Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carolina Burger

(This is long, you can skip to the recipe part down below)

We made a quick hop across the Smoky Mountains to have our extended family Christmas. Thanks to a serious rock slide at the Carolina/Tennessee border in October, Interstate 40 is completely shut down, so we took the scenic Highway 441. When I say "highway" picture a 2 lane switchback road winding 25-35 mph through the mountains.

When we crested Newfound Gap (5,048 ft) early this morning, we were treated to an awesome scene below us.

Trevor stared in awe and said, "I feel like a god looking down on the clouds!"

There was still a lot of snow on the ground. Three days earlier, this route had been closed due to snow.

I mention North Carolina because it has the best burger in the world, specifically, the "Carolina Burger" or even more specifically, a Melvin's Burger "all the way".

I spent my summer vacations at my grandparents dusty farm in the flat tobacco country near Elizabethtown, NC. The highlights of my trips included BBQ from the volunteer fire department's fund raiser and a trip to Melvin's (aka the pool hall) for a sack of burgers "all the way". It's a little store front on Main Street in small town USA that has lines out of the back door everyday. But with incredible efficiency, they work through that line and crank out the absolute best burger I have ever put in my mouth.

A lot of people seem to agree with me. I was looking at reviews on Yahoo! and Michala's review seemed to parallel my experience: best hamburger in the usa: I first went to Melvin's Pool Room when I was 15, 35 years ago. Back then the locals kids played pool and the smell of hambugers titilated your senses. 35 years later noone I know still doesn't know [sic] the secret to those hamburgers.

But ahhhh, Michala, I do know one of their secrets.

Back when I was about 10, my grandmother Lessie P. told me that when Melvin's had the local grocery butcher grind their meat, they included a loaf of bread in the mixture. That is what led me two years ago to try this recipe that I found on BigOven, because it included a panade of bread and milk to the burger mixture.

Picture updated 10/2011
Original Pic from 2009

Carolina Burger

1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread (crust removed and discarded, bread chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 medium clove garlic minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons steak sauce such as A-1
2 tablespoons Bacon grease

1 1/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck

Vegetable oil for cooking grate

6 ounces cheese sliced, American or cheddar

4 hamburger buns or rolls
A&W Chili (recipe follows)

Creamy Coleslaw (recipe follows)

Diced onions

1. Turn all burners to high, close lid, and heat until very hot, about 15 minutes. Use grill brush to scrape cooking grate clean. Lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate. Leave primary burner on high, turn other burner(s) to low.

2. Meanwhile, mash bread and milk in large bowl with fork until homogeneous (you should have about 1/4 cup). Stir in salt, pepper, garlic, steak sauce, and reserved bacon fat; mix until thoroughly blended.

3. Break up beef into small pieces over bread mixture. Using fork or hands, lightly mix together until mixture forms cohesive mass. Divide meat into 4 equal portions. Gently toss one portion of meat back and forth between hands to form loose ball. Gently flatten into 3/4-inch-thick patty that measures about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Press center of patty down with fingertips until it is about 1/2 inch thick, creating a slight depression in each patty. Repeat with remaining portions of meat.

4. Lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate. Grill burgers on hot side of grill, covered, until well seared on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip burgers and continue grilling, about 3 minutes for medium-well or 4 minutes for well-done. Distribute equal portions of cheese on burgers about 2 minutes before they reach desired doneness, covering burgers with disposable aluminum pan to melt cheese. While burgers grill, toast buns on cooler side of grill, rotating buns as necessary to toast evenly. Serve burgers on toasted buns.

Build your burger in the following order:

Bottom of Bun

Diced Onions

A&W Chili

Creamy Coleslaw


Top of Bun

A & W Chili

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1 pound ground beef

1/3 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

2/3 tablespoon salt

1 1/3 tablespoon Celery salt (I cut this in half or eliminate the salt above)
2 ounces tomato puree
1 1/3 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon pepper

Add 1 tablespoon canola/vegetable oil to a saucepan, add the onion and saute' 3-4 minutes over medium heat until translucent, then add the hamburger and cook until well done. Drain grease from saucepan, then add remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring often, until desired consistency.

Cole Slaw
1 pound green cabbage (about 1/2 medium head), thinly shredded
1 large carrot peeled and grated

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon Sugar

1/2 small onion minced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Ground Black Pepper

1. Toss cabbage and carrots with salt in colander set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

2. Dump wilted cabbage and carrots into the bowl. Rinse thoroughly in cold water (ice water if serving slaw immediately). Pour vegetables back into colander, pressing, but not squeezing on them to drain. Pat dry with paper towels. (Can be stored in a zipper-lock bag and refrigerated overnight.)

3. Pour cabbage and carrots back again into bowl. Add onions, mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar; toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Although Melvin's uses a flat top, I grilled mine of course.

Plated with home made salt and vinegar potato chips because Melvin's doesn't have time to mess with fries. It's a burger or a dog and chips.

I know what you're thinking, chili, slaw, onions, and mustard on a burger???? Try it, even if you use your own burger, slaw and chili recipes.
Picture Updated 2011:  Carolina burger and Bush's Original Baked Beans

So what are your favorite burger toppings or what is the best burger you have EVER eaten?


  1. We were traveling through upper East Tn and Virginia, didn't see as much snow.

    I'm going to gvie this buger a try..with my zillion pounds of ground beef in the freezer, this is a no-brainer.

  2. Sounds great! When I saw the list of the Top 20 Burgers from Esquire I wanted to take the tour!

    --Terrace Crawford

  3. So far this one might be the favorite, but I have to figure out how to get it off the screen...

    Growing up I have to say that my dad burned them, so no...friends would forget them, burned, so no...I did like what-a-burger in Dallas, and with mustard, but now I am in a no mans land of food...okay, I admit it, I do not eat burgers! Can you figure out why?

  4. Chili, slaw, onions and mustard? Definately!!! Sounds delicious. the best burger I ever had? That's a toughie but the I had an amazing burger recently at a local restaurant here in my hometown. It was a bison burger topped with cheddar, smoked bacon, and a Saskatoon berry relish. Heavenly.

  5. That burger sounds fabulous! And I will give it a try (as soon as the Weber unfreezes) Well, I've hardly met a hamburger that I didn't like...favorite toppings?....Best ever???...Actually I prefer "mustard only". However, do love all the creative hamburger recipes out there. My favorite was a Cheddar Cheese BLT with Russian Tarragon dressing I made last summer. yum. Back in the day, when I used to travel for work, Marriot Hotels used to make a great burger, the Marriott Burger. It may be the best because it tasted so good and comforting when I was all alone in that Hotel Room. :-)

  6. I love the Smoky Mountains! The scenes like the top photo still totally amaze me. I traveled through every summer growing up, and always went to Rock City along the way - I mean you had to after seeing those See Rock City signs, birdhouses and barns hundreds of times along the way!

    Now on the burgers - I'm originally from Ft. Lauderdale, the best burgers ever were found at Jack's Hamburgers, over here on the west coast of Florida I'd vote for Bogey's in Venice - their burger topped with swiss, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and onions really rocks! :-)

  7. Looks great Chris - might be a little hard to wrap your mouth around. I will use the recipe for our next burger. I love the little hole in the wall places with the great food.

  8. Imagine the same sauce you would use for a bloomin' onion(a hot sauce, mixed with mayo), lettuce, Havarti cheese, with blue cheese crumbles on a charred 1/2lb. burger done medium rare. It would be served on a large, fresh bun- with tomato, if you like!

  9. Man, Chris, this looks like what we call 'meatloaf' on a bun in Maryland... only better!
    Love the idea and can't wait to try this recipe!

  10. This takes the question, "would you like slaw on it?" to a whole new level. I knew folks had slaw on their BBQ sandwich, but not on a burger. Wow.

    Rocks slides everywhere around here. There's another side on Hwy 64 through the Ocoee Gourge road from Murphy to Chattanooga. We live in the land of the switch-back roads, that's for sure.

    Gorgeous photo of Newfound Gap.

  11. Thanks for welcoming me to the foodie blogroll. Your blog is really stunning. I cannot wait to try some of the recipes.

  12. Thanks for visiting my blog! I am actually not far from Elizabethtown, and have eaten a few Melvin's burgers! Your burger looks delicious!!

  13. man, that looks incredible! I'm a purist when it comes to some things...I like the standard cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo (or 1000 island). one of the best burgers I've ever had is at a place here in Burbank called Steves Char-Broil.

    btw...the scenic route makes quite the scene

  14. That is an amazing looking burger!! I'd love to try a Carolina burger :) And wowza, that is a view of the gods!! Hope your Christmas was wonderful. I don't know that I've had that "one great burger" yet...

  15. I learned that bread and milk trick for meatballs from Mario Batali's old show. It made for very tender polpette. I don't know why I never thought to translate it to burgers, though.

  16. I have no idea why this is, but man, I could totally go for a good burger right now! I find that so strange after all this holiday food, but it just goes to show you that there is NEVER a bad time for a good burger! Wow.

  17. We add cole slaw to our burgers in Colombia! That one looks amazing!

  18. Good job Chris! Will give this one a go on the 2nd day of the new year. How do you like that CI grate you are cooking the burgers on?

  19. Looks really good! I am searching for NC bbq mop and found this great recipe. We lived in Wilkesboro in the early 1990's, I think Elizabethtown was nearby. The AW chili sauce and slaw would put this on my list of best burgers, can't wait to try!


    Joy, this like has the recipe from the Lisbon Vol. Fire Dept's pork fund raiser (near Clarkton) but I don't have one for Holly Farms chicken. Was it peppery and vinegary or more tomato based?

  21. A traditional "Carolina Burger" uses red slaw and bean-less chili, chopped onions, and mustard.

  22. I have to get this every time we to go to South Carolina. We stop by Chimney Rock and go up the Mountain. best burger to me!! now I have the receipe!!!! Jeannie

  23. We lived in Whiteville for about 3 years. I worked in E-town at the nursing home across from the hospital. I had never heard of coleslaw on hotdogs and hamburgers until someone took me to Melvin's. I was hooked pretty quick and soon got the rest of the family hooked. We moved back to Texas and really missed our Melvin burgers. I've looked on and off through out the years for a recipe but never had any luck.
    We are visiting the Charlotte area this week and I was looking for a place that might have something similar and came across this article!
    Can't wait to try this recipe out!


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