Good Eatin’ on the Dime: The Virtue of a cheaper, better burger


Matt Cooper

The hamburger is a truly continental dish that can be enjoyed cheaply, simply, and without complicated, convoluted ingredients. This variation consists simply of ground chuck, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, pickles, American cheese, and a ring of white onion.

You and I live in a country where one man can sell another man a hamburger for $5,000 and it isn’t a crime. A country where it isn’t punishable by guillotining.

What a shame.

At Las Vegas’s Mandala Bay Resort and Casino, patrons of Fleur by Hubert Keller can dine on a $5,000 Fleurburger — a thick hunk of Wagyu Kobe beef and foie gras crowned with slices of wild black truffle, wedged between an ordinary-looking bun. The amalgamation of bovine, avian, and fungal excess is then served with a 1995 bottle of Château Pétrus.

Even closer to home, burger establishments have succumbed to what late chef and food traveler Anthony Bourdain called the, “creeping influence of the … designer burger.”

Case in point — Red Robin serves up bunned patties for upwards of $14, informing us on their menu that the Smoke and Pepper burger is alderwood smoked and best paired with a Stella Artois.

It’s all a bit off-putting to the blue-collar eater, isn’t it? I certainly don’t expect a fry cook or anyone for that matter to be an expert in wine pairings or a journeyman dendrologist capable of identifying alder wood.

Even the Anchor in downtown Wichita has a line of quasi-art burgers, ranging from the Bratwurst Burger with havarti cheese to the Portobello Burger with gournay. Again, don’t expect to sink your teeth into one of these for less than $10.

The point is this — the hamburger, the simple, tasty, fatty, dish of questionably American origin, which might be the closest thing we have to a national dish, need not be complex or expensive. It shouldn’t reek of elitism or aristocracy. The burger should and can be made humbly with ingredients we’ve all heard of and can afford.

Here’s how to make a simple, delicious burger for less than ten bucks and feed three of your friends to boot.




Sesame or Wheat Hamburger Buns

2 lbs Ground Beef Chuck

1 ½ teaspoons Black Pepper

1 ½ teaspoons White Kosher Salt

½ teaspoon Garlic Powder

¼ teaspoon Onion Powder

1 Sliced White Onion


Swiss or American Cheese





Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning (Optional substitute for salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder)


Seasoning meat and making the patties

First things first, season the raw beef. Find a pot or mixing bowl and combine the meat with the salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder. Use your hands, mixing until the meat is evenly saturated with seasonings.

Patty time. There really is no wrong way to do this, although, the easiest way is to grab a fistful of beef and flatten it on a cutting board to your preferred thickness.

And how do get a perfect disc of red beed as seen in the Hardee’s and Red Robin Commercials? Easy.

Using a circular coffee can lid or a wide coffee cup as a template, cut out each patty cookie-cutter style.

Matt Cooper
For burger patty creation, any circular concave item such as a plastic food container seal or canister lid can be used as a cutter. As for me, I chose the girlfriend’s Belle mug. If the tools work, use them, friends.

Finally, palm each disc of chuck and shape it to your personal preference. I like a burger with hockey puck thickness that really fills out a bun after grilling. But, feel free to experiment. After all, Freddy Simon is raking in tons of money selling steakburgers no thicker than dishrags. Go nuts.

Store the finished patties in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. This keeps the burgers from losing their shape during grilling.


Time to grill em’ up

In a griddle or pan, grill each patty on medium to high heat to your desired doneness. You can easily check this by cutting into the meat with a kitchen knife when the meat starts to brown on the outside.

If you want to double down on flavor, you can add a little something extra in the way of salt, pepper, garlic powder, or onion powder while the beef is still on the grill. But, proceed with caution. There’s nothing worse than on overly salted hamburger.

Flip between two and four times, ensuring both sides of the patty have been evenly cooked. If you’ve done this all correctly, you should end up with a patty that smells of chives, garlic, cracked pepper, barbecue, and your folks’ house on the Fourth of July.

Serve burgers on sesame or wheat buns, topped with swiss or provolone cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and relish.


The basic burger as symbol of virtue, freedom, democracy and loud chevys

The savory redolence wafting into your nostrils and the juicy bites of your cheeseburger should be soothing and uncomplicated. Like the first time you successfully fried a slice of bacon or hard-boiled an egg, it should confirm that, when all else fails, you — the man, the woman, the student, the nomad with a Foreman grill — are capable of feeding yourself, humbly, earnestly.

Hearing a patty sizzle to that point of exact doneness gives you a childlike disposition in the same way a loud Chevy, black-cat firecrackers on a summer afternoon, or a pair of fishnet stockings on a pretty girl gave you your first puerile, prepubescent excitement.

Making a burger shouldn’t be esoteric. It should be hearty and affordable, yet priceless.

Dare I say, grilling a hamburger may even be something democratic? Nonetheless, the burger making experience serves as a reminder to the everyday kitchen inhabitant that self sustenance equals freedom from people like Hubert Keller and his $5,000 burger.

In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson said of the common man that “Though the universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil on that plot of ground which is given him to till.”

The romantic transcendentalist tells us that making something good — in this case, burgers from cows that themselves may have been fed corn — is an endeavor of the individual.

Burgers shouldn’t be procured from rich French guys in Vegas strip casinos. Nor should they be ordered in sequence with top-shelf wine.

On the merits of the basic hamburger, Anthony Bourdain said it best.

“Ground beef, salt, and pepper, formed into a patty, grilled or seared on a griddle, then nestled between two halves of a bun … is to my mind, unimprovable by man or god.”

I would tend to agree.