Consider the hamburger as I do from time to time. Invariably I will overhear two people engaging in the tiring debate that rages on now and again amongst the genre’s so-called connoisseurs: [your favorite local burger chain] vs. [fill in the blank of the new arrival to town]. Which is better? The answer, as any true connoisseur could tell you is always neither. (Duh. What other answer would you expect from a food blog?) Like a M. C. Escher drawing, the subject just goes on and on, without end, toward no particular outcome. Which is not to say that fast food burgers aren’t good or can’t achieve some merit of distinction in their own right but to inspire such an outpouring of passionate debate is just a bit beyond me. Much like today’s political discourse, the debate isn’t going to change many minds anyway, right?
The current debate raging here in The O.C. is on the merits of resident champion, In and Out versus those of the newcomer to these here parts, Washington D.C. based Five Guys. Seems Five Guys has just come to town and is leveraging the fond memories of our East Coast transplants in an effort to reclaim their hearts and minds. Once again a plethora of ink is generated comparing every noticeable difference between the two. Not just the different attributes in the burgers themselves but also in, well… everything. One list here even highlights the differences in at which point in the cooking process the cheese is added. My good blog friend Scott has even weighed in over at Foodie in Disguise. Not surprisingly given that he has fond Eastern memories of Five Guys and after driving 35 miles to make his comparison he favored [drum roll] Five Guys!
So why do I care? I think the whole genre is over-rated and doesn’t really deserve the loyalty they generate. The former “quick serve” marketing guy in me (not to mention former fast food franchise owner) realizes that these chains have found the holy grail of branding and consumer loyalty and that fascinates me to no end. There is no way to put a value on that kind of brand equity. Get this, that lovely picture of an In and Out Burger up at the top of this post isn’t even an authentic In and Out Burger! It is the final result of a rabid fan actually backward engineering the Double Double right down to the sugar content of the sauce! These are the things an MIT graduate does in his spare time in order to satisfy that aforementioned brand loyalty. I guess sometimes a burger isn’t really just a burger, is it?
All of this prose is really just a lead-up to me wanting to share with you my own version of the classic burger. You didn’t think I was going to take the time to recreate the In and Out recipe here did you? Not likely as if there is anything more silly than the debate itself it would be to cook one at home! Why would you do that? So you can have the generic tasting burger AND clean up the dishes? No way. Besides, one only needs to bite into real home-made hamburger to realize how silly the fast food burger debate really is. I offer up one of my favorite varieties. Its quite easy and best used when you are in the possession of good quality ground beef. The kind that asks to be enhanced, not masked. I would prefer it to leave the mustard and ketchup off the table for this one but there is something unAmerican about that…they are, however, not needed here. This burger is all about the beef. And the onions. They are perfect. No debate.
For the burgers:
- 2lb good quality ground beef, no less fat than 15%
- 6 hamburger buns. (I use the organic whole wheat from Whole Foods.)
- 2 T mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 T dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or truffle salt.
- 1 teaspoon pepper
For the onions:
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 T butter
- 2 lbs yellow onions, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 t dried thyme (use fresh if you have it.)
- 2 T sherry vinegar
- 1 T kosher salt
- 1/2 pepper
Prepare the beef by putting it in a bowl with the mustard, oil, truffle salt, and pepper. Mix with a fork and pat into 6 loosely formed patties. These may be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. Allow to come warm up a bit prior to grilling for a more even cook, however.
Perpare the onions by heat the olive oil and butter in a large shallow pot, add the onions and thyme, and toss with the oil. Place the lid on top and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes to sweat the onions. Remove the lid and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized and golden brown. If the onions are cooking too fast, lower the heat. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes, scraping the brown bits from the pan. Season to taste (they should be very highly seasoned). Set aside .
Prepare the buns. Open buns and set them out on a shallow pan or cookie sheet. Mix mayo and grated gruyere cheese and a few shakes of pepper to taste. Spread out on the top of bun.
Preheat to Broil setting and light grill. When the grill is medium-hot, brush the grill grate with oil to keep the burgers from sticking. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Using a big spatula, turn the burgers and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until medium-rare or more, or cook longer if you prefer hamburgers more well done. Close the lid to avoid flair ups. Don’t push down on the burgers while they are on the grill! This causes flareups!
Put buns under the broiler until cheese is bubbly and slightly brown. Remove from broiler, top bun with burger and onions.