You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars. —Charles Kuralt
I am not a foodie. I think we’ve established that by now. The last time I made a comment about local restaurants I was vilified for having a contrary opinion. However, if there’s one thing that gets my attention it’s a good burger. I love them. When Esquire magazine included Indianapolis’ Bru Burger Bar on its list of best burgers in each state, it didn’t leave me with any real choice but to chime in.
The danger here is that there is no such thing as the perfect burger. Americans are as divided on burger contents as they are on presidential candidates, perhaps more so. One can’t eat a presidential candidate with a side of fries and feel satisfied. Everyone has their own opinion as to what constitutes a good burger. Everyone thinks that their opinion is best. As a result, there will never be any large-scale agreement as to what makes the best burger. Don’t even go there.
What we can do, though, is take a look at what makes a good burger. Let’s consider the universal elements for a decent burger and what we expect when we walk into a burger joint anywhere in the country. Eating is fun, but sometimes creating them is more joy.
What The List Said
The same list that included Indy’s Bru also included a lot of other great burgers. While almost all of them made my mouth water, here are a few that sound especially wonderful:
- Kula burger at Stewz Maui Burgers, Hawaii. Sitting on top of locally-sourced beef, this burger makes me hungry with avocados, red onion, a shmear of slow-roasted garlic, slow-roasted Poblano, Monterrey jack cheese, and house-exclusive chipotle lime aioli. Such a wonderful mix of flavors, possibly served somewhere within decent proximity of a beach (I can only hope), makes my stomach rumble at the thought.
- Seward’s Folly, West Rib Pub & Grill, Talkeetna, Alaska. It’s going to take someone with a helluva lot more stomach space than what I have to even think about eating this burger. Five pounds of food in one setting is insane. However, the ingredient list has me licking my chops. Caribou, ham, bacon, unhealthy amounts of cheese, lettuce, grilled onions, and proprietary “Fat Ass” sauce. You’ll want your cardiologist on speed dial if you actually try this burger, but the contents in smaller quantity would be wonderful.
- Bubba Burger at Doc Crow’s, Louisville. This one’s within driving distance and we’re through Louisville every once in a while, so I may have to put this on our list. In addition to ground beef, there’s pulled pork, beef brisket, onion rings, coleslaw, fried green tomato, and a fried egg. While I’m a little concerned about how messy a fried egg can be, the combination of flavors make for serious gastronomical excitement.
- Dublin Burger, The Barley House, Concord, New Hampshire. They had me at peppercorn-charred. Then they had the nerve to make me drool publicly by adding whiskey gravy, creamy bleu cheese, and crispy onion rings. If I can talk them into serving that with roasted potatoes and Johnnie Walker Black Label I might just die and go to heaven, or Nirvana, or some other form of cheeseburger paradise.
There are a lot of really tempting flavor combinations throughout the list. I feel for anyone who had to try them all.
What Makes A Great Burger
Again, being extremely subjective here, it seems there are some basic components to making a burger worth the inevitable heartburn and bloatedness. While anything is potentially a candidate for a burger topping, some combinations just worked better than others. If resources are readily available and budget isn’t a hindrance, here’s what I think makes a really good burger.
- Quality meet. Start with really nice ground sirloin, around 80% lean. If the option is available too me, I like going in and selecting the cut of meat and having it ground fresh. Ground beef that has sat around for a few days just doesn’t have the same flavor. Something I like but didn’t see on Esquire’s list is mixing other ground meats, such as sage pork sausage and lamb. The enhanced flavors really make a burger take great before adding toppings.
- Onions. Raw, grilled, sauteed, caramelized, or in deep-fried rings, every good burger needs onions. If you’re worried about your breath, bring a mint.
- Flavorful cheese. There’s nothing wrong with putting a strong, sharp cheddar on a burger but I get excited when I see a combination of cheeses that include bleu, Gruyère, Havarti, Monterey Jack, or Muenster.
- Creative sauces. I am not a big fan of the standard ketchup, mustard, and mayo combination. They leave a burger sloppy and mask the other tastes. I like original sauces, especially those that might include a touch of meat dripping, just a touch of something vinegary, and a hint of sweetness. There should be just enough to provide moisture for the other toppings, but not enough to overwhelm.
From there, take the burger wherever you want. The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination.
A Sad Irony
What really sucks about all this burger talk is that no matter how they’re prepared, I know they’re going to make me ill. I have my mother’s genes to thank for that. For the moment, I’m able to suck it up and endure the inevitable pain. I really like a good burger. However, I know that as I get older the day will eventually come when I have to give up this basic comfort food I love so much. I’ve tried replacing ground beef entirely, but the taste just isn’t the same. I’m screwed.
Still, there are times when burgers are worth whatever challenges and difficulties they might present. Burgers with friends are some of the best times anyone can have. Burgers are even good when they’re not quite as perfect as you might have hoped. Just the fact that you’re having a burger is enough of a reason to be happy.
Hopefully this little discourse doestn’t offend anyone. If it does, my recommendation is that you go have a burger and smile through the rest of your day. Nothing could be better.