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.)
Dear Buffalo wings,
What I am about to write will embarrass you, but I cannot contain my feelings any longer.
I love you.
I love you, I want you, and I need you. I am at peace when we are together, and I long for you when we are apart. You are the very definition of delicious.
There is no need to respond, Buffalo wings. Just know this: I love you now, and I will love you forever.
I understand that you saw my letter to Buffalo wings, and that you’re upset. I see now that my admission was tactless and cruel. Please know, hamburgers, that it was never my intention to hurt you.
We’ve been together for many years, you and I, and our memories exceed measure. And despite my affection for Buffalo wings (which, my dearest, I cannot deny!), my love for you shall never diminish.
You are, and will forever remain, my dearest heart.
Oh, hello, burger. Fancy meeting you here.
Hey, is that Buffalo wings?
Om nom uihrueilshuivck
We Three Kings of Burgiatry Are
We three kings of burgiatry are
Bearing hunger we traverse afar
To Geer & Foster, getting lost-er
Following yonder char
Oh, burger wonder, beefy delight
Patty cooked perfectly right
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to burger insight
Art by Will Fernandez
The good book tells us that the Three Kings traveled in one accord, which must have gotten pretty crowded, what with all the frankincense and such. We three kings, however, traveled in a roomy and stylish Nissan Maxima. In the course of our research, we did come across the fact that “myrrh” is the ancient Aramaic word for “special sauce,” so maybe we have more in common with our kingly predecessors than we realized.
However, we came not bearing gifts but seeking one, the gift of a well prepared burger.
King’s Sandwich Shop has been a Durham institution since 1942. It closed in 2007, but after a long-overdue rehab (and some unnecessary regulatory BS) opened again in 2010 under new owners. The neighborhood near the Durham Athletic Park has seen quite a bit of rehab as well, with Geer St. Garden, Manbites Dog Theater, Fullsteam Brewery and Motorco Music Hall all within a very short walk.
Kings is an archetypal walk-up burger joint with limited outdoor seating. Order at the window in the front, pick up your food at the window on the side. They offer burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, a reportedly excellent fried shrimp po’boy, and even vegetarian hot dogs and black bean burgers for those whose, um, tastes, run that way. So, yes, you can even take your patchouli-wearing hippie friends and introduce them to some classic Americana.
Each of us ordered a variation on the King Burger combo. The Reverend Corey supplemented his burger with a milkshake. We were not disappointed. This was the 1950s on a plate, a flat-top griddled burger with a lightly seared exterior on a butter toasted bun. The flavor was rich and beefy and the patties expertly cooked. The milkshake was excellent as well. If you like Char-Grill, you’ll love King’s Sandwich Shop.
Reverend Corey 4 Classic Burger Babes
Chad Ward 4 Classic Burger Babes
Dr. Marino 3.75 Classic Burger Babes
Overall score, 3.9
The Triangle has become a destination point for high-end burger chains. Five Guys has long had a presence. Zinburger opened at SouthPoint late last year. Before that, Elevation Burger brought its sustainable, organic, grass-fed ethos to Brier Creek. The latest entry in the fast-casual boutique burger war is Smashburger, opening March 12th, 2014 across from Duke Hospital in Durham. Recognizing the power of The Straight Beef, Smashburger PR issued an invitation for a preview tasting.
Smashburger did a wonderful job of giving us a glimpse into how they prepare their tasty burgers. They did more than that, though. Greg Creighton, the chief operating officer, gave us a tremendous amount of information about the philosophy behind why they do what they do.
The location in Durham which opened on March 12th is number 259 for Smashburger. The founder, Tom Ryan, is responsible for the Stuffed Crust Pizza, McGriddle, and McDonald’s Dollar Menu, amongst other fast food innovations. We spoke with the owners, and they plan on opening six to eight more locations in the Triangle.
Greg threw out some interesting facts. Smashburger only uses 100% certified Angus beef in their burgers. The cows are “grain fed, grass finished” in the Midwest and the beef is shipped fresh. Only 8% of the beef used in burgers is certified Angus in the US and Smashburger uses 40% of that. All the buns are baked at a facility in Chicago. We were able to try four different types of bun: egg, multigrain, pretzel, and chipotle. Huzzah! Not a kaiser roll in the bunch.
While Smashburger does have salads, a black bean burger, and chicken sandwiches we won’t touch on those here because this site isn’t The Straight Salad.
This black bean burger is missing something. A beef patty I think.
If you are into thick burgers, Smashburger is not the place for you. They use a proprietary “smasher” to prepare the patties. The beef is seasoned and cooked on a buttered flat grill. The burger is cooked to order, and a properly trained cook can prepare one in 2-3 minutes. The chicken sandwiches are prepared “picatta style.” Everything is flat to help with speed. Their goal is to have a freshly cooked meal ready for you in 6 minutes.
They have burger prep down to a science. Obviously, this is done to make sure the Smashburger experience is consistent not only from location to location but from visit to visit. The length of the smash, the pattern of the sprinkling of the seasoning, the angle of the spatula, the places the temperature is checked – everything has a specific reason for why it is done. The trainer told us that the seasoning side is placed down so that the tongue touches it first. They really have thought of everything.
This technique will only work on a flat grill as smashing a patty on an open grill will only get you a flat dry burger. The smasher doesn’t have any holes, so no juices can escape through the top either. If you’re going to try this at home, I would suggest using a small cast-iron skillet or a heavy tea kettle to achieve the same effect. If you want to learn more about this technique, please read the excellent Burger Lab article by J. Kenji López-Alt.
Enough with statistics and technique, let’s get down to talking about the burgers. We were able to sample four different burgers. The first was the Classic Smash which had American cheese, Smash Sauce, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion on an egg bun. I could tell you what’s in the smash sauce, but I would have to kill you. I will say, however, that there is no Thousand Island dressing. The Classic Smash was the best of the bunch as it allowed the flavor of the patty to shine. You can’t go wrong with this choice on your first visit.
Next was the BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Burger, which was topped with cranberry BBQ sauce, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, and haystack onions. This combination of flavors would have worked great on a thick burger. Unfortunately, it overwhelmed the thin patty. Maybe order this selection on the chicken sandwich, but the burger disappeared here.
Hello, is there a patty in there?
The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger made up for the previous one. The sautéed crimini mushrooms and truffle mayo accentuated the already flavorful patty. This one’s a really nice change-of-pace burger if you want something a little different for lunch.
The Regional Burger was a Carolina staple, a chilli burger topped with slaw on a pretzel bun. The pretzel bun was necessary to hold the somewhat soupy toppings. It was nice to see they didn’t resort to using a kaiser roll. This one’s solid but nothing that you haven’t had before.
When you go to Smashburger, get the Classic Smash with one of their top-notch sides. When you go back, experiment and make your own. Unless you go overboard with the toppings, you will not be disappointed.