Photo courtesy of Ryan Jensen
Talk about where to find the best burgers in America and you’re likely to start a fight. But when it comes to discussing burger experts, things get less contentious. There are few people as well-versed and respected on the subject of hamburgers, as George Motz, author and director of the book and the film, Hamburger America.
Fresh from hosting the first annual Chicago Food Film Festival, George gave us his thoughts on everything from Louis’ Lunch and New York’s best burger, to his take on burger blends, preferred cooking methods, condiments, and his ultimate burger.
How do you feel about Louis' Lunch in New Haven, the purported originator?
Love the place, love the sandwich (it's not a burger). If you catch them at a slow time they'll grill an onion into your burger. And the Whiz is a great touch.
What's your favorite regional style of burger?
The burgers that I seem to make at home the most are smashed burgers with onions, or more specifically the Oklahoma Onion Fried Burger.
What do you think is New York City's best burger?
What's the best fast food burger?
Unquestionably the In-N-Out Double Double Animal-Style.
What are your thoughts on beef blends and alternative meats (e.g. lamb or pork)?
When you mix ground meats for burgers you end up with meatballs, or worse, meatloaf. All meats have different cooking temperatures and times so when you mix them inevitably something will turn out over or undercooked. The integrity of the hamburger should not be messed with and should only include ground beef.
What is your preferred cooking method? Grilled or griddle?
Flattop griddle or skillet.
Temperature, rare or medium rare?
Condiments: ketchup, mustard, pickles?
Onions, and sometimes mustard. Ketchup is for kids.
What's your preferred cheese for a cheeseburger?
American! Though I rarely order cheeseburgers.
If you could pick the best bun, topping, burger, spread, and sides from all the places you’ve been and put them together for the ultimate burger, today, what would that burger look like?
Honestly, grilled onions, mayo, shredded lettuce, sliced pickle, mustard and bacon on a toasted white squishy bun are all I need. On the side I'd need some fried pickle chips from the Meers Store or the French Onion Fried Brick from Hackney's.
What were your childhood burger favorites?
My childhood burger memories mostly centered around McDonald's. We probably ate there twice a week and I loved them. But it was the Apple Pan in LA that really turned me around, when I was 21. It completely changed my perception of what a burger could be.
What are the five burgers across the country you haven't yet had that you’re the most interested in tasting.
I need to get to Hawaii and Alaska one of these days to eat burgers but the one I'm looking forward to trying is the Big Block at the Penguin in Charlotte next Thursday. Otherwise I've pretty much eaten my way across the USA.
Have you ever had a great burger outside the US?
Nope. One day, I hope.
What do you think will be the next burger trend?
People getting away from the flame grill and smashing burgers in skillets in their kitchens. Also, grass-fed beef is gaining steam and there are people out there who actually know how to cook the stuff (like Chef Michael Kornick in Chicago). That makes a huge difference and I would switch to grass-fed if people actually knew how to make it taste good.
What’s the burger question you most wish would go away?
Which burger is my favorite, and 'How's your cholesterol?'