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Is it a burger or is it a meatloaf patty??..

In the last several months I have heard it rather authoritatively stated that "you can't mix a bunch of stuff into your [ground meat]...if you do that you are just making meat loaf...it's not really a burger." I first heard this from Bobby Flay in a rerun episode of "Throwdown" three or so months ago. Then I heard Tom Colicchio say the same thing in an episode of "Top Chef" in this last season (actually, Colicchio didn't say it himself---but it was noted on a number of comment cards related to that week's challenge after Elia Aboumrad had the audacity to mix prosciutto, parsley, and shallots into her ground beef). This weekend, a co-worker (and mindless sycophant of any celebrity chef) said the exact same thing.

To me, this smacks of a "chef-ification" of a formerly (and properly)very loosely bandied-about word. Probably millions of us have tasted, if not grown up on, burgers made with Lipton Powdered Onion Soup Mix mixed into the meat. But apparently those those things my dad grilled every summer weekend at the lake weren't burgers after all. Eddie Murphy did a classic stand-up routine on his mama's burgers that had "onions and peppers and all kinds of nasty shit stickin' outta [the patties]." Here in Minnesota, we have classic sandwich (but not a burger, apparently) that consists of a ground beef patty filled with cheese---lovingly known as a "juicy lucy."

This is bullshit. If you start adding eggs and/or breadcrumbs, or other starchy filler, then I could MAYBE see the point. But just because someone adds onions or peppers (as did virtually everyone I knew in my South Dakota hometown), it does not make the end result any less of a burger.

I am very much for calling things what they ACTUALLY are...I'm actually a bit of a prick about it. But this is incorrect and a hijacking of the word "burger" in my opinion. Any thoughts?

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  1. I saw "Throwdown" and was wondering the same thing myself.

    If you make a burger with something other than beef, can you still call it a burger?

    I make a turkey burger with panko breadcrumbs and seasonings. The turkey needs a binder or it will fall apart. It's delicious, and I serve it with guacamole and a bun. It sure LOOKS like a burger, but it is not beef, and I add a filler.

    Hmmm....

    1. Well, it's not a meatLOAF patty. That makes even less sense. Here's where I see a difference. If the additives emphasize the meat, it's a burger... if they start really changing the texture, it's something else. I used to make burgers with a seasoned soy sauce and saltines, but not so many that it took on a meatloaf texture. Just enough to hold some of the juices. Non-chow type people would never know it was in there.

      2 Replies
      1. re: amkirkland

        I'm with you. I agree that to be a good burger, the added stuff needs to still be about the meat. When you start changing the texture, you're losing the burger quality. However, I must say that burger also is about shape. If it's that flat patty shape, I think it will be called a burger. Think of black bean burgers or veggie burgers, etc. I guess burger means "meat or meat-substitute mixed with flavors or seasonings (or not if it's meat) shaped into a patty and cooked in some way that retains the shape." I don't think that they are all necessarily good, but I think that anything of this type can legitimately be called a "burger."

        1. re: amkirkland

          In defense of my use of the phrase "meatloaf patty"---I felt it was necessary to get my point across. I didn't want anyone to read my post and have a vision of an actual loaf (or slice of a loaf) in their head. I felt that the phrase "patty consisting of a meat mixture similar to meatloaf" was wordy.

          I completely agree with your criteria: that additives which enhance or emphasize the meat itself are permissible. Any dramatic changes in texture are not. But it still begs the question---what do you call it if you do all the forbidden things mentioned, yet form it into a patty, grill it, and serve it on a bun????

          Do I hear the phrase "meatloaf patty?"

        2. That depends on if you choose to listen to those over-the-top "celebrities" or not and whether or not you decide that what they say actually means anything.

          I choose to not listen to them. And what they say goes right over my head. They're overblown, overpaid and over-adored to a point where it just makes me ill. A burger is a burger, and meatloaf is something totally different, at least in my house.

          1. i once saw an episode of bobby flay's show where he made a "kimchi" that involved peanut oil and several other very extreme departures from the spirit of kimchi. so if he takes issue with people dressing up their burgers, please pay him no heed. personally i am totally satisfied with an all beef patty. however, i wouldn't turn down a burger that had some sort of binder, or cheese, or prosciutto, or herbs, or anything. put it between a bun with some sliced onion, lettuce, cheese, bacon, or whatever, and call me happy.

            1. I saw if you add egg or another binder it ceases being a burger. Thats not to say its wrong but the texture and taste changes it immensely. If i was served what was called a burger and it tasted like a meatball on a bun, I'd be upset.