut halves. It was relatively unknown until it starred in a TV cartoon, and grew in fame when the Gateway Grizzlies, a minor league baseball team in St. Louis, started serving it. They split a deep-fried Krispy Kreme Donut, lay a patty on it, and top it with bacon and melted cheese. Is there a doctor in the stadium?
We can also include in this category the 50 pound burgers (betcha can't eat one), and the quadruple stack (held together by skewers, not toothpicks), and the burgers topped with everything from pineapple rings to salmon. Any attempt to list all the Silly Burgers is as futile as trying to list all political lies.
Mini-Burgers. Among the subspecies is the recent trend to mini burgers. Some are thin disks, some are fat, they are meant to be less filling and higher markup, and often served with chocolate martinis and other abominations in shee-shee bars. Some audacious and uneducated chefs call them sliders. Not, not, not!
Gourmet Burgers. A subspecies of the silly burger is the Gourmet Burger. The concept goes back to the original Hamburg steak and its descendant, the Salisbury Steak (see below), an attempt to make ground beef a competitor with real steaks. The concept of upscale hamburger died as buns swallowed ground meat like Pacmen and then it resurfaced in 1975 when Manhattan's fabled 21 Club served a $21 burger. Now Gourmet Burgers are everywhere. Scores of restaurants serve burgers made from expensive Kobe or Wagyu beef with exotic mix-ins and toppings. The New York Times credits (blames?) Daniel Boulud with starting the trend in 2001 at his Times Square DB Bistro Moderne when he stuffed ground sirloin with braised short ribs, foie gras, and truffles when they are in season. It's more than $30. It's a fine sandwich, done perfectly, with a lump of foie gras about the size of a marble embedded in the center. That's it at right.
In 2008 TV chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay opened Bobby's Burger Palace in a New York City suburb, and other celebrity chefs have jumped on the bandwagon. Emeril Lagasse has opened BAM (Burgers And More) in the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA. Hubert Keller has the Burger Bar in Las Vegas, St. Louis, and San Francisco. And, mon dieu, according to the New York Times, burgers are Chic in Paris now!
Unlike hot dogs, which have numerous regional styles (see my article Hot Dog Road Trip), there are only a handful of hamburger styles that are truly regional. Many variations are served nationwide or limited to one restaurant. But there are a few styles that seem to have taken hold in a region where the locals call it their own. If you know of other regional styles, please let me know in the comments below.
The New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger
The South Carolina Pimento Cheese Burger
The Connecticut Steamed Cheeseburg
The Cincinnati Chili Cheeseburger
The San Antonio Beanburger
The West Virginia Slaw Burger
The Little Havana Frita
El Rey de las Fritas (The King of Fritas), is a spotless, friendly place in a strip mall on Calle Ocho, and it lives up to its moniker. No lesser luminary than Bobby Flay calls their fritas the best burgers in Florida. He likes them so much that he imitates them with "crunchified" burgers at his restaurants, topped with crushed potato chips.
Love of American culture has brought the hamburger to many countries where growing demand was met with the expansion overseas of McDonalds and Burger King. Some nations have their own peculiar twist on the concept.
In Australia a typical burger may have pickled beets (yuuuuuck), sunnyside up egg, sliced pineapple, and chile paste such as sambal oelek or sriracha.
In Korea, don't be surprised to find kimchi, a form of pickled cabbage, on your burger. Hey, just think of it as a type of kraut or slaw.
In the Dominican Republic, you can get Chimichurris, a.k.a. Chimi Burgers, from pushcarts and hole in the wall joints everywhere. Each stand takes liberties with the recipe, with some using a green herb sauce similar to Argentine chimichurri sauce, while others use chopped onion, red bell pepper, garlic, oregano, and cilantro mixed in with the ground meat, and they are served with a warm coleslaw on top, and a sauce made with ketchup, mayo, and mustard, similar to my Burger Glop recipe. Chimi Burgers have traveled with Dominican expats to their new homes in New York and elsewhere.
In India, burgers are served on the flat traditional local Naan bread.
Hawaiian Loco Moco
Spoonburgers and Scoopburgers
Doughburgers or Slugburgers
Copyright (c) 2010 By Meathead, and all rights are reserved. All text and photos by Meathead. For more of his writing, photos, and recipes, please visit him at his website AmazingRibs.com, friend him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.
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