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?