Food For Thought 101: Burgers

An American staple. Hell, it's probably the American staple. It's the burger with a side of fries. Yes ladies and gentlemen, today we dive deep into the culinary concoction that is the American meat patty lathered in sauce, condiments, and all other sorts of delicious components that make it what it is. 

I've had my fair share of cheeseburgers in my day and, no lie, each and every one is unique. Sure, they all seem the same, but let's be honest, they are absolutely, without a doubt, not the same. Just like a fine wine, there are hints and undertones that make the delicacy what it is. It's a matter of what the consumer wants. And even then, it's a matter of desire. Here are a few things to look for next time you undertake a culinary experience in the art of burger consumption:

Please note this is 100% not a post about healthy eating. Please enjoy responsibly. This is a self-indulgent look into the shadows of R.T. Donlon lore.

1. The Flavor of the Meat

A good cheeseburger has a very distinct taste. It lets you know it's ready for action, but plays it cool, like a guy at a nightclub looking for a girl's phone number. It shouldn't come on right away, but leaves a hint after you take that first, luscious bite. You see, the key here is to come on soft. Don't scare away any of the new house guests just yet with your "world famous burger" and especially do not play the "I only use the best beef in the world" slogan. Just make sure it's cooked to the satisfaction of the consumer and that it tastes like the cow you know and love.

Not entirely into beef? That's okay! There should be flavor to every type of meat you put in your mouth. If there's no flavor, you bought a crappy product that most likely came from a crappy place. In that case, I'm sorry for your trouble. There are several healthier options such as ground turkey or, my personal favorite, bison, which tends to be a bit leaner than beef in a lot of ways. Regardless, if it doesn't have that right-off-the-grill char to it, you haven't done yourself justice.

2. The Bun In All Of Its Glory

You know a restaurant is serious about its burger hardware when the bun is toasted. The crusted texture offers a sort of succulence that a fried dish can, but pleases like a grilled hors d'oeuvre. It only makes sense to up the ante on the bun because it's the one aspect of a burger that does not already bring some sort of flavor punch to the table. If a restaurant changes the type of bread used (although be cautious with this. Many chow houses have tried crazy pair-ups with nontraditional breads and have failed miserably, in my opinion), it may serve as a foundation for the meat - a house for its greasy-enough pleasure. Seasoned buns also could play a role in a burger's world domination. Just slap a few dashes of soy sauce or curry after buttering that mother up and you have an unexpected fury of flavor taking hold in your mouth.

3. Load Up Those Condiments!

"What would you like on your burger, sir?" the waitress asks.

Ah! The age old question! It gets me every time. Personally, I'll do without tomatoes or red onions. They are just two flavors of the burger hunt I have no intention of finding. Red onions have a sting to them. The ideal R.T. Donlon burger has a 70% smoky sweetness and 30% extravagance. The burger offers a lot of that smokiness I crave, but the sweetness can come from any other condiment such as ketchup, BBQ sauce, relish, a splash of mustard, aioli, etc. The trick is to make sure that the condiments do not outweigh the flavor of the meat. If that starts to happen, you have a common psychological condition that may or may not be treated with more consumption of red meat. 

Here's a picture of a cow to get you back in the game:

 Sorry it's not a steak, but you know what I'm getting at.

Sorry it's not a steak, but you know what I'm getting at.

#4. Let's Get Serious: The Art of Pairing

 This is something you've probably never even considered, but do all the time. The #1 pairing of a burger? You guessed it: french fries. And not just any fries, I might add. We're talking about the just-out-of-the-fryer, crispy, salty, napkin-inducing, beautifully-cut kind of fry. Put those on a plate next to a genuinely delectable burger and you've got yourself a meal of the gods. 

There are many pairings that go well with beef and condiments. Depending on your kind of cheese, you may change the particular condiments you use. An ale from the draught may bring out the hidden undertones of bitterness. Hops and red meat balance each other out really well on the dinner plate. I've seen potato salad with light mayo, baked beans with bacon in a smoky bourbon syrup, or even just a simple summer salad with a creamy dressing (like a parmesan peppercorn, for instance).

The beauty is that every palette is different and craves what it wants. Try some different recipes out. Experiment. The burger world is yours for the taking!

#5. How You Feel After Your Meal

Most burger consumers completely disregard this idea, mainly because, once you have finished a food item and have satisfied your hunger in a multitude of ways, the last thing you want is to reflect on it. We usually just want to move on.

But listen, one of the most honest ways of understanding a meal is understanding how it makes you feel. If you feel like a bag of lard wallowing down a hill for 7 hours post-meal, the ingredients were probably not the best...or you simply gorged yourself silly. But if you walk away feeling satisfied, refreshed, and impressed enough to return, the burger has served its purpose. A meal consisting of a burger shouldn't just be an overlooked, quick-eating experience. It should be a calling. You should hear the beef, the ketchup, relish, toasted bun, melty cheese, and fries whispering to you in your sleep. You should feel it like a Dave Matthews' Band song playing on repeat somewhere in the near distance. 

If you haven't experienced this, try it. I guarantee it'll be worthwhile. The burger is an American staple for a reason, right?

Until next time,

R.T.