2011 South Beach Burger Bash Preview

It's coming. The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival is less than three weeks away. BBQ, celebrity chefs, and, of course, burgers will be celebrated during 2011's 10th annual festival in Miami. New York's gastroratti may see this celebrity grill-off as a birthright, but Burger Bash actually debuted in South Beach in 2007. And while the SOBE festival launched in 2002, Burger Bash has become quite the signature. With this major fête on the horizon it's time to handicap this year's Burger Bash.

Burger Bash is big enough to get good pre-event press — even old media wants to give their picks. While the original host Rachel Ray still leads the burger festivities, participants have changed over the years. Among this year's 26 entries are culinary rock stars like Michael White, Bobby Flay, Tim Love, Michael Schwartz, Michael Schlow, Morimoto, and Jose Garces (see full list).

Who will win? Eater got its hands on a Burger Bash menu, giving enthusiasts a head start. Cheese this year is decidedly heavy on Cheddar — eight of 26 burgers feature it, resulting in four bacon/Cheddar combos. Chefs may be taking a cue from last year's South Beach winner Michael Schwartz, whose burger was topped with smoked bacon, white Cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, and local lettuce. But Schwartz is shaking up his winner by adding quail egg, tomato chutney, and a rosemary biscuit.

Speaking of the bun, Umami Burger is an intriguing entry — it's likely to draw crowds because it's from the West Coast. But when tried last year, Umami lost points for a dry, unimpressive bun. Is it an oversight that the menu preview doesn't mention a bun, or is this a sign Adam Fleischman doesn't care about this component?

Spike Mendelsohn is sure to try to reclaim former glory. His toasted marshmallow shake should intimidate chefs serving a drink accompaniment. Bobby Flay's SOBE entry does not appear to be accompanied by the tequila milkshake he made at New York's 2010 Burger Bash. Too bad, it would have been fun to see a face-off. Flay may have planned something else. You hope so. He shed the Susan Lucci rep a bit when his Southwest burger won the People's Choice, but he hasn't won the judges' prize, and his Napa burger with goat cheese and watercress sounds uninspired.

Other trends? Six entries feature caramelized onions, four have American, and two are topped with brie (both with alternative pork: prosciutto and pancetta). Sides-wise, fried pickles are fun (Burger & Beer Joint), and it's interesting to see a burger-grits duet (Michael's Genuine), if dubious to see one with baked beans (really, Boston?). Also notable? Two poutines. And four chefs making tater tots (maybe this is tots' comeback year).

Who is the dark horse? Whose burger has the most hype? Who will have the longest line? Those are some of the categories handicapped in 2011 South Beach Burger Bash Predictions, a quick primer and quiz on past winners and this year's burger entries. For full coverage of the 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, click here.