Editor's note: It's been a while since we've "Grilled" someone, but we want to get back in the saddle. We Grilled George Motz almost two years ago, but a lot has happened with him in that time. In 2006, he had just released his burger documentary Hamburger America, but since then he has written a book of the same name (which we've been excerpting from every other week) and has sort of become the burger guy out there. We figured it was a good time to catch up and see how his burger worldview had changed. So without further ado, let's get Grillin'.
Name: George Motz
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Hamburger expert, TV commercial director of photography
How often do you eat burgers? At least 3 times a week, sometimes 4.
Has this number increased or decreased with the book project and your increased burger notoriety? Increased for sure. During the research for the book I was eating up to 20 burgers a week for weeks on end. Compared to working on the film I've eaten far more burgers. I've lost count at this point but I guesstimate that I've eaten over 3000 burgers in the last seven years, film, book, and PR combined. Most of them good ones, I might add.
Where did you eat your most recent one? I just had another Dram Shop burger [Park Slope, Brooklyn], the second in just a few days. It really is a great ode to the Dallas double with shredded lettuce and cheese. This time, though, I swapped the raw onion for jalapeños to make it a real Texas burger.
When we talked to you in 2006, you preferred griddled, cheeseless burgers, mustard as your condiment, and medium for good beef and medium-rare for "sushi-quality chopped beef." Have your baseline burger preferences changed at all? Not really, though I've embraced cheese more. The Five Guys burger, for example, has to have cheese to make it a real salty, cheesy grease bomb. I still prefer only mustard and pickle but have recently started asking for grilled onion. Cooking temperature varies so much from place to place and really depends on the burger chef. I usually order a burger at a burger joint the way everyone else is having it (with the exception of Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Michigan, where everyone orders their burgers well-done).
Is your favorite fast-food burger still Steak 'n Shake? Yes, when I can get to one! Five Guys makes a damn good fast-food burger, though, and I still love In-N-Out.
Are you still anti-ketchup? Oh yes. Ketchup is for kids (or fries). It really just hides the flavor of the beef with all of that sweetness. It's mustard or nothing for me.
In 2006, the weirdest burger you'd ever had was the gyro-meat-topped one at Western Steakburger. What's the craziest one you've had since then? That is still high on my "weird list," but soon thereafter I met the Nutburger of Matt's Place in Butte, Montana. The Nutburger opened my eyes to the possibilities of a wacked-out topping that still leaves the integrity of the burger intact. Imagine crushed, salted peanuts mixed with Miracle Whip that's spread on a burger. I love America.
Most overrated and underrated burgers? I know last time I called the In-N-Out burger the most overrated, but I've changed my tune since then. I also had Oprah's friend Gayle King pissed off at me for saying that. I have always loved the double-double at In-N-Out but was commenting on its overrated cult status. I guess I'm part of the cult now. Unfortunately, it's the burgers at Burgerville in the Pacific Northwest that are overrated. I know they are a "green" burger chain and all that, but I tried three burgers at three different locations and they all failed me. Great shakes, though. The most underrated burger has to be the double with bacon at Steak 'n' Shake. I get so much crap for loving this place, but they really do make a great, classic, thin-patty wonder.
Wait! What? When did Gayle call you out? She called me out on her show when she had me on! She did call me her new best friend, though.
Are you sick of burgers yet? Hell no. My love of the American hamburger grows by the day.
Are you sick of talking about them? Not really. Someone has to, right?
Can you share the Motz Burger recipe with us? Sure thing. It's all about simple, fresh ingredients and it's really about how you make the burger, not so much what goes into it. Harry Hawk [at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City, New York, where they're served] takes 80/20 Angus chuck steaks and grinds them right at the griddle. Quarter-pound scoops of ground beef are placed on a flattop griddle set to 420°F (the meat is never touched or "formed" into a patty). After the meat hits the griddle it is smashed only once into a flat patty and left to cook, roughly two minutes per side. Harry toasts buns with butter (sometimes) then serves the burger with a dollop of his chipotle-mayo Schnäck sauce.
Burgers are always popping up in pop culture. What's your favorite burger pop-culture moment? The return of the griddled thin-patty amazes me. For years, the formed, oversized, ball-shaped patty was the rule from every sports bar to high-end eatery across America. Additionally, the traditional soft white bun was eschewed for hard, outsized buns that were considered "upscale." This led to a very welcome backlash that reintroduced the classic quarter-pound thin patty, griddled in its own juices (fat) and served on a white squishy bun. I credit places like In-N-Out, Five Guys, and Shake Shack with the return of the working-class burger model.
What cuts of beef do you find make a great burger? Do you have a preference? Since I bought my meat grinder, I've experimented with all types of cuts mixed together, but in the end I always seem to go back to good-old corn fed 80/20 chuck shoulder. My local butcher is now getting naturally raised hormone-free beef that tastes great so that's a plus. I want to like the grass-fed beef craze, but for burgers they are not quite there yet. The Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe is doing grass-fed perfectly, but I'd expect nothing less from John Eckre, the burger genius there.
Why burgers? Because I love them and they are intrinsically American. I guess baseball is, too, but doesn't taste as good. I'm branching out this year and making a pizza movie (Brooklyn Pizza, June 2009) and another burger movie that is top secret. Stay tuned.
Why don't you open your own burger shop? I just might do that, but the restaurant business is brutal. And there are too many bloggers!
Burger Joints Referenced
Dram Shop: 339 9th Street, Brooklyn NY 11215
Five Guys: Multiple locations; fiveguys.com
Miller's Bar: 23700 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn MI 48124; millersbar.com
In-N-Out: Multiple locations; in-n-out.com
Steak 'n Shake: Multiple locations; steaknshake.com
Matt's Place: 2339 Placer Street, Butte MT 59701
Burgerville: Multiple locations; burgerville.com
Shake Shack: Madison Square Park, southeast corner (Madison Avenue and 23rd Street), New York NY; shakeshacknyc.com
Bobcat Bite: 420 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe NM 87505; bobcatbite.com