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Jun 8, 2014 03:21 PM

Can hamburgers be gourmet?

I know that just about anything can be gourmet-ified but can it be taken seriously? No one would take gourmet fruity pebbles or something like that seriously but maybe burgers. And while we're talking about it what about some gourmet French fry options?

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  1. Where have you been the last decade?

    For fries, truffle (not truffle oil) fries are pretty damn good.

    11 Replies
    1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

      I live in southern Missouri. The nearest 'good' restaurant is two hours away and it's a pacific rim seafood kind of place. I live in what you'd call a culinary desert. The reason I ask is because I got a food trailer recently and am going to make hamburgers. I feel a bit stifled by just burgers and fries and was wanting to maybe have something a little different. Also a decade ago I was twelve lol

      1. re: Drewstinkcheese

        Ahh, I see. The rest of the country has been going through a burger craze lately.
        Congratulations on your food trailer, hamburgers are a good choice I think. I was only 14 a decade ago
        I would read up a ton about the various styles of burgers over on Serious Eats

        I really like the smash style as it maximizes the crust. It is also easy to do those kind of burgers in a high volume environment. Then again I like a nice medium rare 8 oz burger just the same, but I'd do either one or the other.

        I'd consider making "American," cheese in house out of good quality cheeses. It is super easy, all you need is sodium citrate, or sodium hexametaphosphate, or a mix of the 2. There are lots of recipes out there though. This kind of melty cheese goes great with a smash style burger.

        Also, if the only good restaurant is 2 hours away, you need to consider the palates of the locals you will be selling burgers too, truffle fries may not be a great idea. Do you think there is a good market for gourmet burgers? I think if it is a culinary desert, people might balk at high priced high quality burgers. Also, if you are in a culinary desert, how are you expecting to get high quality ingredients?

        1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

          What a link! Thanks. I honestly don't love burgers as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy LOVES them) but they are super easy to make and cook on the fly. I am going to do serious research on the link you sent. I also think in house made cheese is an added bonus people will really appreciate. I don't know how to do that yet but I am adventurous. Thanks for your congratulations as well as your input.

          1. re: Drewstinkcheese

            Making your own pimento cheese? Brilliant.
            Making your own actual cheese like cheddar? A huge pain in the a$$ that could go very very wrong.....

            1. re: Ttrockwood

              I'm not talking about making cheddar. I'm talking about mixing cheeses with water/milk/beer/iquid and sodium citrate, mixing it up, letting it set and cutting it into slices.
              Definitely not cheap, but you can get any kind of cheese to have the melting properties of kraft. Opens up some interesting doors, and customers will be impressed.

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                2 more sites you may be interested in:


                Good for looking into trends, and burger business has some good data occasionally.

                You sound like a smart guy, I can't wait to see how this goes, definitely has some potential. Might be good to always feature one burger with ingredients you get that day at the farmers market, and feature the farmer you get it from, people seem to eat that shit up. Plus it's nice to know that I can go buy the same stuff you are using in your burgers. I always wanted to start a food stand on my college campus but for various reasons I never did. PhilD has offered some great advice in here.

                1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                  Thank you very much. I agree PhilD is a smart guy too. I think the featured burger with daily ingredients is smart. I was thinking about maybe having one or two burgers (maybe one classical and one 'special' or 'feature') and maybe some taco, a sandwich, and a salad. Diversity. People that shop at farmer's markets are totally into cross producers teaming up you're very right.

                  1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                    Thanks for the compliment.

                    One further thought (then out to enjoy the winter sun) it may be sensible to really focus your menu.

                    First, you will have a tight cooking space which makes cooking lots of different things hard, but second and maybe more important, you need to build your reputation on something you do really really well. If you cover too many bases chances are you will deliver averagely good across all of them.

                    Third, too many products can increase your wastage and that's what kills your profitability (unless each product uses the same ingredients). If you have lots of different things you can guarantee that not all will sell consistently from day to day. One day you have excess chicken, the next it's excess tacos, and everything you throw away is money from your pocket.

            2. re: EatFoodGetMoney

              When we moved to AR in the late 70s there was a smashed burger place we loved. Patties hung over the bun a good half inch all around. Now there's a Freddie's steak burger that's also flat (but small) that stays packed. So that style does seem popular in part of the Ozarks.

            3. re: Drewstinkcheese

              You go, Drew!

              If your area is anything like my wife's stomping grounds (S. Dakota), turning out great food isn't enough. Our experience is that people in the hinterlands tend to stay away in droves unless your stuff is better than the competition AND comparably priced. If you're competing with the minimart, McD or a "Farmer's Lunch"-type diner, you're gonna have to sharpen your pencil...

              I second the rec to keep things simple, and I'd add to keep things somewhat *familiar*--e.g., no arugula and call your aoli "garlic mayo". Never underestimate the power of a real hot dog/corndog, either, for people who don't have access to decent sausages.

              I wish you all the luck in the world, Dude.


          2. I have no idea what fruity pebbles are, some kind of junk food? (Don't really want to know)...

            Hamburgers are patties made from ground or minced something, usually red meat, but now the definition has extended to poultry, fish and vegetarian patties.

            Yes, they are a way of using scraps, but there is a wide range of scraps. Some are simply made from tough parts of a beast better suited to a slow braise, but a lot of people nowadays don't know how to do that (although there are modern appliances that make it easy and not so labour-intensive). I like to make bison burgers, as we have very good bison meat where I live, and it is both very tasty and nutritious. I'm also going to work on some vegetarian burgers based on mushrooms and Yves "chicken" mince.

            Gourmet doesn't necessarily mean expensive or complex. Of course there are gourmet frites. Use the potatoes most suited to that use and think about what fat you will fry them in.

            14 Replies
            1. re: lagatta

              You seriously haven't heard of the breakfast cereal kids eat called fruity pebbles? They use the flinstones as their mascot.
              I am also considering a vegetarian burger as there are vegetarians around here with absolutely NO choice when they go out to eat. Same for gluten free. I'm gonna have that option as well. I like the idea about grinding up other meats besides cow. We have local bison around here as well. Too bad you couldn't use seafood and call it a crabby patty lol.

              1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                Please make a veggie burger that doesn't suck for the vegetarians who get boca burger crap all the time...!!
                This one is my favorite ever- but note they are too delicate to grill on a bbq
                Also check out this thread:

                Toppings like pickled onions, avocado slices, jalapenos, fresh herbs, etc etc etc can set your versions apart from others.

                But know your audience. Ramen burgers might make lines down the street in nyc and leave people near you scratching their head.

                1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                  Yay you for planning a veggie burger.

                  I don't know if it's cost-prohibitive, but if you can get your hands on some decent tempeh, a burger-sized slab of that, maybe marinated overnight and grilled, makes a fantastic and easy vegan burger (you can grill it in advance to to get the char flavor and reheat on the flat-top or whatever else you're using for making the other burgers with a splash of liquid). You can offer cheese on top for non-vegans, which makes it even better. Tempeh is firm enough not to crumble or stick and can be really delicious if you season it correctly. Here's a baked version that's pretty good, too:

                  Another favorite veggie burger for me is grilled portabella mushroom caps or discs of eggplant with guacamole or hummus, tomato and sprouts.

                  1. re: ninrn

                    Tempeh is wonderful, but it is suprisingly rare in many places. It is the staple protein in such Southeast Asian countries as Indonesia and Malaysia. Not only among vegetarians.

                    1. re: ninrn

                      mm, I have to differ on the tempeh, the food of the evil one surely inflicted on persons in the third circle of hell. And I've cooked a lot of it, back in the 80s and early 90s when I cooked in those kinds of restaurants. That stuff is nasty, almost unredeemable, and won't be a big hit in the ozarks.

                      Edit: however, a pal at one restaurant I cooked in had a great recipe for crispy tofu-lettuce-tomato sandwiches. Take smoked tofu - the folks at central soyfoods in Lawrence Ks have a good one - and slice it thin. Like as close to 1/8 inch as you can and have it still hold together. Coat carefully in seasoned fine cornmeal, and fry until crispy. It's the "bacon" in your TLT. Don't stint on the vegan mayo.

                      1. re: Teague

                        Well, I've had great tempeh (cooked by Indonesians in Amsterdam - not at a restaurant, by the way). I really don't care what plays in the Ozarks, I have never been there and am highly unlikely to.

                        1. re: lagatta

                          However, OP is asking about an area that's unlikely to have enough interest in that to make it worth his while.

                    2. re: Drewstinkcheese

                      I don't live in the United States. This site is based in the US, but has enthusiastic hounds the world over.

                      1. re: lagatta

                        Its the one with the flinstones on the box. We have it here in Canada. At least im pretty sure we do, I never go into the manufactured cereal aisle.

                        1. re: kpaxonite

                          Neither do I. No TV either (I can watch pretty much everything I want to on the computer now).

                          Some hipsters will find a way of making that cr*p ironically gourmet.

                          1. re: lagatta

                            So true. They'll toss some brussel sprouts and pork lardons on a bowl of cereal

                        2. re: lagatta

                          No kidding. Some posters here haven't quite caught on to that, it seems...

                        3. re: Drewstinkcheese

                          I hadn't heard of it, either. But I don't live in the US, so that could be why.

                        4. re: lagatta

                          Fruity Pebbles is the younger brother to Coco Crisp, centerfielder for the Oakland A's.


                          1. re: foodieX2

                            Nice! Thank you for the detailed list

                          2. Yes they can, but that's only because burgers and fries in general are now mass produced and are usually pretty bad.

                            So if you take a lot of care in sourcing the right ingredients and preparing things carefully then they can be gourmet. In the UK a enterprising chef started with a burger van and now runs multiple restaurants based on the concept (It was called Meatwagon).

                            Before he opened be travelled the US researching burgers (it was a tough job someone had to do) in order to distil the essence of a good burger. The type of cut of meat for the patty was important, I think he uses a blend to get the fat content right. The bun needs to have the right texture and taste and be able to keep the burger together - he has his baked to his own specs. The cheese needs to melt perfectly and have the right taste, and of course the sauce, or mid of mustard and ketchup needs to be right.

                            All of this is about creating a really traditional, dare I say old fashioned burger. Because modern burgers are often frozen or mass produced this attention to detail gets labelled "gourmet".

                            As for fries, the same applies. To the purist it's not what you add, instead it's the type of potato, the size of the chip, the type of oil you use to cook (and how fresh it is) plus the cooking method - twice or triple cooked.

                            To get to gourmet level it's all about the basics not the additions - taking a bad product and adding truffles or some exotic ingredient doesn't make it better even if you label it "gourmet". So focus on getting the basics absolutely perfect and the "gourmet" label will be deserved.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: PhilD

                              I agree with you completely. I think it's important just to do it with some damn integrity. That's what the mass marketed burgers lack. They are just an abstraction at this point. I think researching the origins of the true burger is a good starting place. Subtraction rather than addition is the mark of a good cook. I was just thinking a couple of mild twists could make me stand out. But like you said, all you have to do is do it right and you will be different. I feel afraid to compete with a bunch of fast food joints though because the consumer has set the standard. I feel like 'customer is always right' is ridiculous. They aren't. Most of the time they just want a formulated 'good' taste. More like 'good enough' to fill up the tank.

                              1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                "I feel like 'customer is always right' is ridiculous. They aren't."

                                That is often very true. But "customers" are conditioned by marketeers to expect certain things and they have their preferences shaped so you need to be mindful about how you break that paradigm.

                                I suspect that it will be about good segmentation of your market. You don't want to compete with the fast food places because their strength is their price point and the uniformity of the product - they satisfy the low risk, low cost market.

                                Instead you need to service the more adventurous sector who crave quality. And if there is a dearth of decent food in your area this may be a under serviced market. The benefit of being able to access and address this segment is that they will be less price sensitive and will value quality. The disadvantage is they are fickle and whilst not price sensitive they still expect value. Along with doing great food you will need to think carefully about how you market the product - not just advertising and PR but also pricing and what "need" you are satisfying.

                                So individual customers are not always right, but ignore the dynamics of market segments at your cost because you will find it difficult to swim against that tide.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  In my area there are two McD's, one BK, an arby's and a Wendy's. So I have to swim against that tide. I don't think I'm going to be actually picking up many of their frequent customers as you pointed out, they are going for what they know at a cost they don't mind. Crap food crap prices. There is a college in my town and a growing crowd of conscious eaters. There are some vegetarians and farmer's market shoppers. I'm actually planning to set up at my farmer's market and cooking with some of the ingredients I find there. The problem is though that there is a grassfed beef lady there who is also my neighbor and I am afraid I might not be able to sustain purchasing from her, solely as her prices are a bit high. Not unreasonable just maybe unsustainable.

                                  1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                    Sounds like the college kids and the farmers market are ideal targets. Maybe go see your neighbour and see if you can cross market the products. She gives you a good price on the beef (I understand the best cuts for burgers are not the choice ones) and you can cook them close to her stall promoting her beef with signage I.e. Best local grass fee beef from XXX. She may even give you a better price whilst you build the business - neighbours often help each other.

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      Very true. I have considered what you're saying. I think cross promotion will be great. Especially because in Missouri there is so much cheap beef it's a little harder to sell grass fed out here when everyone knows everything about cattle. They all know you can get it for much cheaper and in fact most people who live here have a sour taste in their mouth about a cow who hasn't been grain finished. They think it's a lesser product.

                                      1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                        Sell both types and differentiate one as a premium product.

                                        Remember that when you price you price to value not cost (I assume your base price covers your costs). So whilst the grain fed could be a €1 a patty and the grass fed could be $1.50 a patty you could sell the grass fed as premium product with a $2 mark-up.

                                        The same with vegetarian and gluten free, they could be cheaper to make than the beef-burger but you can sell them for more because the consumer values them more.

                                        Sometimes the cheapest things are expensive because of the cachet they give the buyer. For example hand fried pork scratchings in the UK sell at a massive premium to the commercial ones. But it's still just deep friend pork rind....usually a waste product.

                                2. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                  Strongly agree with PhilD. His statement is almost a perfect transcription of what I would have said.

                                  The euphemism "the customer is always right" was never meant, however, to mean "the customer always knows best", or even necessarily "the customer knows what he wants". The idea was that it meant "If a customer makes a request or statement, take it at face value and do your best to accommodate it; don't assume the customer is either being deceitful or deliberately difficult". There is a dimension of customer service here. (e.g. if a customer comes up and says "I ordered my burger medium rare rather than medium, but you gave me medium", re-do it, even if you think you can recall clearly that they made no such request, or even if you think what you made was medium rare (in that case make it rarer - within any health and safety regulations you're required to obey, and if that's the problem explain gently to the customer the limits of what you're able to do)

                                  1. re: AlexRast

                                    I agree with you both. I guess my feelings about the customer being "right" are supposed to be deeper than the surface. I agree that if they want a change I should happily accommodate it. That's very true. What I meant really was that when cooking became a thing that could be mass produced everything became too uniform. For instance, if we lived in small communities of artisanal producers the customers would take pride in their local version of a burger rather than being able to get the same burger in any corner of the world. I guess I'm straying off topic and being too idealistic lol. I just get sad that fast food chains are such whores and don't demand anything other than sales.

                                    1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                      Mass-market standardisation is unfortunate, particularly where it drives out smaller local producers - often deliberately - some fast food places deliberately underprice in an area to undercut local competition, until they sink them, even if the local "competition" was actually looking at a different market sector - a lot of companies analyse things in terms of market share and may not care that if they have 100% of the current market that usually means that there are other potential markets not being serviced.

                                      Still, there is sometimes a place for them. The best example would be Starbucks in airports, particularly coming off long-haul flights. Arriving in Singapore on the way to Brisbane from London going to the Starbucks to get what by that point was a NECESSARY coffee meant blissfully one less thing I needed to think about.

                                      I wish though that there were as you say more artisanal producers locally available. Best example I can think of is Foster's Fish and Chips. There are 2 shops, one in Manchester (East Didsbury), one in Alderley Edge (just south of Manchester. Anyway, in conversation with one of the girls there I discovered that they are actually adjusting their batter recipe to compensate for the different water in the 2 locations! Now *that's* dedication in a fast-food business. And it shows; Foster's is the most renowned chippy in Manchester with a fanatically loyal clientele.

                                      1. re: Drewstinkcheese

                                        That smashburger suggestion sounds like a good and marketable alternative to the chainburgers. A similar porkburger would be interesting too, and you could even offer both doubles and mixed doubles. There's a guy here in Pasadena CA who runs an order-at-the-counter table-service place, and to keep the burgers in simple rotation timewise he does all the rare and medium-rare burgers as single thick patties, and done or well-done ones as two thin ones, so that a medium-rare and well-done order can go on and off the grill at the same time.

                                        My mom's place was near Ozark (still is, but she's not), so I'm familiar with the kind of food that's available around there and the people's taste. If you can give them something handmade, fresh and not expensive, with some extra twist to it that's fun but not "weird," you could have a good business there.

                                      2. re: AlexRast

                                        The customer isn't always right but the customer is always the "customer"

                                  2. Don't think burgers have to be gourmet..just do a good
                                    traditional burger....

                                    1 Reply