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GutterGourmet Goes on a Quest for a Great Cheeseburger in Connecticut

GutterGourmet Goes on a Quest for a Great Cheeseburger in Connecticut


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It's not really fair, but every June it's the same: I'm banned by friends and family from backyard barbecues.

Here's what happens. Although as a guest I'm not the cook, at the first site of blood leaching out of burgers on the grill, I reach for the spatula and (much to the shame of my wife and daughter) start screaming, "flip them or they'll be overcooked!"

I need my burgers exactly halfway between rare and medium rare or I get crazy. I piss off waiters all the time when communicating my preferred cooking temperature request. Let's not mention my attempts to serve pink pork, which results in my mom screaming the reformed Jewish mother's battle cry, "You'll get trichinosis!"

So when my brother sent me home after accusing me of trying to feed my 10-year-old niece "raw" meat, I found myself on Father's Day with no place to get a burger. I packed my wife and daughter into the car and drove two hours to Connecticut.

Louis' Lunch in New Haven, the purported inventor of the hamburger dating from the 1890s, was closed. I've been to Louis' several times and they have their own crazy rules, namely no ketchup and no buns. But with Louis' closed, I decided to head north to Meriden for an even more controversial burger at Ted's Restaurant. Since 1959, Ted's has been serving up a unique hamburger style — the steamed cheeseburger, or, as they call them, 'cheeseburgs.'

The critics overwhelmingly love Ted's. The Sterns on Roadfood, Adam Richman of Man v. Food and even Hamburger America guru George Motz are all big fans. Only fellow food blogger Nick Solares, aka Beef Aficionado, is repulsed by the steamed cheeseburger. I had to find out for myself. Ted's is a charming three-booth, 10-seat counter joint with outdoor tables. There are two metallic cabinets sitting on the counter, which are perpetually steaming. Each is filled with little file drawers containing either meat or slabs of white Cheddar. Packages of Vienna (kaiser) rolls line the shelves.

It's fascinating to watch the red raw meat get shaped into rectangles before they're slid into a sauna. What emerges can only be described as "grey matter." Still rectangular in shape, there is fortunately plenty of room for condiments on the large round uncooked out of the package roll. Gooey lava-like melted steamed cheese is then poured over the meat, camouflaging it entirely — almost as if they're ashamed of the color.

For my first burger I opted for just raw onion and a little ketchup (sorry Louis') so as to be better able to judge Ted's hamburg. While the cheese would have enhanced any burger, the meat was not only devoid of color, it was devoid of any discernible seasoning and fairly lacking in flavor.

Having learned my lesson, I ordered another with sautéed onions, pickles, ketchup, and very importantly, salt and pepper, which, laughably, was added to the cheese after the burger was cooked and covered. Nevertheless, the condiments much improved the result.

That grey color still had a pronounced effect on my grey mood although the hash browns, which you can get with or without that cheese, were awesome. My wife, worried I would demand my next burger "rare to medium rare," pretended not to know me and ordered a steamed hot dog with cheese, which retained its lovely pink color even after its visit to the steel sauna. My daughter, perhaps the smartest of all, was quite happy with her order at Ted's: double cheese on a roll, hold the meat.


Phaidon’s Upskill Sessions - How to Make a Great Burger

So, are you OK? Really? Well, we certainly hope so. You, like us, may find yourself in the house with quite a bit of time on your hands. Rather than dwell too much on the situation, we would like to encourage you to take the opportunity to improve your culinary skills.

With this in mind, we’re pulling together edited extracts from some of our most useful, authoritative cookbooks, to offer you a guide to making some fine gastronomic basics which may have evaded you up until now. Take, for example, the classic American burger. America the Cookbook doesn’t only include a recipe, it also includes serving instructions.

"Eat it in the backyard, barefoot,” writes Gabrielle Langholtz. “Depending on where you are, crown it with Monterey Jack or Vermont Cheddar. Top it with a Jersey tomato, wild watercress, a slice of pineapple, roasted poblanos, or Vidalia onion. Pour a cold glass of sweet tea, sumac punch, or mint julep. Raise it high. Discover America.” We’re pretty sure you could do all that, and still not breach social-distancing protocols.

Here’s what you need: 1½ lb (680 g) of ground (minced) beef salt and freshly ground black pepper 4 hamburger rolls 4 slices cheese, such as cheddar or American (optional) For the toppings (optional): 1 large tomato, sliced 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced 4 lettuce leaves ketchup and mustard.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill (barbecue) to high heat. Divide the beef into 4 equal portions. Shape into patties roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Using your thumb, make a depression in the center of each patty. This will keep the burger flat as it cooks and the center swells. Season the patties on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the patties on the hot grill and cook, without moving them, until slightly charred, grill marks form, and the meat no longer sticks to the grill, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook until slightly charred and deep brown all over, another 4 minutes for medium rare, 5 or more for medium, 7–8 for well-done. If making a cheeseburger, place the cheese on the burger during the last minute of cooking time. Place the burgers on the rolls and garnish with toppings, if desired.


Amazing Burgers From Around The World

There are very few things in life that everyone loves, or almost everyone anyway. Pizza and burgers are two of the things that always come to my mind first when I think of this topic for some reason, even though I know that every vegetarian out there would probably shoot me for even daring to think that everyone loves something as “meaty” as burgers. However, I happen to be one of these burger lovers who has dedicated his life to hunting for the perfect burger, and after a detailed search I proudly present the 25 mortally delicious burgers from around the world.

Royale Eatery Burger—Cape Town, South Africa

The burger in Royale Eatery is often described as super juicy, with a bun that’s always fresh, and toppings with flavors that help to focus on the meat rather than distract from it. However, and judging from the reviews, most clients are unhappy because of the burger’s small size, which basically means two things: a) the owners have to do something about it and stop being cheap, and b) when you don’t want something to end, it must be good.

Buckhorn Burger—San Antonio, Texas

If you have a sensitive stomach or just can’t digest spicy food then this burger might not be right for you, but lovers of chili pepper and spicy Mexican food think this is how a good burger should be.

La Vaca Picada Burger—Madrid, Spain

If you’re planning to visit Spain and you happen to love burgers then La Vaca Picada will offer you a unique burger experience that you don’t want to miss. Bakery fresh buns, the best melted cheese in Madrid, premium beef, gourmet toppings, amazing flavor combinations, and Spanish flair will make you so happy that you might not even notice the “spicy” price of this delicious burger.

The Gordon Ramsay BurGR—Las Vegas, Nevada

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay decided to bring his masterful burger concept to Planet Hollywood Las Vegas and since then burger lovers from all over the world haven’t stopped sinking their teeth into these gourmet delights. We don’t have to ask or guess if this is any good, it’s freaking Gordon Ramsay we’re talking about here.

Luger Burger—Brooklyn– New York

Peter Luger has been handling meat since 1887 and its rich half-pound Luger Burger made from porterhouse and prime chuck roll trimmings is worth New Yorkers figuring out how to sneak out of the office for a long lunch. For some reason we’re already sold on it.

The BBI—Berlin, Germany

According to the rumors this is easily the best burger not just in Berlin, but also in all Germany. Happy customers who have tried it also recommend the fries and potato wedges that usually come with the big tasty BBI burger.

J. G. Melon Hamburger—Yorkville, New York

This hamburger is incredibly tasty but has a serious problem—it’s way too small and that leaves many customers unsatisfied. Nonetheless, the J. G. Melon hamburger is ideal for meat lovers since it’s full of bacon and the patty literally falls apart and melts in your mouth. Make sure you get two so you won’t complain afterward about the size. Sometimes good things do come in small packages.

Sirloin Burger at Le Tub—Hollywood, Florida

Most burger lovers who have done their research recommend Le Tub in Hollywood, Florida, as one of the best places to have the absolute best burger experience. Apparently, the burger is made from one hundred percent sirloin and according to the vast majority of reviews once you take a bite you’re hooked for life. Sounds like a ridiculous overstatement I know, but I’m willing to try.

Flippin’ Burger—Stockholm, Sweden

When we usually hear about Sweden our mind automatically goes to Vikings, IKEA, and the cheesiest band of all time, ABBA. However, we have fascinating news for foodies since Sweden’s Flippin’ burger is not just the country’s best burger but for the past few years is considered one of the most delicious in the world as well. If you don’t believe us, just look at the picture.

Red Mill Burgers Deluxe—Seattle, Washington

In their own words, Red Mill Burgers makes “ ’em Big ‘n’ Sloppy” and judging from the deluxe we will have to agree. The difference is the size of the burgers at Red Mill, which is easily noticeable, and no one has ever been reported as complaining that the deluxe wasn’t big or filling enough. Just make sure you’re really hungry when you visit.

Patty & Bun Ari Gold—London, England

The Ari Gold features a perfectly cooked beef patty, gooey melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, ketchup, smoky P&B homemade mayo, on a brioche bun. Unfortunately for the bacon lovers out there, they will have to pay extra to add some crispy, tasty slices to add that last bit of flavor heaven. Diehard fans of Patty & Bun claim that Ari Gold is the best burger in the world but we won’t agree until we try it first.

The Attic Burger—Phoenix, Arizona

The Attic burger is considered the hottest thing in Arizona when it comes to burgers and the joint has some of the best craft beers you’ve never heard of as well. If none of these impress you though, keep in mind that The Attic is one of the main themes of Maroon 5’s “Payphone,” where Adam Levine sings:

I’m at the Attic trying a burger

All of my taste I spent on you

Where have the times gone? Bo Bites, it’s all good

Let’s go and make a reservation for two

The Great Burger—Tokyo, Japan

In Japan, food is a delicate art form and that can be tiring at times for a tourist who comes from a completely different culture. However, the “Great Greedy Burger,” with two patties, cheddar, tomato, lettuce, chopped onions, relish, mayo, mustard, bacon, avocado, and a fried egg, might cost about $25, but every American who has tried it will assure you it’s worth every cent since it helps you, even for a rare moment, to escape the country with the greatest number of Michelin-starred restaurants and have it your way.

The Rustic Canyon Burger—Santa Monica, California

According to local “legends,” the Rustic Canyon makes the best burger in California and judging from the many reviews we’ve read so far, it might be true after all. People who have tried it have a piece of advice for all of us: Come to Rustic Canyon, get a burger, and you will realize your purpose in life—To eat burgers and feel awesome. Yihaaaaa!

The Au Cheval Cheeseburger—Chicago, Illinois

According to Bon Appétit this is the most perfect griddle burger in America and we have no reason to doubt such a decorated food magazine. According to the mag the burger’s deliciousness lies in its simplicity: two patties—or three, if you order a triple—of no-frills ground beef topped with cheddar, dijonnaise, a few thin pickle slices, and served on a soft toasted bun from Chicago’s Z Baking. The patties are wonderfully crusty, the fries are fried in lard, and just about everything about this burger is and sounds perfect.

The Brave Burger—Athens, Greece

Some of you might be wondering what a burger from the world’s capital of gyros and souvlaki is doing on such a list, right? Well, believe it or not “ΜΠΑΡ ΜΠΕΕ ΚΙΟΥ” steakhouse makes the best burger in Greece and one of the best in the world, a claim that both locals and tourists alike can guarantee. As for the size of these Greek burgers? Judging from the photos alone, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration if we dared to compare them with the likes of Heart Attack Grill Burgers, right?

White Manna Cheeseburger—Hackensack, New Jersey

White Manna in Hackensack is considered one of the classic examples of the way a mid-twentieth century hamburger stand was. Additionally, it offers one of the best burgers in the country and people travel from all over New Jersey and even New York to taste the famous cheeseburger that never manages to be absent from the list of the top 101 burgers in America by The Daily Meal.

Fergburger—Queenstown, New Zealand

This burger joint, ladies and gents, might produce the very best burgers on the planet, at least according to CNN. Fergburger opened in 2001 and quickly rose in popularity (and fame) thanks to the rich, tasteful, and “fatty” burgers it produces. Now that I think about it, I always wanted to visit New Zealand.

PNY Burger—Paris, France

PNY stands for Paris New York, and the owners of this place claim everything is made in-house daily from the patty down to the sauces so the clients will always be happy with the incredible quality of the burgers. Keep in mind that this is the favorite spot of American ambassadors in France and it’s been said that a few of them have claimed that PNY burgers are even better than those back home. Should we believe them?

Heart Attack Grill Burger—Las Vegas, Nevada

What would you think if we told you that there’s a place in Sin City where instead of waitresses it’s nurses who will serve your burger? That if you don’t manage to finish your food they will spank you? That the owner claims to be a doctor or, to be specific, a “burgerologist” who tries to kill his clients with the restaurant’s signature 9,982-calorie dish (the Quadruple Bypass Burger) that weighs a staggering three pounds? That the restaurant’s last two spokesmen actually died of a heart attack thanks to consuming these “deadly” burgers? That customers have to wear hospital gowns, and anyone more than 350 pounds eats for free?

I don’t think we need to say more to convince you that this is undoubtedly the baddest, unhealthiest, meanest, and most dangerous burger on the planet.

Louis’ Lunch Burger—New Haven, Connecticut

They say if you want the real thing then you have to go to the place where it all started and in our case the whole hamburger trend started in no other place but at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, where they served the first burger more than a century ago. Today you can order the same type of burger cooked on the exact same cast-iron skillet and most people will swear that it’s as juicy as a burger can get and unbelievably flavorful. Each one costs only $5, which is absurdly cheap if one takes into account the historical significance of this legendary burger.

The Counter Burger—Santa Monica, California

There’s not much we can say about the Counter Burger really since the accolades about this ultra-decorated burger speak for themselves: it has been recommended by Oprah as one of the best burgers in the U.S., GQ listed The Counter as one of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” and it’s included on every list of best burgers around the world you’ll find online. So, how could we ever possibly leave it off our list, huh?

Sidetrack Bar and Grill Famous Burger—Ypsilanti, Michigan

Sidetrack Bar and Grill is home of some of the best burgers in America and their Famous Burger is the absolute superstar since it’s the most consumed one on the menu and was named the #1 burger in America by GQ a couple years ago. The guys at GQ are rarely wrong about manly things such as the “burger hunt,” so we will trust their taste.

The Husk Cheeseburger—Charleston, South Carolina

The owner of Husk has been on a personal quest to make the perfect burger for years now and according to thousands of happy and satisfied clients he’s achieved his goal. The homemade buns are steamed, sliced, toasted, and smeared with butter and beef fat. The two patties are a blend of chuck and hickory-smoked Benton’s bacon, seared on a ripping-hot nonstick griddle and scraped off to retain a ridiculous crust. Add into the mix three slices of American cheese, shaved white onions between the patties, bread-and-butter pickles, a secret homemade sauce, lettuce and tomato, and bam!

Holeman & Finch Public House’s Double Cheeseburger—Atlanta, Georgia

Chef Linton Hopkins created this burger while he was battling cancer. That alone makes this burger special in our opinion but according to Mr. Hopkins it was the only food he didn’t lose his appetite and taste for while he was sick. This is how he started offering this burger on a limited basis in order to let the other items on his menu get their due, but ironically the burger is so damn good it earned the title of the best burger in America by The Daily Meal. Now that’s destiny.


Contents

Louis Lassen (1865 – March 20, 1935) was a "blacksmith by trade and preacher by vocation" and immigrated to New Haven from Denmark in 1886. [10] [11] He became a food peddler, selling butter and eggs from a wooden cart. He purchased a home at 45 Elliot Street and stored his cart in a shed in the backyard. In 1895, he began adding lunch items to his cart. [11] [12]

A local businessman dashed into the small New Haven lunch wagon one day in 1900, and he pleaded for a lunch to go. According to the Lassen family, the customer exclaimed "Louie! I'm in a rush, slap a meatpuck between two planks and step on it!". [10] [11] Lassen placed his own blend of ground steak trimmings between two slices of toast and sent the gentleman on his way, so the story goes, with America's alleged first hamburger being served. [13] In 1917, Lassen moved into a square brick building that had once been a tannery. [14] Louis' Lunch was forced to move to make way for development in 1975, so it moved two blocks down to 263 Crown Street in New Haven. [15] [16] In the 1950s, Ken Lassen added cheese spread to the hamburger. [16] The fourth generation of Lassens owns and operates Louis' Lunch today. [17]

The Louis' Lunch menu consists of "The Burger," [18] potato salad, potato chips, and homemade pie. [19] Louis' Lunch makes their hamburger sandwiches from ground steak made from a blend of five cuts of beef. [10] The hamburgers are then flame broiled vertically. The hamburgers are prepared with cheese, tomato or onion, [10] then served on two square pieces of toasted white bread. [10] [20]

Louis' Lunch flame broils the hamburgers in the original cast iron vertical gas broilers [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] manufactured by the Bridge and Beach, Co., St. Louis, Missouri, in 1898. [28] [29] [30] The stoves [31] use hinged steel wire gridirons [32] to hold the hamburgers in place while they cook simultaneously on both sides. The gridirons were made by Luigi Pieragostini and patented in 1938. [33] [34] [35] A sharp cheese spread is used, as opposed to sliced cheese. [36] The restaurant uses a 1929 Savory Radiant Gas Toaster. [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43] [44] [45]

The restaurant is traditionally closed during the month of August (for vacation). In 2014, Louis' Lunch was closed from August 3 to September 1. [46]

Many others claim to be the creator of the hamburger, including Charlie Nagreen, [47] brothers Frank and Charles Menches, Oscar Weber Bilby, and Fletcher Davis. [48] [49] White Castle traces the origin of the hamburger to Hamburg, Germany, with its invention by Otto Kuase. [50] However, it gained national recognition at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair when the New-York Tribune namelessly attributed the hamburger as "the innovation of a food vendor on the pike." [49]

In 2000, the Library of Congress recognized Louis' Lunch as the creator of the hamburger after being backed by United States Representative Rosa L. DeLauro. [51] The Library of Congress stated that Louis Lassen sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S. in 1900. [52] [53] New York magazine states, "The dish actually had no name until some rowdy sailors from Hamburg named the meat on a bun after themselves years later," noting also that this claim is subject to dispute. [54]

Detractors of the Louis' Lunch claim include Josh Ozersky, a food editor for New York Magazine. In Ozersky's book, The Hamburger: A History, Ozersky denies the claim based on the definition of a hamburger and told the New Haven Register, "If you say it can be on toast, you're essentially redefining the hamburger out of existence. The hamburger as the world knows it means a sandwich of ground beef on a bun." [55] However, Motz's Hamburger America notes that the hamburger bun did not exist in 1900 nor did so for another 20 years. [16] Ozersky's book also notes earlier claimants and recognizes Walter Anderson for creating the modern hamburger. [56]

In 2006, a "mock trial" was held by the Hamburger Festival in Akron, Ohio. Louis' Lunch was noted to have taken the event seriously, in contrast to other representatives of other hamburger creator claimants. [57] Renny Loisel, public relations director of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau, submitted an affidavit and letter from the New Haven Preservation Trust and noted that the Library of Congress recognizes Louis' Lunch for creating the first hamburger, but the evidence was denied. According to an internet poll, Louis' Lunch placed third and Loisel noted that despite the evidence it was more about theatrics than truth. [58]

An article from ABC News sums up the problems of identifying the origins of the hamburger by stating, "One problem is that there is little written history. Another issue is that the spread of the burger happened largely at the World's Fair, from tiny vendors that came and went in an instant. And it is entirely possible that more than one person came up with the idea at the same time in different parts of the country." [59]

The restaurant has been the subject of shows on "the Travel Channel, the Food Network, the History Channel and even Oprah." [60] On Travel Channel's Chowdown Countdown, Louis' Lunch was rated #1. [61] Episode 10 of Burger Land, A Burger is Born, highlights the claim and history of Louis' Lunch. [36] According to Raichlen's book, BBQ USA, patrons of Louis' Lunch include United States presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, Charles Lindbergh, and Artie Shaw. [10] Food & Wine's website named Louis' Lunch as one of the "Best Burgers in the U.S." [62] Roadfood notes that it is an "essential stop on America's burger trail." [17] [63] [64] [65] [34] [66] [67] [68] [69] [70] [71] [37] [72]

Critics of the restaurant hinge on its dislike of condiments, particularly ketchup customers who ask for it are ejected from the premises. In episode 10 of Burger Land, the "no ketchup" sign is visible hanging in the restaurant and an informative caption pops up to read "Yale students who try to sneak in ketchup are asked to leave." [36] According to "American Food Roots," signage and an exchange of stories confirms the policy. Tom Gilbert wrote, "Louis’ Lunch is a very friendly place as long as you get with the program, which always has been about serving quality beef and making sure that nothing ruins or upstages it. As Jeff [Lassen] will tell you, that means no puffy, sweet bun, no well-done meat and no ketchup. " [39] Both Connecticut Museum Quest and American Food Roots note the strong presence for the restaurant's way and Menuism goes so far as to note it the #2 of "the 5 Least Welcome Places for Ketchup." [13] [39] [73] Even Esquire affirms, "You can get your hamburger sandwich topped with onions, tomato, and a squirt of Cheez-Wiz. Just don't ask for anything else." [74] On the wall a sign reads "this is not Burger King you can't "have it your way." You get it my way or you don't get the damn thing."


This Real-Life Mountain Man Wants Us to Eat Like Our Ancestors

When Donnie Vincent goes into the mountains with a bow and arrow, he comes back with more than a trophy.

We've been up here for three days, trekking the 10,000-foot ridges of the Schell Creek Range of east-central Nevada. I take a heavy breath and continue along another granite-and-limestone slope flecked with bristlecone pines &mdash gnarled, 2,000-year-old survivors found only in the American West's highest, harshest landscapes. The searing in my legs and lungs eases as the severe incline levels out into a grassy meadow ringed by aspens, their leaves quaking in the cool breeze. Donnie Vincent holds up a hand to halt me, and grins.

"This place looks elky," he says, pointing to the aspens. "Those oval-shaped marks on the trees are from elk eating the bark."

Elk are why we're here. Vincent and I have spent months preparing to track old males, 7 to 10 years old, who can weigh upwards of 800 pounds and wear antlers that reach nearly as high as a basketball hoop. We've seen a couple of these big bulls, but only from a distance, through a spotting scope.

Hunting's funny like that. A mountaineer's peak, a paddler's river, a backpacker's trail is always there. But a hunter may spend weeks in the wild, chasing a half-ton ghost from peak to peak and all the canyons and valleys between, yet never see the animal up close. Our hunt felt like it was headed that way.

"Get down," Vincent whisper-shouts. A monster of a bull stands 60 yards ahead, his rear facing us as he chomps grass and surveys his surroundings, antlers sweeping through the dry mountain air like a construction crane. We hit the dirt. If this elk smells us, he'll break into a 40 mph gallop, out of range and out of sight.

Vincent sets down his pack, nocks an arrow in his bow, and tiptoes in. At 20 yards out, he crouches behind a granite boulder and waits for an angle, one that'll allow the arrow to cleanly enter just behind the elk's shoulder, the razor-sharp broadhead puncturing both lungs. The animal will have 10 seconds of life, at most, after a shot like that.

The elk stops chewing. He cocks his ears and lifts his head. As he turns his body 90 degrees to inspect his surroundings, he exposes the vital area.

As for me? Dharma bums meditate for decades to achieve my state of radical presence. I can't think about the earlier or the later, emails or texts, retweets or likes. I don't consider the extreme effort I'll need to muster if Vincent manages to complete his primal task. We'll dissect the elk into 70-plus-pound chunks, load one apiece into our packs, and haul them 10 miles and 3,000 vertical feet to coolers waiting in a Ford Super Duty parked in a canyon below. Then we'll do it again and again until all 600 usable pounds of that elk are in that truck.

Vincent firms down on the bow.

When I met Vincent in Ely, Nevada, almost four hours north of Las Vegas, the first thing I noticed was his hair. A foot long and gray, it flowed from beneath a crimson Filson watch cap as he emerged from a three-quarter-ton pickup and walked toward me wearing Salomon trail runners, North Face outdoor pants, a plaid wool shirt, and a week-old salt-and-pepper beard.

He reached out a rough hand and apologized for any stank: "I haven't showered since I left home in Wisconsin."

Vincent is a backcountry bowhunter, a guy who carries all his necessities on his back and stalks game across hundreds of miles of untamed, remote regions, including the Alaskan Arctic and the Northwest and Yukon Territories. His subspecies of outdoorsman &mdash hunter, ultra-endurance athlete, locavore, survivalist, naturalist &mdash is growing fast. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, an organization that works to protect wild lands and waters, says its membership has doubled over the past year.

"I'm seeing a lot more of what I like to call 'granola athletes' &mdash climbers, mountain bikers, kayakers &mdash getting into backcountry bowhunting," says Rob Shaul, a hunter who also owns the Mountain Tactical Institute, a Jackson, Wyoming, outfit that trains professional outdoor athletes and special ops soldiers.

Marathons, triathlons, and obstacle races are fun, he says, but they're "manufactured events" for anyone with a credit card and a decent VO2 max. Real-world adventures &mdash hunting, mountaineering, backcountry skiing &mdash require not only fitness but also skills, intelligence, and a willingness to go beyond your comfort zone and marinate there for days on end.

You won't get a race medal and can't control the outcome, but the rewards are practical: You end up with a hard body and mind (a day of hunting can torch 7,000-plus calories, nearly triple the burn of a marathon), a hell of a lot of useful expertise, and some very cool stories.

Wild adventures also deliver something no gym can offer. Nature has long been man's organic Xanax. Going back 3,500 years, for example, the elites of ancient Egypt had complex networks of "pleasure gardens." The idea was to fight stress through nature. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond in the mid-19th century, and in 1982 the Japanese government coined the term Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Nearly half of Americans say they engage in at least one outdoor activity, the Outdoor Foundation reports. And people who spend more time in nature report better well-being and self-esteem, according to research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and Body Image.

"You have to be all in for your protein."

Vincent became a face of the backcountry hunting movement by chronicling his work in documentary films. In his first, which logged his four-year quest for a Badlands whitetail he named Steve, he focused on the buck's habitat, evolution, personality, and (spoiler alert) his conflicted emotions about the kill. "I got about a thousand letters after that," he says. "People liked my approach."

Anthropologists deem Vincent's type an "experiential" hunter, the guy who enters the wild not to dominate nature but to become part of it. Vincent says the process is the reward, although a successful outcome makes the process that much more rewarding. "You have to be all in for your protein," he says.

A successful Rocky Mountain elk hunt yields hundreds of pounds of meat with all the Whole Foods upsells: It's grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free, and free range to the extreme. Four ounces of raw ground elk meat is 194 calories and provides 25 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat an equivalent amount of ground beef has 294 calories, 30 grams of protein, and 19 grams of fat, according to the USDA. Elk also has about twice the vitamin B6 and thiamin. It can supply Vincent's family of three for eight months. (And that's nothing compared to the Yukon moose meat that stocked his freezer for a year and a half.)

Backcountry hunting requires a primal type of fitness. Nothing else prepares you for the combination of high altitude, healthy pace, and heavy pack, which make a walk in the woods feel like a run through the jungle. It requires the best gear. Vincent, who spent five years as an Alaskan field biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, prefers technical, natural-colored outdoor gear. "Big game animals' eyes are designed to detect movement and can't differentiate color shades the way humans can," he says. "Big-game camo is mostly a marketing ploy."

What it does not require is a bodybuilder's physique. In fact, nature punishes the overly lean Vincent loses 10 to 12 pounds on long hunts. "I train in the gym a few days a week," he tells me between tales of his close encounters with wolves, bears, and surly humans. "But getting out and doing real things makes me a better, harder hunter. I live on 40 acres. I work my land, cover ground with my dogs, and don't sit that often." He eats vegetables and whole grains and, of course, meat from the animals he's stalked, killed, field-dressed, and hauled home.

At the end of our first day on the trail we arrive at a spring 7,000 feet above sea level, where we prepare shelters and a dinner of Mountain House freeze-dried beef stroganoff, washed down with spring water and irony: "We're out here searching for the purest, healthiest food in the world," he says, "and yet we have to feed on this ultra-processed shit."

"Think of how you'd move through the forest and behave if you knew a human was hunting you. That's how elk and deer have evolved to behave all day."

Hunting season for big game is brief &mdash generally just two to three weeks per species. But preparation begins nine months in advance. "Let's say you wanted to start bow-hunting tomorrow," Vincent says. "You'd first have to take hunter safety courses and learn to shoot." Modern compound bows increase the challenge by requiring you to be within about 60 yards for an effective shot, but they also result in a smoother kill.

Next, you have to prepare to hunt a specific animal in a specific place. Sheep in the Yukon? Whitetail deer in the Midwest? Big bears in British Columbia? You need to understand the local terrain, weather patterns, and hunting regulations, in addition to the animal's biology: what it eats, how it moves, when it sleeps, and what senses it uses to protect itself from you. Then you figure out the right gear for that combination of variables, how much food you'll need, and how you'll get there.

And with all that, there's no guarantee you'll even lay eyes on your prey, much less get a clean shot, much less hit it if you do. "Even seasoned archers have about a 25 percent success rate," says Vincent. "Think of how you'd move through the forest and behave if you knew a human was hunting you. That's how elk and deer have evolved to behave all day."

Vincent's own evolution started as a 5-year-old in Connecticut, when he read The Big Game Animals of North America, a 1961 book by Jack O'Connor, a writer for Outdoor Life magazine and former journalism professor. "I immediately knew I wanted those big adventures," he says.

He got his chance in college when he spent fall break in the mountains around Alaska's Prince William Sound, hunting his first black bear. "I put in so much work and went up there wanting to kill a bear," he says. "But when that first bear lumbered out, everything changed. I just watched how his feet hit the rocks, how he'd pick up salmon, how he'd breathe. I completely forgot what I was there for." He remembered soon enough, bagged a bear, and came away a lifelong hunter. "Entering into that predator-prey relationship gave me a whole other level of engagement with the environment."

It also connected him to human history. Man-making rites of passage are found in many cultures, says Peter Gray, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The Maasai of Kenya would prove their mettle by killing a lion," he says. Other customs include the walkabout of Australian Aborigines and the vision quest of North America's Plains Indians. "The skills these initiations tend to hone are usually related to warfare and hunting." The goal is to make you a tougher man, proving that you can defend yourself and provide your family with meat.

The goal is to make you a tougher man, proving that you can defend yourself and provide your family with meat."

Our ancient ancestors began relying more on meat some 2 million years ago, says Michael Pante, Ph.D., a paleoanthropologist at Colorado State University. The evidence suggests that we first set forth as scavengers. But Pante's research indicates that humans were soon eating sizable game, like buffalo, giraffe, rhino, and hippo. Tool marks on the legs of the animals, along with a lack of carnivore tooth marks, hint that the meat could have been acquired through hunting. Thus we rose from prey to predator.

"It's unclear whether eating meat allowed us to grow a bigger brain, or our bigger brain allowed us to access meat, outsmart other carnivores, and become hunters," says Pante. But fueled by calorie-dense meat, the human brain began to grow rapidly and to claim a bigger share of nutritional resources. Today the human brain weighs just 3 pounds but burns roughly 20 percent of our daily energy.

"Are you having fun?" Vincent asks as he peers into a spotting scope. We've been hiking uphill for the past few hours, and now we're resting on a frigid, rocky surface above the timberline, fully exposed to the elements. I'm tired, hungry, and cold. Physical discomfort is all but guaranteed in the backcountry. You'll make long climbs up steep hills with heavy packs. You'll get scraped, scuffed, and frustrated. You'll wonder why you've abandoned civilization to live in a flimsy nylon tent, sleep on hardpack, and eat mush.

"Sometimes it can be miserable," Vincent says. "Like the time I ran out of food in the Yukon and my pickup pilot showed up three days late."

But it's worth it. Temporary discomfort has a hardening effect, sparking processes that boost mental performance, physical immunity, and resistance to future discomfort. The catch, research finds, is that some of these gains may be mindset-dependent. People who view stressors as an opportunity for improvement enjoy more health and performance benefits than those who view stress negatively.

New hunters often fail to appreciate this lesson. "You learn something new every single hunt," Vincent says. "No matter how uncomfortable it gets, there's always light at the end of the tunnel. Soon you'll be eating a cheeseburger, drinking a cold beer, telling stories, and counting the days until you can get back out again. It's never true suffering."

"Our ancestors hunted because they absolutely had to," says Charles List, Ph.D., a professor of philosophy at SUNY Plattsburgh. "Modern hunting is a reenactment of that. But many argue that it ties into something deep inside us, because humans evolved in a climate and culture of hunting and gathering. Hunting can change and move you in ways you wouldn't expect."

"Hunting can change and move you in ways you wouldn't expect."

"Got one," Vincent says, tossing me the binoculars. We're near the end of our second day, with the air chilling and shadows stretching. "He's in that horseshoe-shaped meadow. He's probably only a 3-year-old. But where there's one. . ."

Within minutes, several majestic elk emerge from the aspens into the meadow. One of them looks big and old, traits that Vincent prefers. Taking an elder has less impact on the ecosystem and is more challenging than removing a younger bull. Our plan is to head back to camp to rest for tomorrow's trek to that remote meadow.

"You can't see that elk from below," says Vincent. "This isn't the easy way, but we found him because we hiked all the way up here. That's step one: Put in the work."

The next morning, as we're putting that work in on an uphill climb, a hummingbird floats in and alights on the fletching in Vincent's bow. It pokes and prods, hovers over the red wool stocking cap in his pocket, determines that we have no nectar on tap, and zooms away. Vincent looks shaken. "Dude," he tells me, "I've never had that happen before. What just happened is exactly why I do this. . .complete immersion."

It occurs to me that I haven't seen my cellphone in three days. Indeed, my mind feels more like it belongs to a monk than a monkey on meth. That, according to a team of scientists at the University of Utah, is one of the biggest benefits of an immersive experience like this.

In one of their studies, they noted profound structural changes in students' brains after three days of backcountry hiking. The students scored 50 percent better on a creativity test than a similar group who took the same test before hiking. It raises a fascinating question, says researcher Rachel Hopman, Ph.D.(c). Since the hikers didn't have cellphones, were the brain changes driven by the addition of nature, or the subtraction of attention-demanding technology?

The next step was to compare groups who took a nature walk with and without their cellphones. The phone-free group, Hopman says, scored better on memory tests and showed neurological changes that indicated significant brain restoration. The walk didn't provide either of those benefits for the phone-using group.

"It's like working out," Hopman says. "You expend a lot of energy and effort during a workout, but you have to take rest periods so your muscles can recover. Your brain is the same way. If you're not turning off your attention, you're going to get exhausted and burned out." And because the average American spends nearly 30 percent of his waking hours on his phone, the scientists believe we may be nearing crisis levels of mental fatigue. Overworked minds are linked to everything from life dissatisfaction to depression.

The big elk is now looking at us. His antlers are astoundingly wide, about 4 feet. My heart is thumping as I wait for Vincent to pull his bow to full draw.

The elk snorts. Enraptured by him, we've overlooked a spectator: A coyote lurks 20 yards behind us, anticipating a dinner of elk entrails.

The elk rears back, turns, and gallops away, leaving us staring at a trail of dust. Vincent is smiling as he returns the arrow to its quiver. "He was big and beautiful, but he was too young. How wicked was it to be that close, though?"

Smoke from distant wildfires filters the falling sun to blood-red as we follow game trails back to camp. "The experiences and engagements we had today. . ." Vincent stops to search for the right words. "I guess you see why I come up here. These animals and places are part of my soul."

That night we sit around a fire to eat more freeze-dried meals and tell stories that swing from existential profundity to inconceivable idiocy. Campfire, evidently, can burn away the filters of men.

We wake early and descend to the truck, and by mid-afternoon I'm heading back to Las Vegas on US 93.

A week later, I receive a text from Vincent. "Killed a giant at 9 this morning," it says. "He was an ancient. Eleven years old." The attached photos tell the story: Vincent, tired and ragged, kneels reverently next to the 800-pound animal.

A month later, a FedEx truck drops a cold box on my doorstep. Inside is a piece of Vincent's elk. I thaw a deep purple steak cut from the elk's backstrap, a long muscle that runs along the spine from the shoulders to the hindquarters. Blood splatters onto the counter as I move the cold, dense meat onto a hot cast-iron pan, cooking the lean protein fast and rare.

The first bite: Imagine the best prime rib you've ever had, but remove the fatty mouthfeel. It's tender, robust, and slightly sweet. It needs no accompaniment. As I eat this simple meal, I think back to something Vincent told me as we sat atop that Great Basin peak and first spotted the very elk, I assume, whose muscle tissue sits on my plate.

"I know hunting is controversial," he said. "But if you eat meat, your barrier to entry is likely going into the grocery and swiping a credit card. You don't know anything about the animal, how it lived, where it came from, or what kind of life it had."

I can taste the Nevada high country grass within the meat as I picture Vincent circling his finger in the air to encompass the 360 degrees of vibrant wilderness surrounding us. "Well," he said, "I know."


Food trucks aren't inspected as often as brick and mortar restaurants

As the popularity of food trucks increases, cities are doing their best to make sure that these mobile restaurants are taking the necessary precautions to keep their customers safe from food borne illnesses. In most cities, operating a food truck requires the proprietor to secure a permit and submit to inspections by the city's health department, just like their brick and mortar counterparts.

In New York City, the Department of Health is required to inspect food trucks at least once a year, and vendors are required to correct any violations immediately. But although brick and mortar restaurant inspections are generally unannounced, food truck inspections are planned due to resource allocation and because the trucks are mobile. After all, if the inspector can't find the food truck, the inspection can't happen. Still planned inspections means it's likely the inspectors aren't seeing them in the throws of a busy lunch rush.

The number and frequency of health inspections for a food truck can also vary by location, making it almost impossible to know when the truck you are visiting was last given a once over, according to the Harvard Health Letter. If this concerns you (and it should!), feel free to ask about the most recent inspection before placing your order. If they don't know (or won't say), walk away and find a different place to eat.


Recipe: Grilled griddled cheeseburger

I thought I knew how to make the perfect burger. Now I know better.

I still stand by most of my principles &mdash making your own blend of ground meat, a combination of ground sirloin and ground chuck working and mixing the meat as little as possible &mdash but I recently discovered a far better way to cook the burgers. I discovered it while attempting to grill tiny samples of a variety of ground beefs. (I was searching for just the right blend and didn&rsquot want to make lots of full-size patties.)

As I pondered how I was going to grill tiny patties without them falling through the grates, I considered a cast-iron grill platter, a thick, flat sheet of cast iron. Bingo! We could grill the bite-sized burgers on the sizzle platter!

I placed the platter on the grill grate and started grilling the bites. They were all delicious. But the most exciting part was the rich, brown crust they all developed. The platter turned the gas grill into a flat grill, while the heat of the cast-iron surface deeply caramelized everything it touched. Because the lid was down and there were other foods on the grill, the burgers still got that smoky outdoor grilled flavor, but with a griddle-style crust.

It was the perfect cooking mashup of grill and griddle for my all-American cheeseburger topped with melted American cheese. Since that evening, it is the only way that I grill burgers &mdash of any size!

The recipe below is my favorite burger these days. I traded in my aged cheddar cheese for old-fashioned American, which melts better and adds a layer of soft gooeyness on top of the crunchy caramelized crust of the burger. To me, this is the best condiment and I don&rsquot need anything else except maybe pickles, which I layer on the bottom bun so that the cheese and the top bun stick together and become one.

Of course, you can add any of your favorite condiments and toppings, but try this minimalist burger at least once. When you use the best quality beef and grill the burgers using the cast-iron sizzle platter, you hardly need anything besides the cheese and a soft potato bun to make it summer&rsquos best burger.

GRILLED GRIDDLED CHEESEBURGER

1 pound ground beef chuck

1 pound ground beef sirloin

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

1 teaspoon Coleman&rsquos Mustard powder (optional)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Being careful not to overwork the meat, in a large bowl mix together the chuck and sirloin with the Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder and generous pinches each of salt and pepper. Gently shape the meat into 6 burgers, each about ¾-inch thick. Brush each patty on all sides with olive oil. Use your thumbs to make an indent at the center of each burger.

Heat the grill to medium. Place a flat cast-iron griddle on the grates at the center of the grill.

When the grill and griddle are hot, place the burgers on the griddle and cook, covered, until the meat is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling time. Top each burger with American cheese about 2 minutes before you remove them from the grill. You want the cheese to be soft but not too melted.

Let the burgers rest 2 to 3 minutes and serve on a potato bun with pickle chips. Makes 6 servings.


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We work harder, and you can taste it! When we say it's "homemade," we mean made-from-scratch ® . We develop all of our recipes in our own kitchens, making every sauce, soup, salad dressing, and dessert, right down to hand-peeling potatoes for our own creamy mashed potatoes or our signature Yukon Gold Potato Chips! Now that's Good 'n' Fresh! ®


The Cheeseburger Diet (Ep. 230)

Stephen Dubner’s home-cooked burger. O’Mara declares it #2 in NYC (methods unscientific, conclusion accurate).

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “The Cheeseburger Diet” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

Bite into this: One woman’s quest to find the best burger in town can teach all of us to eat smarter.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.

[MUSIC: Beckah Shae, “Christmas Love” (from Emmanuel)]

EMILY O’MARA: My family has a tradition every year — this has been going on since before I was born and still goes on now — we have, for our big Christmas Eve dinner, we have White Castles.

STEPHEN DUBNER: No you don’t!

O’MARA: That is our Christmas Eve dinners. This has been going on for 40-plus years. It is not Christmas in my family unless we have White Castles.

DUBNER: Wow. What do you have on Christmas Day then? You’re just recovering?

O’MARA: Left over White Castles.

I’d like you to meet Emily O’Mara.

O’MARA: I’m a software consultant for Oracle Consulting Services.

DUBNER: Ok, so that sounds important and impressive, but Emily, I just want to know. What I want to talk to you about today — is something that I love and I think that you love. And it’s the cheeseburger.

O’MARA: Yes, sir.

DUBNER: What happens when I say the word cheeseburger? Does your pulse race?

O’MARA: Yes, I get very hungry. I start having fantasies.

DUBNER: Can you describe that fantasy? Close your eyes if you must.

O’MARA: I see big, greasy, gooey cheese. Fresh bread. Good fries — that is very important, often overlooked. I like greasy, seasoned meat. The greasier, the better.

O’Mara is 38 years old. Married, for eight years her husband works in retail. She was born and raised in Louisville, Ky. went to Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and eventually returned to Louisville.

DUBNER: Are you in Louisville as we speak?

O’MARA: Yep. Downtown.

DUBNER: Does Louisville have some special connection with the cheeseburger?

O’MARA: Yeah, depending on which urban legend you want to believe, the cheeseburger was invented in Louisville, Ky.

DUBNER: No. No!

O’MARA: As a defunct restaurant called Kaelin’s. And I’m talking about the cheeseburger.

Meaning, not the hamburger. That honor belongs to Athens, Texas, or maybe New Haven, Connecticut, or maybe somewhere else. These things can be hard to verify. In any case, Louisville didn’t invent the hamburger Louisville put cheese on the hamburger – although that too may have first happened elsewhere, maybe in Pasadena, California. Anyway: Louisville has a long cheeseburger tradition and a vibrant cheeseburger scene. Emily O’Mara is a part of it.

O’MARA: Like a lot of people, I love cheeseburgers and french fries. And like a lot of people, I love to argue about which place in town has the best cheeseburger and french fries. And then I realized that I don’t know what the best cheeseburger and fries are because I just go to the same places over and over again. And all my friends and family go to the same places over and over again. So we think it’s the best because it’s our favorite, it’s familiar to us.

[MUSIC: Fox And The Law, “Awake” (from Scarlet Fever)]

I realize O’Mara’s only talking about cheeseburgers here. But, if you inspect that moment of self-realization of hers — that we consider something “the best” primarily because it’s what we’re familiar with, it’s what we’re comfortable with — well, isn’t that how a lot of us come to conclusions about a lot of things — about our political ideas or religious ideas, about art, about the kind of people we think are okay and those who aren’t?

O’MARA: And I realized, how do I know who’s got the best burger and fries? You know, most of these places in town who offer burgers and fries, I had never even been there. I had never even heard of some of them.

O’MARA: I decided I was going to do two burgers a week for a year. That roughly ended up being 101 burgers during a year.

Today on Freakonomics Radio, one woman’s Year of the Cheeseburger, and what it can teach the rest of us about how we eat.

Emily O’Mara — currently a software consultant, formerly a business-systems analyst with the municipal water company in Louisville, Kentucky — she is pretty well-traveled.

O’MARA: Went to Hamburg simply because that is where the word “hamburger” comes from. I have been to the Great Wall of China. I have been to Poland. I have been to El Salvador. I also like to do things that may not be in character for me to do, but just to say that I do them: I’ve jumped out of a plane I’ve shaved my head completely bald twice. You know, it’s just all kinda for the heck of it.

[MUSIC: Richard Freitas, “Pelican Parade”]

But O’Mara’s latest adventure kept her close to home. She wanted to find the best cheeseburger and fries in Louisville, keeping in mind that “the best” is a subjective measure.

O’MARA: I know people like to get fancy with their cheese. I don’t when it comes to burgers. I prefer a tomato if it’s in season — very fresh tomato. Some nice lettuce, maybe like a Boston lettuce would be good. Little bit of onion, not too much. And I am not a fan of condiments at all. I don’t do mayonnaise I don’t do ketchup I don’t do mustard.

You also have to understand that O’Mara calls herself a “fast-food foodie” and a “junk-food junkie.”

O’MARA: I love it. I know it’s not good for me, and I did read that book Fast Food Nation. It made me very, very hungry. I watched the documentary Super Size Me. I thought it was the best commercial for McDonald’s I’d ever seen.

When O’Mara first thought about eating two cheeseburgers a week for a year, she was beyond excited.

But she hadn’t really thought it through.

O’MARA: And my coworker said, “Well, aren’t you afraid you’re going to gain like 100 pounds and your cholesterol is going to go sky high?” And I thought, “Oh, shoot. That’s really something to think about.” I was so caught up in how much fun it was going to be, I didn’t think of any negative effects it could have one my health. So that made me pause, and I really thought about it. And I almost thought about not doing it. Because no one wants to gain weight or put their health in jeopardy.

DUBNER: But then you thought, “burgers, burgers, burgers, and fries.”

O’MARA: And I resolved to get a cholesterol test the first day of my study and the last day of my study. And I was going to weigh myself about once a month, take my blood pressure, all that good stuff, and just kinda watch it.

DUBNER: Gotcha.

O’MARA: You know, if I found after a month or two it was just out of control then I would stop.

DUBNER: Ok. Very good. And would you go to these burger meals alone? With your husband? With friends? With strangers?

O’MARA: It was pretty much divided three ways. A third of them I went with my husband. He was very enthusiastic at first, but I think he got a little tired of it toward the end. A third of them I went with friends. And I third I went by myself.

DUBNER: Did you have them grade as well? Or were they just there for the ride?

O’MARA: I definitely asked for their input.

DUBNER: And did it influence you?

O’MARA: No, it never did.

DUBNER: Was it kind of like becoming a restaurant critic every week? Find two new places to eat a burger and fries?

O’MARA: Absolutely. When I went to the restaurants I came armed with a notebook and a pen. I took lots and lots of notes. I had a complex rating system for the burgers and the fries.

DUBNER: Can you walk us through a bit of it?

O’MARA: Sure. It was 100 points. Twenty-five points were allocated for the taste of the cheeseburger. That’s the most important thing to me. How does it taste? Twenty-five points were allocated for the taste of the fries. Twenty-five percent was allocated for cost because I am a major cheapskate, and the cheaper the better. And then with the remaining 25 percent I broke that out: 10 percent for service, — I’m not very picky about service — and 15 percent for ambiance.

And Emily O’Mara proceeded to eat 101 burgers in one year, at all kinds of places. Some of the categories she came up with were: “Louisville institutions,” “burger-centric establishments,” “recommended chains,” “food trucks,” “hipster hangouts.” By the end of the year, a winner had emerged.

O’MARA: Based on all my results, all my calculations, the best burger was from a little family-owned drive-in here in Louisville called Dizzy Whizz. They’ve been around since 1946. They do not try to be old-school, they just are old-school. Very greasy burger. Really greasy, tasty french fries, amazing experience. My favorite. In my opinion, the best.

The winner: Dizzy Whizz was ranked No. 1 by Emily O’Mara for best cheeseburger and fries.

[MUSIC: The Kindness Kind, “On And Off Again” (from The Kindness Kind)]

Now, we should note here that O’Mara was familiar with Dizzy Whizz before her quest. So it wasn’t as though she turned up something entirely new. But Dizzy Whizz clearly rocked her world. O’Mara wrote a book-length manuscript chronicling her Year of the Cheeseburger — an unpublished manuscript, unfortunately. It’s called Eat, Pay, Grub. Here, I’ll read a bit about Dizzy Whizz: The Dizzy Whizz cheeseburger, O’Mara writes, “gave me a very primal feeling that I usually don’t otherwise feel unless I watch a couple episodes of The Sopranos or listen to Led Zeppelin II.” About the french fries? “We’d have peace in the Middle East if they could only get a load of how good these fries are.” And how about the Dizzy Whizz ambience? “This place tends to attract a working class/non-hipster Old Louisville crowd — the tattoos come with stretch marks.”

DUBNER: Dizzy Whizz was number one, yeah?

O’MARA: Mhmm.

DUBNER: It was number one by a whisper?

O’MARA: They got 98 out of 100 points. And I did have some that got like 96 and 97 points.

DUBNER: And tell me about the worst burger you had and where you had it.

O’MARA: The worst burger, I don’t like to mention names—

DUBNER: It’s just us here on the phone, Emily. Just us on the phone.

O’MARA: Yeah. The worst burger I had, they got a 37 out of 100 points. And I think the next lowest burger had, like, at least 50 points.

DUBNER: Wow. So describe this 37 burger.

O’MARA: This 37 burger, it was from a very beloved food truck here in Louisville. All the foodies, all the hipsters just love it because it’s locally owned, and they grind their own meat, and oh, you can have gorgonzola cheese on top of it. I thought it was just absolutely tasteless. It took me half an hour to get it. They did not offer fries — they got zero points for fries. It cost me $9. Just really not a very good experience.

[MUSIC: Squidley, “Sirscruffalot” (from Return of the Silver Rabbit)]

DUBNER: Alright, so forgive me for saying this — but you, it sounds as though from what you are saying, you must weigh about 900 pounds.

O’MARA: No. I weigh, let’s see, I’m about five-foot-five-and-a-half.

DUBNER: Five feet, five-and-half inches?

O’MARA: Yes.

DUBNER: OK. What was your beginning weight?

O’MARA: My weight was 126 pounds.

DUBNER: OK. And what was your cholesterol at the outset?

O’MARA: My total cholesterol the day I started my study was 160.

DUBNER: Oh, pretty good.

O’MARA: That’s good. Anything under 200 is considered good.

DUBNER: And do you know your breakdown of the LDL and HDL by any chance?

O’MARA: Yes. So my LDL — that’s the bad cholesterol — it was 93. Anything under 100 is good. My HDL — that’s good cholesterol — that was 49. It should be over 50 if you’re female, so I was just at the break there of having good cholesterol.

DUBNER: And you’re going to weigh yourself monthly. And you’re going to check cholesterol and a few other things maybe only at the end. Is that right?

O’MARA: Correct.

DUBNER: OK, so then you ate two cheeseburgers and fries a week for a year. What’d you weigh and what was your cholesterol, etc. afterwards?

O’MARA: I weighed 126 pounds on the money the month that I ended it.

DUBNER: So your weight was unchanged after your Year of the Cheeseburger?

O’MARA: Correct. And then my cholesterol, my total cholesterol was 179.

DUBNER: So it rose a bit, but still safe.

O’MARA: Still good. And then if you want to get into the cholesterol—

DUBNER: Oh, I do.

O’MARA: Looks like my good cholesterol improved. It went up to 56, which for a woman, again, it should be over 50. So my good cholesterol was at a good level. My bad, my LDL was 107. That’s a little bit high, but not too bad. And then my triglycerides actually went down. I think triglycerides are bad—

DUBNER: They are.

O’MARA: They went down from when I first started.

DUBNER: Oh. You’re not a 900-pound lady at all.

O’MARA: Right.

Coming up on Freakonomics Radio, should the Cheeseburger Diet be a thing? Also, how helpful is it tell people how many calories they’re eating? And Emily O’Mara tries a New York cheeseburger: mine.

[MUSIC: Salim Nourallah, “Crocodiles” (from Skeleton Closet)]

One reason I found Emily O’Mara’s Year of the Cheeseburger interesting is that the cheeseburger has become perhaps the most famous food villain of our era. You need a quick shorthand reference for unhealthy eating? The cheeseburger. Indeed, the economist Kevin Murphy once calculated that a cheeseburger costs $2.50 more than a salad in long-term health implications. More famously, for his documentary film Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s – including lots of cheeseburgers – for a month.

DUBNER: So Morgan Spurlock gains a ton of weight and gets really sickly. Why not you?

O’MARA: There a lot of differences between what I did and what Morgan Spurlock did. He was eating at McDonald’s three meals every day for a month. I was eating twice per week. So out of 21 meals a week, two of them were burgers and fries. He also made an effort to wear a pedometer. And he made sure never got more than three or four thousand steps a day. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not.

DUBNER: That’s really nothing.

O’MARA: I had pedometer, too. I made sure I got at least 10,000 steps or in that range everyday. I also increased my exercise a lot more than I normally did. Even on burger days, when I would go to these places to have burgers, if I could, I would walk to them, or sometimes even ride my bike. I definitely stepped up the exercise — stepped up my walking everyday. And because I was so afraid of gaining weight from these burgers and fries I ate much healthier than I normally did. I didn’t go to fast-food restaurants that I so loved. I didn’t go to bakeries. I didn’t eat fried food. Didn’t eat pizza or pasta. Didn’t eat ice cream. We had one of the hottest summers on record. I didn’t eat ice cream once that summer. So, I think I well compensated for the fact that I was eating these burgers and fries twice a week. My consciousness went up about my health on all those days when I wasn’t eating burgers and fries. I ate much healthier.

DUBNER: So wait a minute, Emily. You’re saying that a year of eating cheeseburgers and fries twice a week turned you into a healthier eater overall?

O’MARA: It did. And I didn’t even realize it, because I was so focused on these burgers and fries.

[MUSIC: Mokhov, “Perfect Dream” (from Perfect Dream)]

But the sentiments behind Super Size Me — dramatic and scary, maybe evil — are a lot sexier than Emily O’Mara’s compensatory behaviors. And those sentiments have driven our collective urge to limit the consumption of unhealthy foods. This urge has taken many forms: public exhortations from people like Michelle Obama legislation that requires restaurants to post the calorie counts of the food they sell …

BRIAN ELBEL: It’s posted on the menu board, so you get up there and you can see a Big Mac and what it costs and right next to that you can see how many calories are in that Big Mac.

That’s Brian Elbel.

ELBEL: I’m an associate professor at NYU’s School of Medicine and the NYU Wagner School of Public Policy. My work is in understanding how people make decisions that influence their health and I do a lot of work about obesity and obesity policy in particular.

Which means that Elbel is working in what you might call a growth industry.

ELBEL: About two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight, and it’s a problem that’s been going up over time, particularly in the last 30-40 years. We’re fighting with Mexico to see which of us is going to be the most obese country, but they’re our best competition. We’re number one or two.

New York was the first city to require calorie counts on some restaurant menus, back in 2008, and many cities have since followed. And soon, as part of ObamaCare, the practice is scheduled to go national. The question is: do calorie-counts work? Do they lead people to consume fewer calories?

ELBEL: There is not a lot of evidence that at a population level we’re super calorie-illiterate.

Okay, so that’s problem number one.

ELBEL: We found that when we asked people, “How many calories do you think you should eat in a day?” about a quarter of the people just said, “I don’t know.” Of people who gave us an answer, the modal answer — the most popular answer — was some number less than 500, when the answer is almost assuredly over 2,000 for most people.

There is some evidence, Elbel tells us, that when you put on a menu something like, “The average person should eat 2,000 calories a day” – and then list the calories for each item – people will eat a little bit less.

ELBEL: But they tended to make up for it later in the day, and ended up eating a little bit more than people who didn’t have calories on their menu.

Uh-oh, that sounds like problem number two. There’s also the important fact that all calories are not created equal. Now, this is a much larger discussion than we’re going to have now but, briefly, it’s worth remembering that a calorie is technically a unit of energy — in this case, the energy that fuels the human body. In that regard, a calorie isn’t a very precise proxy for what we think of as “nutrition.”

Two thousand calories in a day that are all carbohydrates will have a very different effect than 2,000 calories of proteins or fats. So, using calories as your only measure of nutrition can be a bit misleading. Like using speed — miles-per-hour — as your only measure of how good a driver you are. There are plenty of good fast drivers and plenty of lousy slow drivers you also need to know how to steer, and hit the brakes.

That said, calories are, at the moment, one of the main metrics we use to assess nutrition and, especially these days, obesity. And so, in anticipation of the federal calorie-count legislation, NYU’s Brian Elbel has been conducting studies in places where the restaurants already post calorie counts.

ELBEL: The basic goals of these studies are to understand: are people’s purchasing behaviors changing in particularly fast-food restaurants after calorie labeling policies begin. So how we do this is by situating research assistants outside fast-food restaurants. People come out, we ask for their receipt and therefore we have an objective measure of the number of calories they’ve purchased. We ask them a few questions about that. We ask them if they saw the information. We do that before and then again after labeling started and we do that in the city that labeling was implemented in and we also do that in a comparison city. We focused on McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s, mostly.

And how effective were the calorie-count signs?

EBEL: So, we found that just over half of the people said they saw the information in New York. And we found that about a quarter of those people said that they actually used it to purchase fewer calories. So, about 12 to 15 percent of people ended up saying, “Yes, I saw the information. Yes, it influenced my choice. And I used it to purchase fewer calories.”

Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute.” Since calories are units of necessary human energy, and since calories cost money, maybe some people use those calorie-count sign to buy more calories. If one sandwich costs $5 and gives me 250 calories and another sandwich costs $5 and gives me 500 calories, well, behold the law of unintended consequences.

[MUSIC: Mamahawk, “Relax…” (from Mamahawk)]

ELBEL: There is this subset, ten or so percent, say that they are using the information to purchase more calories. And in some respects that’s maybe not an irrational thing, right? They want to get the most bang for their caloric buck.

Okay, so some people do use the new calorie counts to buy more calories some use them to buy fewer. What’s the net effect?

ELBEL: We didn’t see any change at the population level in the number of calories purchased.

Meaning that, across the board, the calorie-count signs had no net effect on the calories that people buy.

ELBEL: That’s pretty consistent with other studies that have shown that calories, at the population level, don’t change.

Elbel and his colleagues recently repeated their study, to measure the effect of calorie counts after they’ve been for several years. Turns out that people notice and care about the calorie information even less now than when it was new — which just goes to show how hard it can be to legislate something as personal as what people decide to put in their mouths.

And one more challenge: What kind of person, you might wonder, has the incentive to get the most calories for their money? Probably a low-income person, right? So here’s another paradox: Considering that obesity is pretty common among low-income people — especially low-income women — the calorie-count legislation meant to curb obesity might backfire worst among the very people it’s most designed to help. And, who will these calorie counts work for? What kind of person will see them and take a second thought? Probably the kind of person who’s already counting her calories, or is at least already pretty aware of what calories are and how many should be consumed. Someone like Emily O’Mara, cheeseburger queen.

O’MARA: Yeah, what I realize now that I’m thinking back on it, and I didn’t realize it at the time, is that if you want to get on like a diet, or you want to be more healthy and you talk to dietician or personal trainer, the first thing they’re going to say to you is you need to have a goal. Like, I want to lose 20 pounds in 6 months, or I want to be able to run a marathon in the fall. Well, I had a goal and it was to find the best cheeseburger and fries in Louisville, Ky. And if I had any health-related goals, it was like, “yeah, and try not to gain weight and have your cholesterol go through the roof in the process.” So, my goal really was, was burgers and fries. And then they also tell you things like, “OK, so you need to write down all the foods you eat. You need to count calories. You need to weigh your food. You need to have eight to 11 servings of whole grains. You need to have two to three servings of fruit everyday. Blah, blah, blah.” And instead of being obsessed with all that, I was obsessed with the burgers and the fries. I just feel like I inadvertently kinda just turned, turned the diet conventional wisdom on it’s head. And I disciplined the fun, which sounds like an oxymoron. But it really was fun, and it really was disciplined. And, like I said, I didn’t even worry about like, “Oh, today I’ve gotta have fruits and vegetables. I just ate ’em.” Didn’t even think about it.

O’Mara’s cheeseburger diet – if you even want to call it a diet – was based on what you might call compensatory behavior. If you take on some extra risk in one area of your life, you might need to compensate by adding some precautionary behavior in another area. Some of us are certainly better at this than others, but it is a nice act of faith, isn’t it? Faith in ourselves, and our ability to self-regulate, as opposed to relying on some top-down guideline that may produce the behavior you’re hoping for — or, given the power of the law of unintended consequences, may produce the opposite behavior. There’s one final paradox in our story today. It was only when Emily O’Mara’s Year of the Cheeseburger ended that she started having trouble. After the discipline of the hunt, she became undisciplined.

[MUSIC: Paul Avgerinos, “One Fat Hour”]

O’MARA: I did get a little bit sloppy the further away from this year that I went, in that I didn’t exercise as much. Got back into this pattern where I was just kinda eating whatever I want, whenever I wanted. And this year when the weather started getting warmer, I put on a pair of shorts that I wore last year and they were too tight I almost couldn’t button them up. And I thought back to my eating habits, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, you know what? Last night I had pizza, the night before that I had Taco Bell, I’ve been eating ice cream everyday, I really haven’t been good about my vegetables and my fruits.” And I realized I probably need a new project to get me back on track.

DUBNER: So what are you going to do about it?

O’MARA: I am smack dab in the middle of a new project now where I am trying to find the best pizza in Louisville, Ky. So, I’m still getting together my lists, but I’ve already gone to a few places. My husband is 110 percent on board and supporting this. He is a pizza nut, too.

DUBNER: Do you make burgers at home?

O’MARA: Nope.

DUBNER: Just out, you eat ’em?

O’MARA: Yep.

DUBNER: Is the reason you don’t make burgers at home because they come out in a way that is just so pale in comparison to the burgers that you eat out?

O’MARA: Yeah, typically yes.

DUBNER: Ok. So this is going to solve your problem. You can thank me later. Generations of your family will thank you. OK, here’s what you do. You get yourself some hamburger meat. Fat is good. Two small fists of hamburger meat. Then smush them with your hands. Make them as thin as you can without just totally falling apart. Then, when the pan is super, super, super hot you throw ’em in there and you know what sound that would make. Let me hear you make the sound.

O’MARA: [Sizzling sound]

DUBNER: Nicely done. And now you season them a little bit with just salt. Get under both of ’em and flip ’em . And then you’re going to hear:

O’MARA: [Crackling sound]

DUBNER: One slice of cheese.

O’MARA: Plop.

DUBNER: Now you’re making the cheese blanket.

O’MARA: Plink.

DUBNER: Take the two halves of the bun, and put them in the pan a little bit.

O’MARA: [Pretty decent impression of a bun hitting a pan]

DUBNER: Nicely done. You want to use your spatula to again press each patty down really, really hard to squeeze out all the fat you can, which produces fat extraction and more sizzle.

O’MARA: [Sizzling sound, with gusto]

DUBNER: So, Emily , you coming to New York anytime soon?

O’MARA: Oh, I hope so. I hope so.

DUBNER: When you do, then I get to make my burgers for you. And I know you’re skeptical that homemade burgers can stand up to your cheeseburgers, but will you please give me at least one chance to persuade you?

O’MARA: You have got a deal. Sold.

As it happened, not too long after Emily O’Mara and I spoke by phone, her work did bring her to New York. As promised, she stopped by and she let me make her my best homemade cheeseburgers.

DUBNER: Hi!

O’MARA: I made it!

DUBNER: How are you?

O’MARA: Good, this is my husband Sami.

SAMI ALKHATEEB: Hi.

DUBNER: Nice to meet you. How’s your hunger level?

O’MARA: I am extremely hungry.

ALKHATEEB: She is starving.

DUBNER: OK, I’m going to wash my hands just so you know the hygiene in this restaurant is very good. I’ve got my pan — nothing in it, dry as a bone — and I’m going to make it really hot. Super hot. I’m going to have to turn on the fan, because it’s going to be smoky. And here are my two, roughly — what do you call those size? I call them meatball size. Racquetball! OK? I’m going to smush them really hard, and they’re going in. That’s the sound we like. Now we are going to salt them. Never salt before. OK, I’m going to put a slice of your American cheese because I know you don’t like anything too fancy. Your cheese is getting molten. And that is your —

O’MARA: Oh, wow.

DUBNER: Emily O’Mara, unique patented New York City homestyle cheeseburger, with your fixings.

O’MARA: Oh, wow. I did something right in this world. Let’s see. OK, you want my honest opinion?

DUBNER: Sami, do I want her honest opinion?

ALKHATEEB: Yes, you have to.

DUBNER: Yes, I want your honest opinion.

O’MARA: OK, I’m putting you up against all the cheeseburgers I’ve had in New York City.

DUBNER: OK, not Louisville?

O’MARA: Not Louisville. OK, this one with one bite ranks number two.

DUNBER: Really?

O’MARA: It ranks just below Shake Shack. It ranks above the burger at the Spotted Pig. And I’m totally being honest about that. This is very, very good.

DUBNER: Thank you. Glad you like it!

O’MARA: If I didn’t have dinner reservations, I’d ask for another, seriously.

* * *

[MUSIC: Fox And The Law, “Awake” (from Scarlet Fever)]

Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Kasia Mychajlowycz, with help from Suzie Lechtenberg and Alex Goldmark. Our staff also includes Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Christopher Werth, Alison Hockenberry and Caroline English. If you want more Freakonomics Radio, you can also find us on Twitter and Facebook and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever else you get your free, weekly podcasts.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas behind this episode:

  • Emily O’Mara, software consultant, cheeseburger and pizza critic and self-proclaimed “fast-food foodie” and a “junk-food junkie.” , associate professor of population health and health policy at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.
  • Consumer Estimation of Recommended and Actual Calories at Fast Food Restaurants by Brian Elbel, Obesity (Oct. 2011).
  • Evaluating the Impact of Menu Labeling on Food Choices and Intake by Christina Roberto et al., American Journal of Public Health (Jan. 2010).
  • Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know,NIH Medlineplus (Summer 2012).
  • Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Adults: United States, 2005–2008 by Cynthia L. Ogden et al., National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief Number 50 (Dec. 2010).
    , the No. 1 spot for cheeseburger and fries in Louisville, Kentucky. (May 2007) proclaiming Athens, Texas as the “Original Home of the Hamburger.” designated “home of the first hamburger and first steak sandwich in U.S. history” by the Library of Congress.
  • Pasadena claims its slice of burger history by Joe Piasecki, Los Angeles Times (January 16, 2012).
  • The Olympia Restaurant by Saturday Night Live, Yahoo! Screen video.
  • Dubner’s cheeseburger is a variation of this recipe from The Food Lab.

Joe Roberts

I have been catching up on old episodes. In the episode about socioeconomist Gary Becker we were told that some in the economics establishment belittled Becker by proposing the most inane and trivial study they could think of: "The Economics od Toothbrushing". They were futurists. Had they not been myopic and actually done the study, they would have discovered what we know now that oral health is the number one indicator of overall health and that there is a direct link between socioeconomic class and oral health. The impact of this is spread all across our economy from cost of healthcare to business productivity.

Kressel

Interesting. She disciplined her fun, and last week, you observed that the most successful rock 'n roll bands set clear limits on themselves re business and relationships.

George Pauley

You might be interested in the documentary Fat Head, which is a counter argument to Supersize me. Tom Naughton does pretty much the same thing with very different results than Spurlock's. And Naughton is hilarious in his presentation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Head

Isaac Pooler

I came here to mention this, I'm surprised freakonomics would mention super size me without qualifiers but I guess not everyone has seen Fat Head. After watching Fat Head I kind of get upset when people mention super size as an authority because Tom Naughton does such a great job of scientifically refuting Spurlock's demonizing of McDonald's or fast food in general.

James

Seems O'Mara has supplied yet another data point for my theory that it's not what you eat (within reason) than matters, it's how much you exercise.

Even the AHA admits exercise does not contribute to weight loss. What you eat is important! especially if it is sugar and starch is what you are eating the most.

I'm from Louisville and have tasted many, many of the cheeseburgers here. Emily, you don't sound like a very sophisticated eater . You also sound like kind of a snob with all your "hipster" hating. Stick to your fast food burgers while the rest of us enjoy the Holy Grale burger -- too "expensive" for you and probably too many hipsters.

Emily O'Mara

Thanks for the Holy Grale burger shout-out! I did include Holy Grale in my study. The burger was AMAZING - I gave it 25 out of 25 possible points, would have given it more if possible.

Larry Brown

Emily,
I'm live Jeffersonville, IN and love Dizzy Whizz. Can you give some more of your top 10-20 placees to get cheeseburgers. Also is there anywhere I could find your list? Thanks!

Kenn ga

In Santa Fe, NM I would recommend Real Burger, nine bucks and some change for a great tortilla burger with green chile and cheese, ribbon fries and a drink in a hidden hole in the wall family run place. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Original-Real-Burger/258042614292287
or
Santa Fe Bite, always a fantastic burger. Used to be 'Bobcat Bite' about 14 miles out of town and a line that seemed to always be long but quick moving. Recently in the top 5 best burgers in the USA.
http://santafebite.com/Lunch_amp_Dinner/index.html

As a starving college student, I frequently use the listed calorie counts in order to increase the calories/$ efficiency of my money.

Then again I don't have an obesity problem. If anything I have the opposite: it's hard for me to get up to 2000 calories a day.

Ronnie Hay

Just wanted to comment about calories changing purchasing behavior. I am a decently healthy person who is active so I don't worry about calories that much, but I do look at the calorie counts on the menu.

When I was at Panera bread a couple of weeks ago, I purchased the highest calorie count item on the menu on purpose. When I look at the sparse, healthy plates, I didn't want to leave hungry.

When I am at a typical fast food restaurant, I tend to purchase lower calorie items. My association with the calories is brand specific. If the brand represents fresh and healthy, I buy more calories. If the brand is known not to be healthy, I'll consume less.

Interesting how marketing and brand positioning can alter our behavior in unexpected ways.

Not gonna lie, this is the first Freakonomics episode I didn't like. I thought Emily took away from the interesting points they were trying to make. The whole discussion of her opinion on burgers and the grading scale was stupid and at best arbitrary - grading the quality of a burger by the quality of the fries? That's not judging the burger. Everything on that part of the story was arbitrary and uninteresting. Unfortunately Emily made up the bulk of the episode. I love this podcast, but boy did this one not keep up the quality of information and data that I've come to expect.

Elise Richer

This episode was one of the most boring episodes so far. The food reviews of Emily O'Mara did not make particularly interesting audio. Who vetted this?

Josiah

I hope we get an update about the pizza. I have a feeling that will have a much more negative impact on health.

Beef can raise your good cholesterol and lower your triglycerides, so I would guess that is why she showed improvements in her blood tests.

Most pizza has significantly less meat in it, so we'll see what happens.

It is well know that obesity and poverty travel together. One reason, is that fattening carbohydrates are subsidized through the farm bill and high quality food is not, therefore more expensive.
Read: Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes
He covers this topic pretty well

Eric Sodicoff

As a member of the Obesity Medicine Association. I feel I must chime in here. Ms. O'Mara's cholesterol results are to be expected.
It is well documented that HDL And LDL goes up with consumption of saturated fat.

Read. Nina Teicholz's book The big fat surprise. thebigfatsurprise.com/about-nina-teicholz/ where she covers this topic in extreme detail.

Total cholesterol is a meaningless number. LDL cholesterol is less important to know than LDL-
particle number.

A calorie is not a calorie. Eating less sugar and carbs is the best thing you can do.

I totally love you guys but you are guilty of perpetuating diet myths here to a certain extent.


Http://burgerdays.com

Up first was Louis' Lunch in New Haven, who lay claim to being the "birthplace of the hamburger sandwich." Now that's some historical shit right there. The story goes that in 1900, a guy stopped by in a rush and wanted something to eat on the run. Ol' Louis slapped together ground steak trimmings between two slices of bread, and boom, the hamburger was born. Is it true? Was it really the first burger? No clue. But it works for us. First thing about this spot-- it's small. And by small, I mean freakin' tiny. If 20 people could sit down and eat in the place, I'd be impressed. Fortunately, when we went, there were only six other people there. Score. Second, even the most indecisive person won't have much trouble with the menu. You get two choices: hamburger or cheeseburger, with or without tomatoes or onions. That's it. Don't be looking around for any ketchup or mustard either. There is none. And don't even ask. For sides, you can get chips or potato salad, no fries. (and with no ketchup, what's the point of fries anyway?) Not much has changed since Louis first hooked it up in 1900, the burgers are cooked in the same antique broilers from back then and served between, not a bun, two slices of white toast. Ta da, there's your burger. We ordered up two cheese works and two salads (that's the lingo, learn it). Since there wasn't a crowd, our wait was maybe 5 minutes. Not bad at all. The burger ain't much to look at it-- it's a patty on bread, served on a paper plate. And because of the vertical cooking, they don't use cheese slices, instead they slather on something resembling Cheese Whiz. But what it's lacking in aesthetics it makes up for in pure hamburger taste. When you scrape away all the toppings and sauces that make up most of the burgers out there today, you get to the soul of the sandwich. The beef. That's the star, or should be, of any burger. And that's what Louis' highlights here.

Louis' old broilers can do it up right.

Ted's Restaurant

Ted's Restaurant in Meriden, a bit father north than Louis', is known for their steamed burgers. We never had a steamed burger before, and honestly, never really thought about it. Turns out, they were invented in the 30's and only exist in Connecticut. Again, leave it to CT to school us with the burger knowledge. Like Louis', Ted's is a small joint. Open since 1959, the inside has only a counter and a couple booths, most of the seating is outside on the sidewalk. Orders are placed at the counter where you can get a burger with or without cheese, though, if you don't get the cheese, there's really no point in getting anything. The cheese, a blend of Vermont cheddar and other undisclosed stuff, is steamed just like the burgers, resulting in a cheesy, soupy, gooey mix that is generously poured over your order. It's the real deal.

Looks aside, we found the burger itself to be surprisingly juicy, and since most gets drained off during the steaming process, it was relatively grease-free. Despite the juiciness, however, it was still too done for my liking and I struggled to find the flavor of the beef. As for the bun, the Kaiser didn't do it for me. It was too big, it couldn't contain the amporphous blob of a burger and was just plain blah. What I did love, however, was the cheese. It was f**cking great. It alone dramatically increased my opinion of the burger as a whole. If they gave me a spoon, I would've eaten a bowl of the stuff. And then probably ordered another. It was the highlight of the day. Don't bother getting bacon, however, the two strips served with my burger were limp and soggy-- like the bacon you'd find at any fast food chain. Not worth it. On the side, they have home fries that are seriously good. Like the burgers, they're available with or without cheese. Unlike the burgers, they're just fine without it, but hell, the cheese is so good, you can't pass it up here either. Final verdict? As long as there's a healthy (we use the term loosely) heaping of molten cheese on 'em, Ted's steamed burgers are worth a shot. Ted's Restaurant | 1046 Broad Street, Meriden, CT | 203-237-6660 | www.tedsrestaurant.com

Shady Glen

Live from Hill Valley. Where's Biff?

This cheese needs some Cialis.

The bun is a typical commercial, white, squishy-type deal and fits the burger well. The patties are small, only four ounces, so the cheese take center stage. It teeters on the edge of overwhelming the meat, but just enough of the beef sneaks through that it works. I also added some raw onions to bring a little more flavor to the mix. But even with four slices of cheese, one burger wasn't quite enough to fill me up. I ordered the platter with crinkle-cut fries and onion rings (both were ok, nothing special), and could've definitely eaten more. In retrospect, I would have doubled up on the burger and skipped the sides. While we came for the beef, they're also known for their homemade ice cream. Ordered a vanilla shake and they hooked it up. It was one of the best I've had in a while-- and that includes the stuff from the D.C. joints. Solid win for CT here. Bottom line is that Shady Glen knows how to do a greasy, cheesy burger. The Bernice Original is not going to blow you away, but the fried cheese gives it a distinction that stands out from the typical diner offering-- and it tastes good too. Just remember to order two. Shady Glen | 840 East Middle Turnpike, Manchester, CT | 860-649-4245 Between Louis', Ted's and Shady Glen, combined they've got 225 years of burger serving experience. That's a long-ass time in the biz. If you can do your thing, and do it well like these guys are, you're obviously doing it right. Were any of the burgers the best we ever had? No, and it wasn't really even close. But were they good? Yup. And we're glad we had them. While the offerings from these three Connecticut veterans fall short of our "Best Burger" title, all three joints do have their own chapters in burger history and are certainly worthy of inclusion on everybody's burger bucket list.


Watch the video: Smoky Chili Bacon Cheeseburger Recipe! Stuffed Cheeseburger. Ballistic Burgers (July 2022).


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