Ten years of The Straight Beef

Ten years ago today Scott, John, and I posted our first review. Scott and John have moved on to other things. Now Chad, Don, and Carolyn join me in celebrating the burgiatric arts. It has been a real pleasure meeting a lot of you online and in real life — those of you who care enough about eating hamburgers to read what we put up here.

It has been a great first 10 years, and I appreciate all your support. I don’t know exactly what the future will hold, but I hope it has juicy patties and shredded lettuce. And for God’s sake, no kaiser rolls.

Burger on,


What to expect in 2017 and the TSB app

Happy new year burger lovers.

You probably noticed that the content on TSB.com has been sporadic in 2016. I’ve been working on a new project with Burgiatrist Emeritus Scott (more on that to come.) Chad’s constantly working on other writing projects. He’s the only one of us that actually makes any money writing. Don is busy being a professor and with other design projects. Carolyn has a new baby.

Unfortunately, writing about delicious burgers in the triangle has taken a back seat to everything else.

Take heart, though, TSB will continue. We are still discovering new burger places, and we’re going back to old places to make sure they live up to TSB’s exacting standards. We’ll put up podcasts as subjects come to us. Just subscribe or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

The one casualty of 2016 is the TSB app. It was simply too expensive and too much work to maintain. I looked at what it offered compared to the mobile version of the site, and it wasn’t much more. Basically, I was paying for the ability to search a map of our reviews. I have found a few options to add that to the mobile site. Look for that in the next month or so.

That’s about all for now. We recently went to do a re-review of Chad’s favorite Salem Street Pub with a special guest. We also have a podcast to post soon. Thanks for your support over the years. We look forward to providing you with burger information and entertainment for years to come.


WRAL Out and About Voter’s Choice – Editorial

So, the good folks at WRAL Out and About have put together a “best of” list for people to vote on. It is a lot of things to vote on, so make sure you give yourself some time if you wish to have your virtual voice heard.

Here are the choices for burgers:

  • Bad Daddy’s
  • Burger 21
  • Clouds Brewing
  • Five Guys
  • Tribeca Tavern

Are you kidding me?

To be fair, we haven’t been to Clouds Brewing, yet. The other four have no business being on a list of best places for burgers in the Triangle. Thankfully, there is a write in vote.

I beg you to please write in Al’s Burger Shack or Mojoe’s Burger Joint. Do not let an average burger establishment be proclaimed as having the area’s best burger. We are better than that, people.

WRAL Out and About Voter’s Choice

The TSB app is now live.

If you love TSB’s content but need an easier way to access its content, then you need to download the official TSB app. It is available for iOS and Android.

The app does have a feature the site does not. It has an interactive map of every burger place we have reviewed including the renegade reviews.

The app is free to download and ad-free. If we do have ads in the future (this stuff ain’t free,) we will not use a generic ad network. We’re still working that out.




The TSB app

Tom Petty had it right. It is the hardest part.

Tom Petty had it right. It is the hardest part.

We have been hard at work developing an app for burger connoisseurs on the go. All of the information you have come to love about The Straight Beef will be found in our new app. The coolest feature is a list of our reviews plotted on a map, so you can find a burger where ever you are. We’re still awaiting approval on the iOS and Google Play app stores.

The app will be free to download and free from any ads for now. We’ll be sure to let everyone know when it is available.

Things are going to change around here


We have been doing The Straight Beef for over five years and think it is time to freshen things up a bit. Over the next few weeks, we are going to change the design. These won’t solely be aesthetic changes. We want to make it easier for you to find burgiatric information you need.

If it were the early 2000s, we would plaster the site with animated construction GIFs. As it is 2015, we humbly ask for your patience as we make changes. We think you’re going to like it.

Al’s Burger Shack Contest

We’ve recently become aware that one our local burger stalwarts, Al’s Burger Shack, has a contest for a new Thanksgiving burger. The Straight Beef took this as an opportunity to convene a conference in Geneva to discuss whether a burger can be called a burger unless the patty is made of beef. After 10 days of intense debate, we have agreed to disagree. Chad and Don feel that any ground meat that is shaped into a patty and served in a bun should be considered a burger. The old guard of Scott and Michael subscribe to the original definition of the burger which is that is has to be beef.

Scott’s suggestion that any non-beef burger be called a burger-like ground [insert animal here] sandwich was deemed too long to fit on most menus. We all agreed that any non-beef burger must include the meat that it is made of as a prefix.

It is with this in mind that we recommend you try your hand at burgiatric alchemy and come up with your own topping combination to win Al’s Burger Shack’s Thanksgiving Burger Contest. The official press release is below. Good luck.


Al’s Burger Shack, Chapel Hill’s classic burger stand, is challenging customers to put on their chef toques and create a holiday-themed burger.  The winning entry will be featured as a special at the Shack on November 20, 2014.

The contest kicks off today, October 21, 2014, and will accept entries until November 10, 2014.  Contestants must put their creative juices to work with the selected ingredients.  They must start with a turkey burger and then include a combination of cranberries, sweet potatoes, or stuffing (or dressing as we call it).  Bonus points will be given for using all three special ingredients.  Entrants may also add other items from their virtual pantry.

Al and an esteemed panel of local judges, including Andrea Weigl (@aweigl) of the News & Observer; Andrea Griffith Cash (@agcash) of Chapel Hill Magazine; Ron Stutts (@wchlchapelboro) of WCHL radio; and Jamil Kadoura, owner of Chapel Hill’s Mediterranean Deli, will evaluate the entries.  The judges will select three finalists on November 10.  On November 19 at 4 pm, the Shack will host a cook-off and the judges will sample the finalists’ burgers hot off the grill.  The winner will be announced at the end of the tasting.

Finalists will receive an Al’s Burger Shack t-shirt and $10 gift card.  The winner will receive a t-shirt, a $25 gift card, and have their recipe featured as the Shack special on November 20.

“We were blown away by the creativity of the entries for our first burger contest that we couldn’t wait to have another,” said Al Bowers, owner of Al’s Burger Shack.  “We’re thrilled to include local food editors, media, and a fellow chef as judges. I excited to see how the Shacksters tackle the holiday burger.”

The rules are simple:
Step 1: Like Al’s Burger Shack on Facebook.
Step 2: Create a recipe and submit (insert link) it
Step 3: Keep it fresh and make it tasty.
Join in the pre-holiday fun and show off your inner chef.  Enter today.
About Al’s Burger Shack
Al’s Burger Shack is Chapel Hill’s classic burger stand.  We use the finest ingredients, including pasture-raised NC beef and farmers’ market produce, to create our burgers, hot dogs and shakes. Real burgers. Real local. Real good. For menus, news, directions and more, visit alsburgershack.com.

Win some Smashburgers! (Contest over)

***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.)



Smashburger Preview


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 patty I think.

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.

Burger magic.

Burger magic.

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.

Don! Smash!

Don! Smash!

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.

Classic Smash

Classic Smash

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?

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.

2013: The Year in Burgiatry

As the waiter takes the check and we brush the final crumbs of 2013 from our clothes, it is time for a bit of reflection, a moment’s pause to consider the highs and lows of the 2013 year in burgiatry.

  • The Straight Beef closed the books on the year’s reviews on the highest of notes. Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill completely floored all four reviewers in the waning days of December. Despite the restaurant only being open a short while, the burgers there were rated the best of the year and among the top five hamburgers The Straight Beef has encountered in its four year history.

    Super. Thanks for asking.

    Super. Thanks for asking.

  • The Al’s review also garnered the most attention of any Straight Beef post in 2013, with a huge number of page views and more than 500 Facebook shares. Al’s Burger Shack continued an emerging trend – Chapel Hill, NC, is rapidly becoming burger Mecca. Al’s joins Buns of Chapel Hill and Top This to score a hat trick, a trifecta of great hamburgers within a square mile of one another.
  • 2013 also saw catastrophic lows, a hamburger so horrifying that the Reverend Corey not only could not finish it, but swore off hamburgers for nearly a month before having his faith (and appetite) renewed in a Dante-esque moment at Top This.

    This picture is not out of focus. The burger was so bad it was blurry.

    This picture is not out of focus. The burger was so bad it was blurry.

  • 2013 saw expansions – both technological and geographic – in the reach of professional burgiatry. The Straight Beef launched its podcast series, bringing burgiatric wisdom to those who would otherwise not have access to the depth of knowledge that The Straight Beef offers.
  • We also published our second international review. The first was Dr. Blumenthal’s 2011 video review of Café Chappe in Paris, while the latest was Reverend Corey’s glowing and redemptive review of the hamburger at Dish in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • This year saw a nationwide explosion of bizarre gimmick hamburgers, starting with a $380,000 vat-grown burger. We used to refer to these as “Look at Me!”burgers. Now we think of them as “Look at me – and run away!” burgers. Hamburgers with fried macaroni & cheese buns, hamburgers with ramen buns, triple-patty monstrosities with battered, buttermilk fried bacon (no, we’re not kidding), and 7-layer burgers made the national news. Where we formerly gleefully ordered whatever hamburger an establishment called its “signature burger,” we have learned through rueful experience that these are overwrought, overthought, and definitely overbought. Stay away.


    Steak & Shake 7×7 Burger

  • The greatest story of the year, however, the one worthy of the Bob Costas-with-a-tear-in-his-eye-at-the-Olympics moment, has to be the redemption of Straight Beef burgiatrist emeritus Dr. John McManus. Dr. McManus suffered a shocking breakdown that estranged him from his colleagues and removed him from the field of serious burgiatric inquiry. Early in 2013, despite all odds, Dr. McManus made a miraculous recovery and is once again at the forefront of hamburger research, having finally attained the Holy Grail of hamburgers – a five star burger at GAS in Florida.

    JM Gas 1

    Welcome back, Dr. McManus!

This closes the fourth year of The Straight Beef, our first year as the new four-man lineup, and the first year of the Reverend Corey’s Reverend Rants and Chad’s Notes from the Burger Underground in addition to the enduring features the Tao of Cow and Ask the Burgiatrist.

Stay tuned fearless readers, 2014 promises even more burger news and reviews, starting with The Straight Beef’s 50TH review! (yes, it deserves an exclamation point!)

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