As his name implied, Wimpy was a wimp, but he was just as self-centered as the burly bully Brutus, with whom my hero, Popeye, had many philosophical discussions.
“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” the chubby Wimpy would say calmly.
Wimpy would shovel cartoon burgers down with one hand while holding a platter of burgers in the other. I never saw him sharing any of these burgers, which looked pretty tasty for a black-and-white cartoon. At least they looked more appetizing than Popeye’s spinach.
I recount that image because it’s the earliest recollection I have of that American food icon. My mama used to grill hamburgers in one of those old-style iron frying pans. Her four hungry “younguns” eagerly awaited these little morsels of juiciness, especially those burgers covered with a melted chunk of cheddar cheese. Her child-size hamburgers now are called sliders. As I grew up, I slid down quite a few burgers.
Like the hotdog, the hamburger is uniquely American, but not just because it was invented here, according to the Library of Congress. Hamburgers are like Americans; they’re all different. Burgers vary according to the beef cuts from which they’re blended, as well as how they’re cooked. They’re also different according to the toppings we put on them.
Woman’s Day magazine calls the burger “king of all cookout dishes,” and I have to agree. Even if I’ve set out to grill steaks, chicken or pork chops, I also cook a pack of hotdogs and several burgers. It would be a shame to fire up the grill and not get maximum use out of my charcoal.
My dogs and burgers cook while the coals are getting right for the other meat. When they’re done, I allow them to cool, and then put away for another meal. I deliberately undercook my burgers because they’ll cook some more when they’re reheated. But even if I plan to eat my burger right away, I still prefer it somewhere between medium and medium rare.
Since the E. coli outbreak in the early 1990s, some states now require restaurants to cook a hamburger until it’s completely done. I rarely get a burger in those states.
The best burgers I’ve found anywhere are at B&D Burgers. Five Guys Burgers & Fries makes a great burger too, and the fries are fresh-cut, real potatoes. I also like Ruby Tuesday’s triple-prime burger. These restaurants’ burgers are great because they’re hand-crafted, homemade burgers — not a frozen patty like most chain burger joints — and they don’t overcook their burgers.
I also think their burgers are safer than chain-restaurant burgers. A lady once told me about giving her dog part of her chain restaurant burger while they were on vacation. The dog didn’t want it, either. She and her husband went home and came back to their condo two weeks later. The burger looked exactly the same. If there are enough preservatives in those burgers to keep the meat from rotting and the bun from molding, I’d rather not eat them.
When I grill burgers, I use fresh ground beef that’s about 85-percent lean. Anything leaner than that will be too dry,, and anything fattier than that isn’t good for my old heart. I drop my burgers on the grill while the coals are flaming. The dripping fat causes the flames to go wild, which gives the burger that delicious charred flavor.
Flip or at least move them often to avoid burning them. Season with salt and pepper or any special seasoning you like. Add cheese just before the burgers are done. Most 1/3-pound burgers need only cook a couple minutes. I take mine up when the inside still is pink.
Toppings are endless, but I think it’s expected for the host to have mayo, mustard and ketchup as well as lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions. Serve with homemade fries, Coke and/or a chocolate shake.