Hamburgers evolving with the times

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Who doesn’t like hamburgers? Burgers are enjoyed by millions each day in the United States. One source claims Americans down 14 billion burgers per year, with the average American eating 100 per year.

Mention “hamburger” and most people quickly visualize ground beef in their mind’s eye. After all, ground beef is the No.-1 selling beef item in retail and foodservice — 7.5 billion tons of ground beef were sold in the past year in the US for retail and foodservice, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Operator purchases of ground beef in 2012 accounted for 64 percent of dollar sales and 37 percent of lb. sales, NCBA adds. Within the beef category last year, ground beef accounted for 40 percent of dollar sales and 49 percent of lb. sales. That’s a lot of ground beef—and sales!

Regarding at-home consumption, 55 percent of US consumers say ground beef is an affordable, versatile source of important nutrients, according to IPSOS Public Affairs, Funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, April 2012; almost 66 percent of ground beef goes into the freezer, relays the Defrosting Deep Dive Study, funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, Nov. 2011.

One thing I didn’t realize is according to experts who track these trends —the noble hamburger isn’t always a beef burger. While a hamburger consists of ground meat, that ground meat can also be made from pork, chicken, salmon, turkey and more. Speaking of turkey, in July 2012 Jack in the Box restaurants launched its Turkey Jack, which was this fast-food chain's first turkey burger. This hamburger features a turkey patty topped with melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion slices, pickles, ketchup and a mayonnaise-onion sauce on a bun.

Meanwhile, chicken burgers are enjoyed by many Americans and producers include Tyson Foodservice, Amylou/ATK Foods, Perdue, Harvestland, Foster Farms and Chicken Baron, among others. I have also read about many restaurants over the year that offered such novelties as bison, salmon, ostrich and other types of wild-game burgers—even lion burgers.

Also sold at retail are a host of veggie burgers under recognizable brands such as Amy’ Kitchen, Boca Foods, Morningstar Foods, Gardenburger and Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods, among others.

Don’t forget about novelty burgers. At $499, the world's largest hamburger commercially available weighed 185.8 lbs. and was on the menu at Mallie’s Sports Grill & Bar in Southgate, Mich., about four years ago. Named the "Absolutely Ridiculous Burger", the word is it took approximately 12 hours to prepare. Le Burger Brasserie, which is located in the Paris Las Vegas casino, offered a $777 Kobe beef and Maine lobster burger, topped with caramelized onion, Brie cheese and prosciutto. Daniel Boulud, a New York-based chef, created this dish, which consisted of layers of ground sirloin, foie gras and wine-braised short ribs and was created to look like a fast-food burger.

The Black Bear Casino Resort near Carlton, Minn., made the world-record bacon cheeseburger that tipped the scales at 2,014 lbs. on Sept. 2, 2012. Perhaps the most well-known restaurant for mega burgers and high-calorie items the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, Nev. Among items offered is a Quadruple Bypass Burger that weighs 2 lbs.

Like it or not, the once-humble hamburger has morphed into a variety of offerings I never ever dreamed would someday be available. Rest assured that innovative burger creators will continue to push the envelope when it comes to developing new, more gourmet, international and radical forms of hamburgers. It’s likely that some of those non-traditional burgers will become the favorites of today’s kids.

I think it’s safe to say that most older American hamburger aficionados are fairly conservative when it comes to the content and size of their hamburgers. Here’s hoping the old-fashioned hamburger will be around for a long time to come and doesn’t get replaced by something more exotic. As for me, just give me a standard ¼ lb. or less, medium-cooked beef cheeseburger with tomato, mustard, ketchup, mayo and sliced pickles and shredded lettuce —no leaf lettuce, please! A great-tasting, more-traditional hamburger is hard to beat.

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