Obamas Eating Burgers
All eyes were on Barack Obama's burger preferences since the beginning of the year, from when he ordered a burger on Air Force One (medium-well with cheddar cheese, Dijon mustard, lettuce, and tomato), at Ray's Hell Burger (medium-well cheeseburger with mustard) with VP Joe Biden, and at Five Guys (cheeseburger with jalapeños, tomatoes, and mustard) with NBC anchor Brian Williams. His request for Dijon mustard at Five Guys was edited out of MSNBC coverage, resulting in Dijongate and a dust-up among political bloggers about Dijon mustard being elitist.
We also followed Michelle Obama's burger preferences when she visited Five Guys and Good Stuff Eatery. Good Stuff Eatery ended up naming a turkey burger after Michelle, with proceeds donated to D.C. Central Kitchen.
High-Profile Burger Openings and Expansions
Famous chef and restaurateurs opened new burger joints this year or expanded the ones they already had. Los Angeles-based Umami Burger opened in February, but was popular enough to open two more locations by the end of the year. Restaurateur Stephen Starr opened SquareBurger in Philadelphia's Franklin Square this summer. Bobby Flay expanded Bobby's Burger Palace with two more locations this year in Paramus, New Jersey, and Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Hubert Keller opened the third location of Burger Bar in San Francisco in October. Emeril Lagasse opened his burger joint, Burgers And More in November. Flip Burger Boutique from former Top Chef contestant Richard Blais opened its second location this month in Birmingham, Alabama. Shake Shack opened its third location in New York City at Citi Field, but will open at least five more locations in New York City, Miami, and Kuwait next year. Burger King tried something different from their typical stores by debuting the Whopper Bar in Orlando.
This trend isn't new to 2009 and in fact seems to be a trend every year, but we'd be remiss not to point out some of the craziness that happened this year. There was the Windows 7 Whopper available at Burger King in Japan, the 185-pound burger from Mallie's Spots Grill and Bar in Michigan (named the world's largest burger by the Guinness Book of World Records), and the 1.66-pound Fifth Third Burger sold at the West Michigan Whitecaps Fifth Third Ballpark.
Perhaps inspired by the Fatty Melt we popularlized last year, the grilled-cheese-bun burger trend spread around the country, with restaurants offering them in Portland, Arizona, and Connecticut. Our own Nick Solares made a McDonald's inspired Fatty Melt with the Big McFatty Melt.
The Burger Lab
We got really serious about the science between the bun this year when Kenji Alt joined the team and started work in The Burger Lab. So far Kenji's taught us what cuts to use for the best patty, how to make a Fake Shack burger, how to incorporate bacon into every element of a burger, how to make turkey burgers that don't suck, and why you should never, ever salt your beef before grinding it.
Fake Shack ingredients. [Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]
Bigger (and Better?) Fast Food Burgers
Major fast food chains upped their burger choices this year. In January, Burger King released their spicy Angry Burger in the US that, according to reviews, wasn't all that "angry." Hardee's brought back their half-pound Six Dollar Burger after discontinuing it last year. About two months later, McDonald's released Angus Third Pounders nationwide, but Carl's Jr. and Hardee's saw the new burger as a copy of their Angus burgers (Six Dollar Burgers from Carl's Jr. and Thickburgers from Hardee's). Carl's Jr. came out with the Big Carl and Hardee's rereleased the Big Hardee to compete with McDonald's Big Mac. In the fall, Wendy's introduced the Bacon Deluxe topped with Applewood-smoked bacon.
[Photograph of The Big Carl: CKE Restaurants]
Burger King's Offensive And/Or Lame Ads
Many of Burger King's ads and promotions in 2009 stood out over those of other burger chains for being offensive and/or lame. They started the year with the Whopper Sacrifice application on Facebook that allowed users to unfriend 10 friends for a free Whopper, inspiring at least one person to recruit "friends" on Craigslist for the sole purpose of unfriending them. Facebook ended up suspending the application. Their Spongebob Squarepants Kids Meal commercial creeped out lots of people and received over 10,000 complaints from parents. They offended Mexicans with their Texican Whopper ads, Hindus with their breakfast ad in Spain, and got too suggestive with their Super Seven Incher ad in Singapore. And we're not sure how well "The World's First Guilt-Free Showercam" from Burger King UK is at selling breakfast sandwiches.
Pat LaFrieda Makes NYC's Best Burgers, in Restaurants and at Home
Many of New York City's best burgers seem to have one thing in common: Pat LaFrieda. The wholesale meat purveyor is behind the ever popular burgers at Shake Shack and this year's Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern, one of Nick Solares's favorite burgers in the city, among other food lovers. This summer, Pat LaFrieda started selling burger patties to the general public via Fresh Direct. This year we watched Pat LaFrieda give a tour of his meat plant and talk about burgers with Martha Stewart (a show that our own Adam Kuban also appeared on).