What the Fork: An overly opinionated view on cheeseburgers
Get ready, because my rant pants are on and I’m ready to go. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m particularly opinionated when it comes to simple food. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t eat (and love) any cheeseburger you put in front of me (because I’m a bit hypocritical that way). But, growing up a picky eater, I pretty much lived on plain hamburgers and cheese pizza. So, please excuse me if I have a deeply-rooted dream of how these foods should be prepared.
I’ve written about cheeseburgers before, and I thought I’d said my piece until I watched a cooking competition on Food Network. To set the scene: I may or may not have been so hung over after St. Patrick’s Day that I lounged around all day, unwilling and unable to move off the couch. I would blame my friend Mr. Jameson, but ultimately it’s my fault for inviting him over in the first place. The challenge had something to do with burgers, and I heard one of the contestant’s bragging, “I put the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the bottom bun so all juices drip down and season the vegetables.”
I was the only outraged person in the room. Even in my reduced state, I bolted up and shouted at the TV, “No! No! God, no!” I instantly became animated, filled with disgust and fueled by rage. How could anyone so confidently make such an incorrect statement on national television?
“Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man,” my husband quoted, but I was not to be placated, not even by the Dude. Yes, I’m overly opinionated and, yes, I know I’m not always right, but this was different. Sorry, but this is a factual argument based on empirical evidence.
I’ll remain emphatic until the end of my days that the only thing belonging on that bottom bun is a shmear of mayo. This protective layer does catch all the burger’s juices, creating a sauce in and of itself while also protecting that same bottom bun from becoming soggy. What would happen without it? A sogged-out burger bun that falls apart halfway through the eating experience. What happens if you replace said mayo with ketchup or mustard? No protection – those aren’t emulsified spreads. What about the claim that the LTO gets seasoned by the juices? Ridiculous. If by “seasoned” you mean “ruins the burger,” then just go right ahead.
I can see that I’m getting heated at this point, so let me step back and think about this logically. Why in the world would you put the slippery items on the bottom of a sandwich? You’re just asking for the patty to teeter-totter on a precarious pile of toppings. One wrong bite and everything just splooshes out the back. That’s called a recipe for ruining your day. On the other hand (logic still prevailing), when the meat is placed directly on the bottom bun (mayo or not), the beautiful crumb of a soft, squishy bun will grip and hug the patty, keeping it from spilling out. That means no toppings falling into your lap, no beautiful day turning you into a sad sack, just an easy, enjoyable eating experience.
You may be thinking – but, Lindsay, if you put the LTO on the top, won’t they still fall out? Yes, you’re so correct! And we’ve arrived at the next part of my rant: Don’t put a salad on your burger. Just don’t do it! If you can’t eat the burger by holding it in one hand, you’ve officially put too many toppings on it. Below-the-patty or above-the-patty be damned, this contestant’s burger was simply piled too high – at least 2 inches, not counting the patty – with shredduce, thick tomato slices, pickles, and caramelized onions.
I’m not saying you can’t put some lettuce on there if it’ll make you feel better, but keep it to one leaf. One slice of tomato if you must. A few thinly sliced onions (or, better yet, finely chopped onions soaked in water to remove their pungency). Top it off with a few pickle slices and perhaps a weave of bacon. Between the melted cheese and the condiments on the top bun, all that extraneous material will be kept in check as you eat.
But, that’s where fact becomes opinion. My in-a-perfect-world burger is just a squishy potato bun protected by a thin layer of mayo, an American cheese-topped burger patty, a few pickles, and a thin layer of ketchup on the top bun. This angelic burger hits all the notes it should: soft, sweet, tangy, crunchy, melty, and savory. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s completely pure. Sure, I like a burger with caramelized onions and green chiles as much as the next guy, and I’ve also been known to toss on some kale or arugula. But, if I am going to get crazy with the toppings, it’s always on top of the patty. Never below.
In case you’re wondering: The guy got sent home in the first round. So, I think I’ve proved my point.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.