Notes from the Burger Underground: Los Angeles Times Crowns Winner in Battle of the Burgers
Would You Eat It?
The Los Angeles Times has wrapped up its third annual Battle of the Burgers (click link for recipes), crowning five winners from hundreds of entries. Recipes were whittled down by reader voting to the top 20. Each of those 20 reader selections was prepared in the LA Times test kitchen and judged by the food editor, the restaurant critic, the head of the test kitchen, and other staff members, who chose the top five.
That should produce a great hamburger, right? Instead, it produced a freak show.
Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much; let me sum up. In addition to my duties as a member of The Straight Beef, on-call forensic burgiatrist, and unofficial link to the seamier sides of the burger underworld, I sometimes judge beer contests.
Beers that win contests are rarely beers that you’d want to sip after mowing the lawn. They are bigger, bolder, maltier, hoppier and more aggressive than standard beers. They taste wonderful for the one or two sips that a judge might take, but you probably wouldn’t drink a pint of one, much less order a second or third.
These burgers are like contest-winning beers. They’re too much. Too over-the-top, with recherché toppings and multi-step (and sometimes multi-hour) preparations.
A good burger is a thing of beauty and a thing of simplicity: good beef treated with care, seasoned simply (but aggressively), grilled or griddled to a light crust on the outside, and topped with ingredients that enhance but don’t overpower the flavor of the patty.
That’s the recipe for a perfect burger. It’s also the recipe for losing a hamburger contest, where the premium is on originality rather than flavor.
These burgers are the monster trucks, the nitro-burning funny cars of burgerdom, behemoths seething with testosterone. They are built to impress rather than please.
The Straight Beef has a rule of thumb that any burger with more than four toppings must be truly exceptional to overcome the difficulty of eating it and the overwhelming likelihood that the toppings will mask the flavor of the beef. None of these burgers has fewer than seven toppings, and you could not possibly eat one without a knife and fork.
Great burgers to wow a contest judge. Lousy burgers to serve to friends and family.