~~ Originally printed in Carrboro (NC) Free Press, August 2008 ~~
I love a good burger. In fact, I fancy myself to be a bit of a burger connoisseur. There is something so completely visceral and just, well, satisfying, about eating something so decadent that must be gripped solidly with both hands. Fighting to wrap your mouth all the way around it. Trying to get all the goodness into a single mouthful. And though heaven knows you need a napkin, you really don’t want to stop and put it down to reach for something to wipe your chin.
A good burger, done well, makes a bun mandatory for soaking up the juices. A good burger, done well, will be seasoned just so – to let the flavor of the beef come bursting through. And a good burger, done well, will never be well-done.
I know. I know. People want to scare you to death into eating their little briquettes because they couldn’t pay attention long enough not to cook the burgers too long. Or they are too scared to eat medium-rare, but they can’t bear to watch you fearlessly enjoying yourself with some wicked good meat.
“Eating undercooked ground beef is dangerous!”*
“Undercooked beef may contain harmful bacteria!”*
These same people are the ones who lobbied the state government to pass a law saying that restaurants, unless they grind their own beef, must only serve burgers that are cooked medium. Or well. Or “medium-well.” Blech.
How about rare? Rare. Doesn’t that sound more wonderful than “well?” I really do not want my burger cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. I want it right at body temp. Maybe even a teensy bit lower.
Burgers should be delicious. It’s easy to forget that, though, in this age of handwringing and the ever-present desire to climb up on that cross of boring-but-good-for-you. Hey, y’all. It’s OK to want to eat a burger that is made of beef, that has a high enough fat content to be luscious and savory, that is cooked just long enough to sear the outside so it will stay together on a bun and be a vehicle for such things as bacon and onions and cheese and tomatoes and onions.
The same fearmongers who tell our chefs how to cook and us how to eat are only monitoring the restaurants. You can bop on over to Cliff’s and pick up a pound of fresh-ground chuck and stand on the sidewalk and eat it raw by the handful without repercussion.
The same lawmakers who make it a crime to take the burger off the flame at precisely the right moment also admit that, “Overcooking draws out more fat and juices from ground beef, resulting in a dry, less tasty product.”* Got to be vegetarians.
I’m always scouting out the perfect burger. I found a serious contender at 39 Rue de Jean down in Charleston, SC. They grind their own beef, so I order it cooked rare and slathered in béarnaise sauce. Oh, my. But Carrboro has definitely got some players. Jalapeños on the Tres Amigos burger make my mouth swell and sting until being soothed by the soft sweetness of pineapple. And brie and caramelized onions on a BUNS burger has me sucking the sticky melted cheese off my lips for an hour after.
Hey. Why are you just sitting there? Hand me a napkin.