Foie Gras and Truffles Are OK -- and Other Ways to Win Tonight's Burger Contest

Candace West
Rok: Brgr, maker of this fine burger, is one of 15 restaurants competing in the Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society -- the United Nations of barbecue contests -- has just three simple categories for its judges: taste, appearance, and tenderness/texture. Even still, judges and contestants in nationwide KCBS events have long complained about the criteria, mostly because critics say appearance shouldn't be given the same weight as the others.

You eat with your eyes first, they say, which is why appearance will certainly be part of my criteria when I judge the Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle tonight. To be clear, the Riverwalk Trust developed a system of criteria that the six judges will all be
using. But in general, when tasting burgers, I have developed, after several months of research (really), how to judge a damned good burger.

Yes, You Can Buy Me Off
New York supermarket Dean and Deluca puts a slice of foie gras on its burger.
Not with bribes but truffles. Or foie gras or aged balsamic or exotic mushrooms. In other words, you have to credit the chef who's able to pull off shaving $100-an-ounce black truffles on top of a sandwich originally made famous by fast-food joints. That said, it's a rare thing to successfully throw exotic and expensive toppings on a burger. Which leads into the second criteria.

Traditional Is Good
When my wife spent a few years as a vegetarian (those were painful years for me), one of the things she missed most was a good burger. Convincing her to sneak an occasional Winstead's burger helped win her back to the dark side. Thing is, most of us have fond memories of some simple, backyard-style burger. It ought to be charred over charcoal, maybe with a simple cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and maybe mayo. Yeah, a foie gras burger is impressive, but there's also something to be said for an old-school burger built from good, simple ingredients.

Easy-to-Eat Burgers Win Battles
The Boca Raton Resort created a $100 burger in '06. The sticks made it easy to eat; the bill didn't.
One of the recent restaurant openings I most looked forward to was Grease Burger Bar, the burger joint on Clematis. I'm a big fan of its sister restaurants -- Big City Tavern and City Cellar especially -- so I figured they'd put out one hell of a burger. But the three burgers I've had at Grease have all suffered the same fate: The toppings spilled out, the bun split, and sauce leaked everywhere. Burgers should never become fork-and-knife affairs. Burgers ought to be wieldy vehicles of meat. On the plate, they ought to sit like monuments to the ingredients, as if each layer were assembled with a minicrane.

The Patty Has to Be Killer
Steak 954 makes one hell of a porterhouse. If you have the means, eat it before you die. But the burger? Meh. It has too many seasonings, and all that flavor hides whatever grind they've used for the patty. Better is a high-quality meat -- grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, whatever -- left simple. Sorry, arteries, but it's probably a fatty cut, like short ribs, flavored with little more than salt and pepper. Cook it until it has a crust on the outside and is red in the center. Yeah, that's a burger.

Turkey? Chicken? That's a Hard Sell
Ron Swanson does not approve of your lean turkey burger.
When asked about a burger made of lean ground turkey meat, Parks and Rec character Ron Swanson quickly replied, "Why would anyone do that?" Ron's right. Lean turkey meat does not make a good burger (if it has somewhere, please tell me in the comments field, because I'd like to try it). A burger patty built of lean meats might be what your cardiologist would appreciate, but let's assume he also sneaks an occasional red meat special.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB. Follow Eric Barton on Twitter: @ericbarton.

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Or you could just contact some judges in advance And tell them how to spot your burger. Everyone knows that the gays are cheating.

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