"Grilled" is our series of Q&As of burger-related people. It's been a while since we've done these regularly, but we're starting up again by interviewing our contributors so you can get to know the people behind our site. Today we're grilling Adam Lindsley, our Seattle and Portland burger correspondent since last November (but who will focus on Portland from now on since he recently moved there). He's impressively pulled triple-duty at Serious Eats; you can check out his pizza reviews at Slice and his soda taste tests at Serious Eats: Drinks.
Name: Adam Lindsley
Location: Portland, Oregon
How has writing for AHT changed your burger-eating habits? How often do you eat burgers now compared to before? No real change, actually. I love burgers and eat them more often than I post reviews of them on AHT. I do pay more attention to what goes into the burger now, though. Never thought I'd get picky about buns or cheese, but now... *nods head meaningfully*
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest burger encounter? I actually didn't like hamburgers growing up. I would eat just the patty and maybe some ketchup, no bun or cheese or anything else. I was a picky eater, a real insufferable little twerp. Then, when I was about 9 or 10, I went on a road trip (to Portland, come to think of it) with a friend, and his dad pulled into a Burger King and ordered us each a cheeseburger. I remember thinking, "Oh great, he doesn't know I don't eat these gross things." But when the burger came, I ate it dutifully, and you know what...something just clicked. That patented "char-broiled flavor" caught me hook, line, and sinker.
When did you realize you loved burgers? See previous response. But to clarify, no, I don't really eat Burger King anymore unless I'm on a road trip and haven't done any research into the town I'm stopped in. But the first time I realized I was eating a great burger was when I moved to Los Angeles. That is an amazing burger town. Lousy pizza town. Great burger town.
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? American beats cheddar, unless the cheddar is really, really sharp, in which case I'd take that. But the best cheese I've ever eaten on a burger is from Spring Hill in Seattle. The chef, Mark Fuller, combines Beecher's Flagship and Teleme from Frank's Cheese, and it is just a godly creation. I would slit someone's throat for some of that cheese right now, I kid you not. I'd slit two throats. And punch an old lady.
Ketchup or mustard? Good lord, ketchup.
Preferred bun? I like my buns like I spend my Saturday afternoons: Lightly toasted. (I kid.) The best burger bun I've eaten, by a mile, is the housemade one at Grüner in Portland. It puts other buns to shame. Unless I'm making them at home, in which case I'll use whatever I can get that's closest to Martin potato rolls (which, incidentally, I have yet to find out here in the West).
Grilled, griddled, broiled, or other? For the fast food style, griddled. All my favorite fancy-pants restaurant burgers seem to be grilled, though.
How do you like your burgers done? Medium rare to medium. Any less than that and the texture puts me off. But I expect well done for fast food burgers, and that's fine. A crispy, salty exterior makes up for a lot of other shortcomings.
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? Why, certainly. For a fancy-pants burger, a thick, medium rare patty well seasoned on the outside with salt and pepper and juicy and fatty on the inside. Ground enough to avoid gristle pockets, but not so fine that the beef becomes mealy (then you may as well throw the whole thing out). Texture's gotta be right on. Drape a thick slab of that sharp cheese from Spring Hill over it, toss on some housemade pickles, sliced thin, maybe a light smear of tomato jam, stick it all in the Grüner bun and I'm good to go. For a fast food burger, the In-N-Out Double Double is pretty ideal, although you could do better with the meat.
What's your favorite fast-food burger? Toss-up between In-N-Out and Apple Pan in Los Angeles. Nick Solares called Apple Pan's Steakburger "arguably the finest example of the California-style burger," and I have to agree (although I'm not really sure what makes it a "California-style burger." It's just a fast food-style burger done right, and there's mercifully no avocado in sight). The texture of the meat there is Out. Of. This. World. So soft and tender. I've never seen beef that tender anywhere else. It's like a pillow. A meat pillow. And it has just a hint of apple in it, like they drizzled some apple juice over the patty pre-griddle. But In-N-Out ain't no slouch, either. Somehow those burgers are greater than the sum of their parts. It kills me that they haven't expanded to the Pacific Northwest yet, although Little Big Burger in Portland is the next best thing, and higher quality. Shake Shack also gets a thumbs-up.
What topping or condiment should never grace a burger? I can think of a lot of things, but I'm gonna say anchovies.
What's the best burger you've eaten this year? Spring Hill's, no contest.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? I don't do unusual burgers. Wait, do I? *checks past reviews* Nope, I don't. Although the bacon jam on the Skillet burger in Seattle isn't your average run-of-the-mill condiment, nosireebob. The world needs more bacon jam.
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? Overrated: Red Mill Burgers in Seattle. They have a cult following, but they are the absolute definition of mediocrity. Seattleites (and Portlanders) have deplorably low standards for fast food-style burgers, but only because nothing great has opened up there yet (the one exception: Little Big Burger). Underrated: Some people might crucify me for saying this, but I think Five Guys makes a pretty damn decent burger. Sure, the freshness of the toppings is dubious, and overall quality varies from location to location, but when they're on their game, the beef is magnifique.
Imagine that for some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? No burger's given me more consistent joy in the past decade than the Steakburger from Apple Pan. So...yeah, that one.