Hero Burgiatrist Eats 10 Sliders in One Hour at Asheville’s Battle of the Burger
Our own burgiatrist Michael Marino recently served as a judge at the WNC Battle of the Burger in Asheville, NC. The Battle wasn’t just a great way to benefit western NC’s Eblen Charities—it was also an official qualifying event of the World Burger Championship in Las Vegas. So it was kind of a big deal. Thanks to our buds the NC Beer Guys for helping to get us involved in this fantastic event.
Here’s Michael’s report:
Local bands played as 10 western NC burger purveyors—all hoping for a chance at the big prize—grilled and griddled thousands of burger samples. Pepsi of Asheville, Sierra Nevada, and Pisgah Brewing kept things cold while the competition got hot. Finally, it was time to taste.
King James Public House. Hands down my favorite. Really nice combination of smoked gouda, fried onions, and an especially delicious patty of ground chuck, short rib, brisket, and lardo (an Italian charcuterie that’s cured for a month, then hung for another two). Honestly, one of the most flavorful patties I’ve ever had. If TSB’s current number 1, Chuck’s, used this patty, it would probably be the best burger in the universe.
All kneel before the King (James) of Burgers.
Rankin Vault. This was the winner of the competition—topped with bacon, white cheddar, arugula, red onion in a house-made vinaigrette, and spicy Duke’s mayo. The peppery arugula and onions were an interesting choice and made for an overall savory experience. I thought it was exceptional, but its patty couldn’t match King James’.
Viva Las Vegas!
Ambrozia served a simple pimento cheeseburger with a twist: bacon jam instead of bacon. It mixed well with the tangy pimento cheese. I’m not a pimento cheese connoisseur like my colleague Chad, but I think he’d approve. It was firm and not soupy, and I wasn’t a mess by the time I finished.
Food of the gods.
Mojo Kitchen and Lounge. Mojo went sweet instead of savory, topping its burger with mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, sweet plantains, and chimichurri. I might have gone with Brie over mozzarella, but that’s nitpicking an otherwise fine burger. In this rarified air, quibbles make all the difference.
All the sorority girls are clamoring for the plantains, Lois.
Farm Burger gets a boost because it impressed my daughter, who’s tough to please burger-wise. She went back for seconds on this goat cheese, microgreens, heirloom tomato, and basil pesto-topped creation.
These five were solid, but not quite ready for the big leagues:
Creekside Taphouse tried hard to be different, using a dollop of bacon jam on the cheese and floating a sunny-side-up quail egg on that. A neat effect, and the presentation was great—looking like a tiny toy burger—but its taste was nothing special. Solid, but not outstanding.
Farm to Fender represented the Battle’s lone food truck. Fender served my personal favorite type of bun—the poppyseed sesame similar to what’s used at Ray’s Hell Burger—but the chipotle pimento-smothered concoction was the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re going deer hunting, bring along one of these babies.
Buffalo Nickel, like Creekside, tried to gimmick themselves apart, using creamy white cheddar with a whipped cream dispenser. It was neat—and the cheese was akin to high end Cheez Whiz—but the burger was so-so.
The Social was the Battle’s previous champ. But either its fellow Asheville burger purveyors significantly raised their game, or The Social was having an off day. The fried pickle chipotle burger was nothing special.
Ben’s Tune Up. Its chopped skirt steak and bacon sandwich, topped with tomato jam and miso slaw on a baguette, fits better in a “loose meat” category. Nice flavor, but a little chewy—and just not really a burger.
How did this sandwich sneak into a burger competition?
Though the organization of the WNC Battle of the Burger was a bit chaotic—and the first tables had an advantage over the last few, which people reach when they were stuffed—overall the event was lots of fun, and the opportunity to eat 10 heavy sliders in an hour was truly an honor.
But really, people: Enough with chipotle seasoning already. We went through this with the equally meaningless “applewood smoked bacon.” It’s played out. What about cumin? Cumin’s nice.
Warning: Everything you know about Kobe beef is a lie. Take a listen.
This month’s edition of Notes from the Burger Underground is an overview of burger news and reviews that have appeared in major media outlets. Enjoy.
The Roman Burger. Photo by NPR.
This is the Roman Burger from M Burger in Chicago, which uses grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. The fearless correspondents at NPR’s Sandwich Monday give it a (gut) glowing review.
The pimento cheeseburger from Southside Smokehouse. Photo by Michael Stern.
Jane and Michael Stern of Road Food fame declare the pimento cheeseburger at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, SC, the ultimate southern cheeseburger.
NY’s The Gander only sells this sweet baby during the day. Photo: Paul Wagtouicz
Grub Street laments the disappearing burger, a loss leader in NY restaurants that have proven so popular that chefs limit access to their meaty goodness. “More top New York chefs limit their burgers by selling them in very small quantities, or only at lunch, or only for the first 30 minutes their restaurant is open, or maybe just to the people sitting at the bar but not in the dining room, or possibly only on Mondays.”
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman
Author Michael Ruhlman reminds us that if we want to make the best burgers we need to grind our own meat. Why?
First and foremost: taste and texture. When you grind your own, you can regulate the amount of fat you include; your hamburger should contain 20 to 30 percent fat for a juicy, succulent burger. I can season the diced meat before grinding it so that the burger is seasoned uniformly throughout. And I can use the large die so that it’s got real bite to it.
Importantly to me, when I grind my own, I know it hasn’t been contaminated by any of the bad bugs that can get into ground meat these days at big processing facilities, or even through carelessness in the meat department of my grocery store. Provided I give the whole muscle a thorough rinse and pat it dry, I can eat the ground meat as tartare or serve it to my kids as rare as they want it.
And finally, the NY Times’s Sam Sifton deconstructs the perfect burger, dividing the universe into diner-style griddled burgers and thick pub-style. The trick? “Cook on heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles. Cook outside if you like, heating the pan over the fire of a grill, but never on the grill itself. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit.”
It’s review #55, and we’re eating a burger at a converted gas station. Is it possible not to think of Sammy Hagar and/or his magnum opus “I Can’t Drive 55”? The answer is no—it is not.
Which is fitting, because I felt about the burger at Chevy’s Sports Bar exactly how I felt about the Sammy version of Van Halen. (And yes, I know that “55” was pre-Halen; work with me here.) That is to say: I wanted to like it more.
Chevy’s had a lot going for it—a cozy, relaxed feel, super-homey service, an admirable beer selection, and fine boneless wings—but the burger (not unlike Van Hagar’s “Finish What Ya Started,” “Poundcake,” and the unrepentant nightmare that was “Dreams”) kept my taste buds well within the speed limit.
Scott’s review: 2.25 out of 5
Being snarky is easy. A professional burgiatrist can delight in delivering a righteous smackdown to a burger joint that just doesn’t get it. What is hard is rating a burger place that you want to like—a place that’s clearly trying but isn’t quite sure what it is yet. Chevy’s is one of those places. A gas station burger joint is funny—I don’t care who you are—but we couldn’t go for the easy joke. (Well, Scott could.) They obviously cared about what they were doing.
My burger, a classic combo of cheddar, bacon, mayo, and pickles, was decent. It was a little overcooked, but the beefy flavor came through. The pretzel bun was a little dry. My rating comes with an asterisk to denote that I’d like to go back when they’ve finished renovating and have found their groove. Chevy’s has potential.
Chad’s rating: 3.25 out of 5
How would I characterize this burger experience, set at a former gas station? Middle of the road.
The patty was overcooked but still juicy enough. The bun was toasted nicely but fell apart. The caramelized onions were good but not quite caramelized. My tailored burger order—of a fried egg, bacon, caramelized onions, and American cheese—came together nicely, but was missing the bacon. Despite these issues—and overall pedestrian flavor—the burger was OK. I hope that they work through the kinks and bring the burger to the sunny side of the street.
Don’s rating: 3.0 out of 5
“Potential energy is energy stored in a system of forcefully interacting physical entities.” (Physics for Scientists and Engineers)
A burger too is a system of forcefully interacting physical entities. In the case of the burger at Chevy’s case, these entities didn’t all interact the way a great burger should. The patty was cooked well with a nice char, but wasn’t seasoned especially well. The pretzel bun was nice but fell apart midway through. The lettuce was green and fresh but was placed under the bun, effectively sluicing the burger juices onto the plate. The cooked-to-order bacon was crispy and flavorful, which saved this burger from being merely average.
The burger at Chevy’s was chock-full of potential energy. They need to harness that energy to elevate their good burger to a great one.
Michael’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
Chevy’s overall ranking: 44th of 55
Sir, I’m going to tell you this one more time. I don’t care that you can’t drive 55. You’re under arrest for wearing that awful shirt.
BURGER HISTORY, PART 1: SADDLE MEAT
How was the first hamburger invented? Look under your saddle, pardner. Download here.
BURGER HISTORY, PART 2: FUN ON A BUN
Where was the hamburger really invented? The Straight Beef explores the six leading theories and determines which is the least insane. Download here.
The burgers at Craft Public House in Cary are average. Exceedingly so. They’re so extraordinarily ordinary, in fact, that they inspired these burgiatrists to recall other outstandingly unremarkable experiences gone by. To take a stroll, if you will, down Mediocrity Lane.
Eating a burger at Craft is like crashing in front of the tube for an evening of Full House, King of Queens, and Two and a Half Men.
It’s like taking test drives in a Honda Accord, a Ford Explorer, and a Toyota Camry.
It’s like curling up at the beach with a paperback collection of John Grisham, Danielle Steel, and Dean Koontz.
It’s like going to a concert featuring a lineup of John Mayer, Steely Dan, and Phil Collins.
It’s like watching a movie starring Greg Kinnear, Eric Roberts, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Michael’s rating: 3 out of 5.
Scott’s rating: 3 out of 5
Chad’s rating: 3 out of 5
Don’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
Editors’ top pick: TSB Podcast #12. What are the top 10 burger side dishes–in order? Find out by downloading our podcast from iTunes or Libsyn.
As I travel this crazy burger-loving world, it becomes increasingly obvious that burgers are attaining their rightful status as a national meal. It warms this burgiatrist’s heart.
My burgiatric travels recently took me to Prague, where I learned about a new burger venture called Crush Street Food (www.crush.cz). Jan Picha, the brains behind Crush, was driven to burger greatness. In order to get his burger to the people, he retro-fitted an old Citroën truck into a burger-making machine. I discovered this silver beast among a throng of food vendors—a veritable olfactory celebration—in the Andel area of the city.
Jan explained to me that today he was serving the Hovezi Burger—a beef burger topped with grilled red peppers, pickled red onions, tzatziki sauce, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and chipotle ketchup.
Quite simply, the burger was great. Fresh, hot, juicy, and very tasty—the burger grand slam. The patty was nicely charred, the bun was toasted perfectly, and the toppings did not overpower the perfectly seasoned patty.
Well played, Crush. Well played. And yes, I’ll take the easy pun: You crushed it.
Don’s score: 4.75 out of 5.0
Strip Mall Surprise: A Recipe
The skeptical burgiatrist at work. An original watercolor.
- 3 skeptical burgiatrists
- 1 generic strip mall sports bar
- 3 burgers
- 2 orders of hot wings
Receive an email about yet another “best burger in the Triangle!!!” with too many exclamation points and questionable source data from Rally Point Sport Grill in Cary.
Review painfully slow website. Preheat snark to medium.
Arrive at generic strip mall sports bar. Note the Skee ball machines and clusters of patrons at the bar—and the virtually empty dining room—and lower expectations to simmer.
Order wings and beers. Note with mild surprise the tastiness of the wings while lamenting the skimpiness of the beer menu. (Remember that too much lamenting this early in the recipe can lead to some bitterness.)
Order three half-pound burgers: one Carolina burger with chili and coleslaw, one Cheddar burger, and—taking one for the team—one Mac & Cheese burger, piled high with “homemade” macaroni & cheese that looks homemade only if your home is a blue box with “Kraft” emblazoned across it. Raise snark to high.
Take a bite.
Note the well-toasted, locally baked bun. Note the near-perfect sear and proper seasoning level on the patty. Reduce snark back to medium, raise expectations slightly. Chew thoughtfully. Take another bite.
Discuss quality of the burger with tablemates. Dial snark down to low. Remark on the high quality of the burger—with or without extraneous toppings—and completely rethink the experience.
Peel away previous bias and enjoy. Voilà! Strip Mall Surprise!
Chad: I ordered the Mac & Cheese burger. The underlying hamburger patty was excellent, and the bun was perfectly toasted. They also get bonus points for house-cut fries. The mac & cheese provided nothing more than bulk and starch and took away from the experience of the burger itself. This is a well-deserved 4.0 for the burger alone.
Scott: For a slightly spicier version of the recipe, add pinball machines, 70s-style paneling, and an unremarkable-looking joint serving an unexpectedly remarkable burger. I’m going all the way to 4.0-town for the Carolina burger.
Don: Cheddar Burger- Cheddar Cheese: I went with one of the most basic burgers listed and was struck by the nice char on the burger as well. The bun was great and perfectly toasted. My biggest complaint is with the amount of cheese that was used. It was lost on the burger. I don’t know if I actually tasted it in retrospect. All in all a very solid 4.0.
Overall rating:4.0, putting Rally Point Sport Grill at 22 out of 53.
***Congratulations to Brian Anderson for winning the contest. The correct answer was 40%.***
The nice folks at Smashburger in Durham have teamed up with The Straight Beef to give one lucky reader a pair of free entrées.
Smashburger opened its first Triangle location last month in Durham’s Lakeview Pavilion East shopping center (2608 Erwin Road), located across from Duke University Hospital.
What’s that, you say? You have a friend who—for no good reason—doesn’t eat burgers? Never fear! Smashburger offers grilled chicken sandwiches and fresh-tossed signature salads, as well as a variety of succulent sides like rosemary and garlic-seasoned Smashfries, Haystack Onions, and Veggie Frites.
But first, to win the contest for the pair of entrée certificates, you need to answer the following question correctly:
What percentage of the certified Angus beef used in burgers in the US is used by Smashburger?
(Hint: the answer can be found in our Smashburger Preview.)