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Burger is Served

Hamburgers in Texas - Classic to Exotic

by John Raven, Ph.B.

Several days ago a friend and I visited the famous Alamo Springs Café for one of their famous hamburgers. The national publication of Texas, "Texas Monthly Magazine", holds "best in Texas" searches on a regular basis. In the last "Best burger in Texas" quest, Alamo Springs came up number three.

As best I can tell you, Alamo Springs is between Fredericksburg and Comfort on the Old San Antone Road. (It's on the map.)

The burgers were good, but they were not the burgers I have known all my life. Not that that is a bad thing.

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First difference is the thickness of the meat patty. It was as thick as two regular patties. Next thing different is the burgers are served "open face". That means half the bun is on one side of the plate and the other half on the opposite side. All the middle stuff is divided between the two. A hamburger was designed to be a food that you could carry and eat while you walk around. With an open face burger you have to do the trick of slapping both sides together and then holding on so the fillings don’t dribble out. This operation requires two hands. You have to have one hand free to dip your fries in the ketchup. Everybody knows that.

Hamburgers off the backyard grill are superior to anything you can get under the arches or the A-frame places. You have the security of knowing that there is nothing in or on your backyard burger that you do not approve of.

The main ingredient of your backyard burger is the meat. It has to be tender and juicy. Ground beef is the standard. It should contain at least 15 percent fat to insure a good taste and juiciness. If you have a large chain grocery, you can be fairly confident that their meats are fresh and handled properly. Avoid the pre-formed patties, as they will be about 50 percent fat.

The size of the meat patty in your burger can be whatever you want it to be. The standard for a really good burger is a quarter pound of beef. You want your meat patty to be of uniform thickness. If it is thin on the edges, the edges will char before the center is cooked. There is a gadget on the market at nearly any kitchen supply store that will make a perfect patty for you with minimum discomfort. You just put the ball of hamburger on the work surface, place the gadget over it and press down. Perfect patty every time.

Next in importance on your burger is the bun. A bun about five inches in diameter works very well. You get buns that are made individually. The "On Sale" buns that come with four of them growed together are near useless. You try to separate them, they tear. When you try to open them, they tear. You would be better off with plain old bread.

The standard hamburger in Texas contains the meat, onions, pickle slices, lettuce and mustard, mayonnaise or a mix of both. (One of the old, famous burger stands, 2-Jay’s in Austin, had a secret sauce, which was a mix of mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. Try that sometime.)

Today we will look into some recipes for exotic burgers. These recipes may stray from the accepted definition of burger, but they are still a meal in a bun. The next two recipes call for 2 pounds of ground meat. Let’s start off with

Fajita Burgers
Fajita is flank steak from a bovine. A whole flank steak can be cut into rounds the correct size for your burger, or you can use regular ground chuck or round. If using the flank steak, marinate the meat overnight in the following:

  • 2 cups Burgundy wine
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
If using the ground meat, use the marinade to baste frequently while grilling.

The proper dressings for the fajita burger are saut&eaute;ed onions, guacamole, shredded cheese and Pico de Gallo.

Swiss Burgers
To the 2 pounds of meat add

  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
You will also need two medium onions sautéed in butter for topping, and six toasted buns.

To construct the burger, brush the bottom with mild mustard. Put on the patty, top with slice of Swiss cheese and sautéed onions. Accompany with crisp lettuce and patio tomatoes.

Asian Burgers This is a real departure from the basic hamburger, and the first ingredient will tell you why.
  • 28 ounces cooked, chopped chicken
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) soy sauce
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) Sake
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons minced green onion
Combine all ingredients well. Let marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours. Form mix into six patties. Grill patties 4 or 5 minutes per side. Place on bun, top with plum sauce (available in the Asian section of your supermarket).

Hula Burger

  • 6 1/2-inch thick slices cooked ham the same diameter as your buns (hamburger buns, that is)
  • 6 slices canned pineapple
  • 6 skewers
  • 12 maraschino cherries
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Butter to sauté pineapple
Cut slices of pineapple into wedges and sauté in butter until hot all the way through. Set aside.

Blend pineapple juice, ketchup, cherry juice, honey and cloves. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Brush mix on each side of ham slices and let marinate while you prepare the skewers. On each skewer, start with a whole maraschino cherry, then five chunks of pineapple and end with another cherry. Cook these kabobs on the grill brushing with some of the sauce. Set aside. Grill the ham steaks.

To assemble, place slice of ham on toasted bun. Add mild mustard and slide one of the kabobs onto the ham, removing the skewer. Cover with top half of toasted bun.

These recipes should keep you entertained the rest of the summer. When the first crisp air of autumn blows in, we will look into chili lore again. Stay cool and dry.

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