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Whatever happened to the 'old fashioned hamburger'?

  • c

I know I'll probably get slammed for this but here goes.

Maybe it's just me. But I don't understand what seems to me to be the current trend and obsession of finding the so-called 'perfect burger'. And that perfect burger seems to be a combination of a "mile high...sometimes multi pattied multi cheesed... and or with a plethora of exotic condiments" added burger so that you have to smash it down with your hands just to get your mouth around it. Yes, I've commented about this on several posts where some chowhounders obsessively and endlessly are running around from trendy upscale restaurant to trendy upscale restaurant seeking out this/their idea of a perfect burger and spending what has to be considered a fortune on something that is just another attempt to make a simple cheap food more expensive and complicated than it needs to be.

Sure I understand that like everything else food, the preparation of food, and specific food items over time are subject to change. And I understand there are those for whom searching out and trying all these over the top exotic burgers is what they like and like to do. But at least for me I look at it as some changes are good, and some are not so good. I find it hard to understand how great a hamburger can be that you have to smash it down thinning the bottom bun in which the patty lies into the patty's ultra thin doughie grease pit.

I just think a burger shouldn't be anymore exotic than adding some bacon and avocado to a great char broild cheese burger with fresh lettuce & tomato and a good Thousand Island dressing all on a toasted sesseme seed bun. And the hamburger patty doesn't need to be so thick as to overwhelm the other ingredients of the sandwich. And man, do I miss what use to be considered one of the great burger dinner combos...The Big Boy Burger Combo. A great tasting burger with that red hamburger relish...fresh crispy fries, and dinner salad with that great Bob's Big Blue Cheese dressing! Yes I know it was a 'double patty' burger, but you could still get your mouth around the burger without smashing it down. Yeah, I'm dating myself but hey I know a great old fashioned burger when I taste one!

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  1. "...just another attempt to make a simple cheap food more expensive and complicated than it needs to be."

    Not to mention more calorie-laden!

    1. I agree. But to me the "best" burger is one grilled at home, placed on a bun, salt, pepper, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion....nothing more! If I want a "great" burger, I prepare it at home. There is only one fast food burger I'll eat, and that's Wendy's Single with ONLY the above mentioned additions. That's not a frequent stop, either. Only when I'm starving, and want something fast, doesn't kill a budget, and is simple, down to earth food.

      1. In the LA area, there's a place called TOPZ (not to be confused with Tops) and they have awesome "old fashioned" burgers. Even their buns are great. I think they are franchised and may have a few more around the country. If you can find one, they are great.

        1. CRT

          your post did bring a smile to jfood's face. when he read the title he thought it would be a real old fashioned request for a burger on a roll with maybe some cheese. But jfood, who has been eating hamburgers for 50 years never would have included avocado and "old fashioned" in the same sentence but it sounds really, really good.

          So if the definition of "old fashioned" is lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, avocado with some thousand island dressing on a sesame bun, jfood is jealous of the neighborhood you grew up in. Sounds like an awesome combo.

          But in jfood-land an old fashioned burger is bacon cheese and ketchup on a roll. And these are served in casa jfood all the time. And jfood agrees that there are very few items better than a good old fashioned burger.

          11 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            See now, MY interpretation of an Old Fashioned Burger is:
            The bun, the burger, spicy brown mustard. (You know the one.)

            1. re: Gio

              oh boy. the dispute in casa jfood is exactly the mustard versus ketchup on burgers. mrs jfood votes mustard and jfood ketchup.

              and for a great old fashioned burger jfood recommends Cammelia Grill in NOLA.

              1. re: jfood

                Well then, I'm in mrs jfood's camp, happily.. Grilled is best too!

                1. re: Gio

                  Bah humbug to the 'stard. :-)).

                  Agreed that old fashioned also means cooked on a scorching BBQ grill. place the burger on, leave it alone until juice appears on top, flip once, cooked to med-rare. let rest for a couple of minutes and serve. tough to beat.

                2. re: jfood

                  You're both wrong ;>

                  The proper application is a little yellow mustard and a big blob of ketchup. Sharp cheddar cheese, bun scorched a bit by the grill, lettuce, tomato, thin slivers of red onion. And maybe a few pickled jalapeno slices.

                  1. re: dalaimama

                    I was with you up until the jalapeno slices. Substitute in a bit of pickle relish and it's perfect.

                    1. re: dalaimama

                      "wrong"? Very un-dalai-like ms mama. :-))

                      every hamburger that brings a smile is a "right" burger. If you like pickled jalapeno slices, go for it (jfood can't remember any place serving those in the 60's, but hey jfood's from NJ).

                      That's why when jfood serves a platter of burgers he serves plain and cheese and then places on the table, onion, fried onions, tomato, lettuce, bacon, mayo, ketchup, mustard. Let the buyer choose and enjoy.

                      1. re: jfood

                        By the way jfood, I tried the water in the burger thing and they came out great! Thanks...

                        1. re: valerie

                          Glad to help, now try it in meatballs (they use more). The smiles are worth every piece of grief you will receive when you tell people the "secret" ingredient is water.

                3. re: jfood

                  Bingo, jfood. That (a grilled medium-rare burger, bacon, sharp cheese, and ketchup on a roll) is the epitome of a "perfect burger".

                4. crt, I guess I'm old too. I totally remember the old Big Boy combo at Bob's and it WAS really good. I even remember the drive-in with car hops (grew up in Burbank)! Now I settle for In-n-Out to satisfy any similar craving.

                  But for a good, old-fashioned, homestyle burger, you should head up to Houston's in Irvine. It's a char-grilled 1/2 pound of chuck, hand patted fresh on site, cooked as you like it (medium for me) with cheddar cheese, on a sesame bun with a bit of mayo, a bit of mustard, chopped red onions, shredded lettuce, tomato and pickle slices. Customize it however you want. Great skinny fries, too. Not cheap, but pretty much the best burger around IMHO. We eat there weekly, and get a burger there at least once a month (we're in south county).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: FoodWineTravel

                    I agree--Houston's has the best burger. Period.

                  2. Well, I'm in the South. If I go out for a burger, I want a not-so-thick piece of meat, cooked on the same flat iron grill where the cafe fried their bacon that morning. It should be placed on a steamed bun with mustard, slaw, chile, and a slice of sweet onion. If I'm making a good burger at home, I want a thicker burger, cooked over CHARCOAL, placed on a grilled bun with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a slice of sweet onion.

                    1. What I grew up eating was the hamburgers my dad or grandpa cooked on the grill, with your choice of the basic toppings: cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. That's about as old-fashioned as you can get.

                      If we went out to get a burger it was either to A&W or Sonic, or maybe down to Tulsa to Goldie's for a Special. That's just a basic burger, well-seasoned and cooked to order. Last time I went there they had a pickle bar, but when I was little they'd just bring you a dish of pickles on your table, and you'd enjoy the pickles before you got your burger and then put them on it, too, if you wanted. I like my Goldie's hamburgers with cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayo and bread & butter pickles.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: revsharkie

                        I do have to agree that Sonic does a pretty decent burger for a chain. Almost forgot about them, and you truely can "have it YOUR way". I didn't grow up eating pickles on hamburgers, so I still find the taste of hot/warm limp pickles pretty disagreeable. Here in the south, we did also eat cole slaw on burgers at our favorite local drive-in, but never at home. I have never been a fan of kethup on anything, so that's not really appealing to me either. Guess even as a kid I was a bit different in my taste preferences. And, we basically had mayo on every kind of sandwich instead of mustard.

                        1. re: Deepster

                          I always got a Hickory Burger at Sonic growing up, but evidently they don't all have those. I can't get one at Ft. Dodge (the nearest Sonic to where I live), but they do still have them at my hometown Sonic. I think it was pretty much lettuce, onions, and barbecue sauce.

                      2. To me an "old fashioned" burger conjures "depression" burgers[which just so happen to be my favorite type of burger: lettuce, onion, I add tomato, no pickles for me(tho' pickles are typical with the DB), and yellow mustard: no ketchup(hell naw) and no mayo(mayo only goes with high end, rare-ish burgers...otherwise it's just there to add an obsequious unctuousness///to perhaps obscure the less than select beef)...]

                        I like mayo(rarely), but definitely not on my burger.

                        oh...and no cheese...ugh American cheese on a burger! American cheese works inbetween toasted slices of Wonderbread and that's it...otherwise...gag...

                        okay, okay...I'll put up with it in an In n Out burger(but what's worse than barely-melted American cheese on a mystery meat patty? Ugh...that congealed, gluey...yuck).

                        now outside of a few select chains just try ordering a Depression-era burger and watch the consternation bloom: no cheese!? No special sauce/mayo/ketchup?! And some places(I'm talking DQ) don't even offer a burger with onions...so they have to chop them special(I stopped ordering burgers with onions at DQ once I realized this oddity)

                        it seems most burger chains assume their customers want their hamburgers smothered in glop and/or quantity over quality to the extent they alienate patrons such as myself who are perfectly happy with a more minimalist construction

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: aelph

                          and speaking of Sonic: at least the Texas and Ohio ones always offered what's your quintessential "Depression-era Burger": bun, patty, lettuce, onion, pickle, mustard. It was, iirc the Number 2. I always appreciated being able to drive-up and simply order a
                          #2! No subtract this/add that bs.

                          1. re: aelph

                            Wow - bringing back memories.

                            Dell's Hamburgers in my hometown in the 1950s. $.25 burgers. Thin grilled patty, buttered buns grilled on the same grill, bottoms then pressed onto patty. The only toppings: dill pickle slices, chopped lettuce (with or without chopped onion), and mustard. Didn't hear them called depression burgers though. Damn good. No fries, just chips and soda. No cheeseburgers, just burgers. Great memory. Thanks!


                            1. re: Ed Dibble

                              That wouldn't be Dell's Hamburgers in Medford, OR, would it? In the early 70s my brother and I played on the little league team they sponsored. Whenever we won a game, everybody on the team got a free burger. Hadn't thought about Dell's in 30 years...

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                Oh yeh, Dell's in Medford. Didn't realize it lasted into the 70s. By then I was in Columbus OH in grad school. So this thread brought memories to someone else. Great.


                                1. re: Ed Dibble

                                  Ed and Alan. Dell's shack actually survived til the 90's, bought & leveled by Lithia.
                                  Daughter started it up again and now it is at Crater Lake Ave. & Roberts Road.
                                  In addition, Jasper's on N. Pacific Highway got bought by a guy and now makes fresh ground daily burgers of all types. A Rogue Valley burger revival.Good stuff.

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    Thanks. I appreciate the links. I also have read some of your posts about Rogue Valley food. I haven't been back to the valley since my brother moved up to Oregon City 15 years ago. I'm sure I wouldn't recognize much any more.

                          2. How about a good old 2/3 lb ground chuck buger with a good piece of chedder and sautteed onions!! Now that's all the hamburger I either need or want! Almost forgot, it must be grilled to med. rare!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Mother of four

                              This is why I consider us lucky here in Canada to have the Harvey's chain. You choose the toppings (for me, tomato, onion and hot peppers), not all that guck mixed together.

                            2. For me this is a golden era for the burger. There are several places that I go to that serve truly a memorable burger. And what makes the burger memorable are primarily the meat and the bun. Having been raised in a drug store and fast food burger culture I immediately noticed the profound quality of the meat versus places like that (of my youth). The meat on it's own would be delicious at today's places. Secondly the bread (at the better joints) isn't a kaiser roll or anything too bready. It is generally a lighter bun that has been grilled; adding some really nice textural contrast. Then come the toppings; usually freshly prepared smoked bacon (pungent aroma) a modest amount of sharp cheddar and at one of my favorite places, a roasted jalopeno. Add to that the perfection that is the belgian frite (with the customary mayonnaise) and there is no way that anyone can compare this to their father's burger. Outstanding.

                              PS - All burgers are under $10.

                              1. grilled burger a la JFoods water method, toasted bun, slice of sharp american melted. Squish lightly.

                                1. Here in San Francisco there are a number of places to get a good "old fashioned" burger. There's Moe's on Grant - a really good burger grilled over a fire. Bill's Place on Clement where they start with a good lump of fresh ground beef and get delightfully creative with the toppings. The burgers are named for local celebrities. Then there's the Irving Street Grill on.... Irving Street of course. Nothing fancy, just a good burger. And a couple more I could mention. And not one of them a chain!!! When I think chain restaurant burgers I think of "Fast Food Nation". No thank you!

                                  1. It's all relative to personal preference, age, where you grew up and a bunch of other factors. I never thought of the Big Boy Combo as an old fashion burger or classic but they were good.

                                    Any way, there's a Bob's Big Boy in Honolulu. http://www.bigboyhawaii.com/

                                    I have no idea if the BB combo is any good there because if I'm in Hawaii I'm not looking for burgers. I'm looking for fish, regional or Hawaiian food. If you're a fan however, it's probably worth a side trip just to see. I think they're pretty close to the airport.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: ML8000

                                      Well I don't know when the Bob's Big Boy Combo meal was created. But the burger that came with it was created by Bob Wian back 1936 when he started his restaurant chain Bob's Big Boy. If that isn't considered a 'classic' or 'old fashioned' then I don't know what is. I couldn't track down when the 'Combo' got its start. Even if it was sometime in the 1950s, which I'm guessing it may have been, I think we could consider the Combo a 'classic' as well. As far as the term 'a classic' goes I don't think the 'age' of something is all that relative. Hence the term (it was an) 'instant classic'.

                                      1. re: crt

                                        Again, it's a matter of personal preference and defining classic. Obviously it means something different each person.

                                        Perhaps when I last had a BB combo it had already gone down hill (in the 80s). I remember that it was good but the patties were average, on the thin side. The dressing and buns complimented the patties really well but the beef and beef flavor didn't stand out. I thought it was good but to me it had more sandwich going on then burger. For a classic burger, to me, the patty has to over take the bun, be the star as it were.

                                    2. To me, the best burger joints are the ones that gleefully ignore the 'lean' meat trend - many places are serving lean ground beef patties. The burger tastes dry and bland.

                                      IMO, the burger has to be made with fatty chuck and fried on cast iron (not grilled/broiled). If done right, all it will need is a lightly toasted white burger bun and mustard. Add onions, tomato, lettuce if you want to get fancy.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: fmed

                                        Your 'fatty chuck' burger is basically the theme of Alton Brown's 'Buger of the Gods'. And your right the ground chuck will produce a more juicy burger, especially if one doesn't smash the patty with a spatula while cooking (don't touch that patty except to flip it!!!). Although the Burger of the Gods recipe, besides calling for (8 ozs.) ground chuck (for juciness), also calls for (8 ozs.) of ground serlion (for flavor). I haven't tried this but I know people who have and they swear by it. I did see the episode where he prepared these and he said, like you, one virtually does not need to add anything else but the bun or the 'get fancy' condiments if you like.

                                        1. re: crt

                                          I think the fat is definitely what's missing from these modern burgers. On the Alton recipe...I wouldn't bother with the sirloin. Chuck tastes far more beefy than sirloin. The addition of sirloin would just dilute the flavour.

                                          Another thing that will improve the burger is to use a coarse ground plate on the meat grinder. Better yet - chop-grind the meat using two Chinese cleavers (one in each hand). This will give the patty a toothsome texture (instead of the "sausagey" rubberiness that I often find in some gourmet patties).

                                          I'm off to the butcher's...all this burger talk is making me hungry.

                                          1. re: fmed

                                            Coarse grind is exactly what Alton called for and did in the episode. Actually top serloin and serloin are not as tender as other cuts from the loin but they do tend to be more flavorful. Cuts from the loin require very little work to taste great. Indeed steak lovers consider it almost a sacrilege to marinate them, or to cook them beyond medium rare. So maybe that's why Alton's recipe calls for the serlion. As I said I've not tried it but people I know that have swear by the moist juiciness and flavor of the Burger of the Gods.

                                        2. re: fmed

                                          Mustard!? AAAACK!!

                                          If someone served me a mustarded-up burger and a glass of diet cola, there would be nothing edible in front of me and I'd be peeved about it for the rest of the day.

                                        3. the only thing that needs to be on a burger is: bottom bun, meat(the best meat you can find), salt, pepper, top of bun. the meat should be all the flavor you need.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: picklepot

                                            This would then be an open sandwich. AKA open face sandwich or open faced sandwich.

                                            1. re: crt

                                              crt, you may want t o re-read. picklepost has "top of bun".

                                          2. Condiments are such a personal matter - I prefer my burger served with mustard, period (I really don't like sweet condiments on beef, though I will accept bread-and-butter pickles), and I like mayo but don't insist on it. I think the perfect burger, of whatever size, is a good hand-formed patty of coarsely-ground chuck, cooked on either a flat surface or a grill pan. A bit of lettuce, a thin slice of GOOD tomato or none at all, a thin slice of raw onion and lightly toasted buns. If it's a cheeseburger I want some dill pickle, too.

                                            1. Y'all made me so hungry I had to break for lunch before commenting...

                                              When I read the "old fashioned" part what came to mind was the diner/greasy spoon burger from days of yore...Midwest beef on a sizzling grill, so hot that the burger is still med. rare inside and best of all a crispy charred surface, soft white bun, minimal toppings of your choice...with handcut fries or tater tots.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: archangelcat

                                                Probably because that was exactly the burger I had in mind - Midwest beef and all. Sitting there trying to make my bottle of Coke last until the burger gets to me...yum!

                                              2. Also great is the patty melt...way too many calories though..

                                                Will, you're right about the GOOD tomato only...why is it that at any fast food place I always get the end of the tomato with the stem part?

                                                I have one other recipe that's just a basic salt and pepper seasoned chuck, but before frying a tbl. or so of chopped white onion is pressed into the patty and that side goes down in the hot pan, then press more into the top half before flipping. simple and righteous.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: archangelcat

                                                  You can tell them to do that chopped onion thing at Bill's in San Francisco. It's a good way to improve a burger.

                                                2. For me the ultimate is a nice thick moist beef patty, I prefer to use ground sirloin, marinated with worcestershire(sp?), s&p, and minced onion, grilled to medium, placed on lightly buttered and toasted potato bun, topped with mayo, ketchup, lettuce, and thick slices of tomato and vidalia, or as Pappaw say Vy-dalia onion. This is what I was taught a proper burger was by my Pappaw and, according to him, the only way he has been eating them for 60 years. Nirvana. A couple of times, in the privacy of my own home and far out of sight of the family elders, I have enjoyed this same patty basted with hickory and brown sugar bbq sauce and topped with heaps of grilled onions, but don't tell anyone!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: ArikaDawn

                                                    All right, I'm going to have to go to In N' Out for lunch today!! LOL
                                                    BTW, for the OP, you do know that you can get Bob's Big Boy Dressing at the store, right? You can pretty much recreate a Bob's Big Boy combo at home --

                                                  2. I certainly agree. One trend that leaves me cold is the "gourmet burger" trend. Give me an old fashioned greasy cheesy any day - none of that fancy schmancy stuff.

                                                    1. I think you make some great points! But with any classic, there's always going to be a million different ways of making it.

                                                      Take the chocolate chip cookie for example...sounds simple enough but there are about a million and two different recipes for making a chocolate chip cookie! And I assure you they don't all come out the same way.

                                                      So you just have to take your pick. Which one works for you? You stick with the old fashioned burger (which I agree I prefer) and let those burger "boosters"out their have their burger. :)

                                                      1. Perfect "old-fashioned" burger is as follows: Grilled the way my husband does 'em with a white bun, mayo on one side, spicy brown mustard on the other side, cheddar cheese melted on the meat, a little lettuce, dill pickles, 3 or 4 onion rings and salt & pepper. There!