The Fried-Onion Burger

The Fried-Onion Burger

The Fried-Onion Burger excerpted from The Great American Burger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home by George Motz. Photography by George Motz.

The Great American Burger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home by George Motz

The Great American Burger Book was the first book to showcase a wide range of regional burger styles and cooking methods. In this new, expanded edition, author and burger expert George Motz covers traditional grilling techniques as well as how to smoke, steam, poach, smash, and deep-fry burgers based on signature recipes from around the country.

Each chapter is dedicated to a specific regional burger, and includes the history of the method and details on how to create your own piece of American food history right at home. Written by Motz, the author of Hamburger America and hailed by the New York Times as a “leading authority” on hamburgers, The Great American Burger Book is a regional tour of America’s best burgers.

Recipes feature regional burgers from California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. International locations include: Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Malaysia, and Turkey.

This is a book for anyone who loves a great burger, unique or classic. And who doesn’t love a great burger?

These mouthwatering recipes include Connecticut’s Steamed Cheeseburger, The Tortilla Burger of New Mexico, Iowa’s Loosemeat Sandwich, Houston’s Smoked Burger, Pennsylvania’s The Fluff Screamer, and Sheboygan’s Brat Burger.

The Great American Burger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home by George Motz is available at, and     

The Fried-Onion Burger

Oklahoma is one of my favourite places to immerse myself in burger culture. It sits in the center of what I like to call the American Burger Belt, an invisi- ble line that can be drawn from Texas north to Wisconsin. This is where the majority of America’s primary-source hamburgers can be found; the burgers that are unaffected by time or trend. The ones that have been made the same way for, in some cases, a hundred years. One of those burgers is the fried-onion burger of Oklahoma.

El Reno, Oklahoma is the epicenter of the fried-onion burger universe. At one point there were more than nine joints in town that served this regional treat. Today only a handful of places remain, but they are preserv- ing an important piece of American food history.

An entrepreneurial burger man named Ross Davis, at the long-gone Hamburger Inn, used a handful of thin-sliced onions in his burger, and a legend was born. El Reno was a railroad town, and the Railway Shopman’s Strike of 1922 had a massive impact on every resident. Ross’s idea allowed him to stretch his daily beef supply while accidentaly creating a very tasty burger. Sid’s Diner, Robert’s Grill, and Johnnie’s Grill in El Reno are the greatest guardians of this unique hamburger tradition. They continue that legacy by taking a gob of onions and smashing it into a ball of beef on the flat top. The contents fuse, creating a beautiful, caramelized, onion-beef mess that tastes incredible. The griddle masters who smash hundreds of these burgers daily at lunch are not shy about the amount of sliced onion they use, and the onion-to-beef ratio at Sid’s is close to 50/50.

Similar to the Griddle-Smashed Classic Cheeseburger (page 32) this method goes against everything you’ve been taught about how to treat a burger on a cooking surface. Pressing the life out of a burger seems wrong until you try it. And there’s no other way to make this burger.

The trick to retain the juiciness here is to press the patty only once at the beginning and allow the burger to cook in its own grease, a sort of burger confit, if you will.



A large seasoned cast-iron skillet or flat top

A stiff spatula

A medium-size mixing bowl

A #12 salad scoop

A mandoline slicer, set to its thinnest setting (you can use a sharp knife, but it will be very hard to get the onions thin enough without a mandoline)


Beef tallow (rendered beef fat; see page 18)

2 pounds (about 1 kg) fresh-ground 80/20 chuck

Salt, for seasoning

2 large Vidalia onions, sliced super- thin (they should be translucent and thinner than paper)

American cheese, deli-sliced 8 soft white buns


Always serve with a few slices of dill pickle chips on the side.

  1. Preheat the cast-iron skillet over medium heat (or a flat top to medium) and add some beef tallow. Spread the fat with the flat side of your spatula to coat the surface.
  2. Place the ground beef in the mixing bowl. Using the salad scoop, form balls of beef, gently releasing them into the hot pan with 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) of space surrounding each. (You may only be able to cook 2 or 3 burgers at a time.)
  3. Season each beef ball with salt. Grab a golf ball–size pile of the thin-sliced onion and push it into each ball of beef. You’ll want the onions to fall around the ball, not just be piled on top.
  4. Smash each ball to make a patty. This requires more force than you’d think. Don’t worry about smashing the patties too thin—they’ll shrink to the size of your buns as they cook. Once they’re smashed, don’t touch again until ready to flip—just a few minutes, or until red moisture begins to form on the tops of the patties.
  5. Flip the glorious beef-and-onion-fused patties and tuck some stray onions under- neath. Slide a slice of American cheese on top of each, then add the bun. There is a tried-and-true method here I call “letting it ride”: Atop the cheese, place the crown of the bun, cut side down. Then the heel, cut side down, on top of that. The beef steam will soften your buns. Cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully lift up the burger and buns with the spatula. Take the heel and place cut side up underneath the spatula blade, and in one swift move pinch and pull the burger off. Serve immediately.

Recipe reprinted with permission from ABRAMS Books.

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