WASHINGTON, September 17, 2016 – Say “I’ll have cheese with that” and celebrate National Cheeseburger day, Sunday, September 18, 2016. And while plenty of burger joints are offering special incentives to help you celebrate, the best cheeseburger is made at home, charred on the grill and with plenty of caramelized onions.
America’s favorite summertime, Saturday night, hand held entree’s beginning are at best murky. But before the cheeseburger, there was the hamburger, which has nothing to do with ham whatsoever.
The idea of ground, flattened meat cooked over a fire, or on a hot rock, goes back to 11th Century Mongols who would travel with flattened meat that they could cook over an open fire, or possibly fry on a heated stone.
Over history, on story says, the meat patties traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where it earned its now ubiquitous name of hamburger. One burger-tale says that the hamburger quickly becoming America’s favorite handheld entree when it traveled to Hamburg, New York.
Charlie Neagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin is said to have created the hamburger in 1885 when innovation fulfilled need as his fried meatballs became a challenge for hungry fair goers who found the round balls difficult to eat while walking around, so he flattened the meatballs, putting them between bread and creating the hamburger – the only problem with that story is why wouldn’t he have named it the NeaBruger, Charlie Burger, or Fair Sandwich?
The Menches Brothers of Hamburg, New York are also given credit for the hamburger, saying it was created for the Erie County Fair in 1885.
The first hamburger chain in the America is White Castle, still a mid-western favorite, the slider, or ground meat patty on a bun, is said to owe the “bun” to White Castle short order cook Walter Anderson who in 1916 created the first “bun”. Previously the patties were placed between sandwich bread, but we all know that creates serious waste as what we want is the juicy meat inside.
But we are here to talk about the cheeseburger, which while similar in creation, is a wholly different sandwich tasted to the hamburger.
The debut of the cheeseburger is said to belong to Louisville, Kentucky’s Kaelin’s Restaurant who, in 1934, claims to have stumbled upon the cheeseburger when during an experiment, a short order chef dropped a slice of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger.
Alas, this is not the only claim to the cheeseburgers’ humble beginnings.
Going back further, to the 1920s, one such tale says that Lionel Sternberger invented the cheeseburger in 1926 while working at his father’s Pasadena, California sandwich shop, The Rite Spot.
Some other cheeseburger trivia includes:
- A cheeseburger appeared on a 1928 menu at O’Dell’s, a Los Angeles restaurant, which listed a cheeseburger, smothered with chili, for 25 cents.
- Denver, Colorado – 1935 – A trademark for the name “cheeseburger” was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In.
- According to its archives, Gus Belt, founder of Steak n’ Shake, applied for a trademark on the word “cheeseburger” in the 1930s.
Needless to say, the exact origin of the cheeseburger is lost to history. But as numerous as the stories claiming to be the first, and there seems to be a first cheeseburger story in every state, there are recipes for creating the perfect grilled burger.
Our favorite chain burger is California’s first chain, the In-N-Out Burger, which we might note was also French Chef Julia Child’s favorite.
Living on the East coast we created our own version, with a few personal modifications, of the famous In-N-Out Animal Style burger:
Animal Style Brisket Cheeseburgers with Carmelized Onions (6-8 burgers)
1 lb of sirloin meat ground with the fat
1 lb of brisket meat ground with the fat
2 eggs, whipped
1/2 – 1 cup finely diced onions
2 tbls of finely diced garlic (use the garlic minced and sold in “oil” and include plenty of oil
1/4 cup of whole milk or Dukes Mayonnaise
White pepper (do no use black or ground pepper) and salt to taste
Bring meat to room temperature, but still very cool, and mix well, by hand all ingredients adding the milk and cheese last. Drizzle the milk or add the Dukes mayo a large spoon full at a time.
You only want the mixture to be moistened by the milk or mayo, not drowning, so it may take more or less than 1/4 cup depending on the fat content of the meat. If you end up with meat that is TOO wet, add some fine bread crumbs.
Grandma’s trick: Fine bread crumbs can also be used to add bulk to the meat, particularly if you have a surprise guest and need to stretch the recipe.
May be done the day before, create your patties and wrap in plastic wrap, placing back in the refrigerator until 1 hour before cooking. The burgers should be firm, not crumbly or falling apart.
When placing on the grill, the grill should be very hot so that it quickly chars the outside of the burger, keeping the juices inside. When flipping the burger, use a flat spatula, not tongs or a fork, so as not to break the burgers. Until the outer surfaces are well cooked, they will easily break.
On our grill, we usually have a hot, and a not so hot, side so that the charred burgers can be moved to the side to finish cooking without burning the outside.
When is your burger done?
You do not want to pierce your burger, but if you must, use an instant read thermometer:
Very rare 115-120F
Med Rare 130-135F
Med well 150-165F
Burgers cooked to Medium (135+ will continue to cook once removed from the grill, up to an additional 10 degrees)
To visually check your burger for “doneness” if the juices when you gently push are still very red, or bloody, its still very undercooked. For rare, the juices should be pink, but when your press with your finger, the burger should be firm meaning that the outside of the burger is cooked with a pink, rare center. Internal temperature on the grill should be about 110F.
Medium rare juices will still be pink, but the burger will be even more firm, with a slight ability to indent with a finger push. Temperature should be 120F.
Med well or well burgers are going to have clear juices and be very, very firm, but still super moist (thanks to the mayo or milk, egg and cheese binders) and an internal temperature on the grill of 130F.
Cheese – as much or as little as you like. A creamier cheese (American) works better than a hard cheese (Sharp Cheddar). To add a Chicago flair to your burger, pick up Merkt’s or Wisconsin Pride soft, spreadable cheese, and apply just moments before removing from the heat or directly to the bun.
Fresh, crisp pickle chips and slices of late summer heirloom tomatoes are a must.
Secret 1000 Island Sauce
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
- 1 tablespoon green olives, finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Sea salt (Hint: sprinkle any rare meat with a little bit of coarse ground sea salt to draw out the blood, brush the chunks of salt off before serving)
Grilled, Carmelized Onions
This can be done the day before, but it does require a flat surface, a grill mat or a disposable metal pan, to cook on the grill. Or if you have a grill side burner, they can be cooked there as well, but will not get that “charred taste” from the
Cut large white onions in half, then slice down in a hatch pattern leaving them connected at the base.
Using olive oil, or softened butter, infused with minced garlic, generously cover the cut side of the onion.
On a medium grill heat (can also be done on the stove) place the cut side of the onion down on a flat surface.
As the onion sweats over the heat, the cut pieces will begin to break away. Have tongs, a sharp knife and cutting surface to cut the base of the onion away from the pieces. Cook, tossing frequently, until translucent, starting to brown and releasing that wonderful smell.
You can also add a bit of salsa, diced tomatoes, bbq sauce, whiskey, cola, chopped sweet or hot peppers or pieces of brisket to your grilled onions. The use of cola and /or whiskey will make them sweeter.