A Hamburger Today
Charleston, SC: Small Plates and Sizeable Burgers at Big Gun Burger
Big Gun Burger
137 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC 29401 (map); 843-789-3821; bigguncharleston.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: A tasty burger with Southern comfort food trimmings
Want Fries With That? Yep! Tasty seasoned fries come standard, so you're all set
Price: Southern Hospitality Burger, $11; Macaroni and Cheese Fritters, $5; Fried Brussels, $6
After a long layover in D.C. and a bumpy descent next to a crying infant, I landed in Charleston jet lagged, bleary eyed, and fiercely craving a burger. Weeks before, I'd purposely booked a hotel within walking distance of Big Gun Burger, hoping I could put my handful of waking hours to good use by reporting on a solid burger find and giving Chucktown some props. The pre-trip research paid off: Big Gun Burger is worthy of a rave review.
Chef Austin Kirkland's burger shop in downtown Charleston has seven beef-based burgers, ranging from a breakfast burger with a poached egg, Canadian bacon, and hollandaise, to the Frenchman, topped with brie, onion jam, and mushrooms. The non-beef options are arguably more exciting, and include chorizo-style and pulled pork, mixed veggie, turkey, duck confit, and catfish. New meats and toppings are tested out each week as a "Meatbangers Ball" special, which Austin says usually end up being top-sellers the week they're featured.
Since I was hoping to jam in as much Southern culture as possible, I opted for the Southern Hospitality ($11), an all-things-Southern burger topped with pimento cheese, a fried green tomato, bacon, and chow chow, plus a few slices of housemade pickles on the plate.
The hefty half-pound burger is composed of a blend of brisket and chuck that's ground in-house and cooked to order. My medium-rare patty sat up tall and was redolent with rich, beefy flavors. The grilled beef was fairly moist, but not exactly dripping with juice.
The Southern trio of condiments (pimento cheese, fried green tomato and chow chow—a pickled relish made of chopped green tomato and onion, not a lionesque pooch) were so well-executed and well-balanced that it was downright magical. Crunchy components like the smoky bacon and green tomato two ways (fried and pickled) contrasted nicely with the thick and chewy patty-like portion of pimento cheese spread on the top bun (a kaiser roll from Normandy Farm Bakery, located only a mile away from the restaurant).
Seasoned fries come standard, and are crisp and tasty, with spun potato fluff inside, but you've got to try a few of the small plates, too.
Crisp and creamy macaroni and cheese fritters ($5) are a great choice, especially when dipped in the sweet green tomato jam that comes on the side. The jelly-like dip is made with green tomatoes, sugar, and a tiny bit of jalapeño for balance. I thought I tasted a pineapple element, but that must have been the jet lag talking.
Deep fried Brussels sprouts ($6) with puff rice and a tangy chili glaze are also a good bet (though not terribly photogenic in low-lighting, so I'll spare you the photo). Small plates start at $4 and max out at $8 (for the fried gator tail and grits).
With only one opportunity to down a burger in Charleston, I can't say for certain how Big Gun stacks up to the competition, but given the scope of burger variations and how precisely executed the one I tasted was, it's got to be a contender.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax