The Kansas City Barbeque Society -- the United Nations of barbecue contests -- has just three simple categories for its judges: taste, appearance, and tenderness/texture. Even still, judges and contestants in nationwide KCBS events have long complained about the criteria, mostly because critics say appearance shouldn't be given the same weight as the others.
You eat with your eyes first, they say, which is why appearance will certainly be part of my criteria when I judge the Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle tonight. To be clear, the Riverwalk Trust developed a system of criteria that the six judges will all be
using. But in general, when tasting burgers, I have developed, after
several months of research (really), how to judge a damned good burger.
Yes, You Can Buy Me Off
with bribes but truffles. Or foie gras or aged balsamic or exotic
mushrooms. In other words, you have to credit the chef who's able to
pull off shaving $100-an-ounce black truffles on top of a sandwich
originally made famous by fast-food joints. That said, it's a rare thing
to successfully throw exotic and expensive toppings on a burger. Which
leads into the second criteria.
Traditional Is Good
my wife spent a few years as a vegetarian (those were painful years for
me), one of the things she missed most was a good burger. Convincing
her to sneak an occasional Winstead's burger
helped win her back to the dark side. Thing is, most of us have fond
memories of some simple, backyard-style burger. It ought to be charred
over charcoal, maybe with a simple cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato,
ketchup, and maybe mayo. Yeah, a foie gras burger is impressive, but
there's also something to be said for an old-school burger built from
good, simple ingredients.
Easy-to-Eat Burgers Win Battles
One of the recent restaurant openings I most looked forward to was Grease Burger Bar, the burger joint on Clematis. I'm a big fan of its sister restaurants -- Big City Tavern and City Cellar
especially -- so I figured they'd put out one hell of a burger. But the
three burgers I've had at Grease have all suffered the same fate: The
toppings spilled out, the bun split, and sauce leaked everywhere. Burgers should
never become fork-and-knife affairs. Burgers ought to be wieldy
vehicles of meat. On the plate, they ought to sit like monuments to the
ingredients, as if each layer were assembled with a minicrane.
The Patty Has to Be Killer
makes one hell of a porterhouse. If you have the means, eat it before
you die. But the burger? Meh. It has too many seasonings, and all that
flavor hides whatever grind they've used for the patty. Better is a high-quality meat -- grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, whatever -- left simple.
Sorry, arteries, but it's probably a fatty cut, like short ribs,
flavored with little more than salt and pepper. Cook it until it has a
crust on the outside and is red in the center. Yeah, that's a burger.
Turkey? Chicken? That's a Hard Sell
When asked about a burger made of lean ground turkey meat, Parks and Rec character Ron Swanson quickly replied, "Why would anyone do that?"
Ron's right. Lean turkey meat does not make a good burger (if it has
somewhere, please tell me in the comments field, because I'd like to try
it). A burger patty built of lean meats might be what your cardiologist
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would appreciate, but let's assume he also sneaks an occasional red