Last Saturday, Wade Fortin and Andrew Wiegand of Second City Smoke won the final round of the World Burger Championship at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. Along with bragging rights, they took home the top prize of $10,000, plus an additional $5,000 for their third-place finish at the Final Table competition. The winning burger, a bacon cheeseburger dubbed the "El Toro" was topped with crispy onions, bread and butter pickles, A.1. horseradish aioli, and a port wine reduction.
The event, held at the Freemont Street Experience, attracted hundreds of burger fans and 35 competitors from across the nation. All were previous winners of official qualifying events, awards, and burger battles.
I made the trip from San Diego to judge the final round of the competition, which pitted the top 10 chefs from the semis against each other in a final quest for glory. Entries ranged from a ramen burger crowned with shredded cabbage and mandarin orange slices, to a burger topped with creamy crab salad that just might haunt my nightmares.
Judges for the competition included Jason Stucki, last year's burger champion (and owner of Lucky 13 in Salt Lake City), two corporate chefs from Kraft, a Playboy playmate (Claire Sinclair, 2011's Playmate of the Year, if you're curious), Ben Vaughn, host of Health Inspectors on Food Network, and Ray Lampe, aka "Dr. BBQ", among others.
Unlike other competitions I've judged, where burgers are presented one at a time and judges are free to chat amongst themselves, this time, the burgers arrived almost all at once, and the judging process was to be completed in TOTAL SILENCE. It was a bit unnerving, but on the plus side, it only took about 20 minutes for me to sample and score all of the burgers. The drawback was they were all cold, which diminished my eating enjoyment. Under normal circumstances, I think all of the entries would likely have tasted a lot better.
Unfortunately, Ettore's, the winners of the Sacramento Burger Battle didn't make it to the final round. Had they been able to reproduce their victory-clinching burger once again, it would have blown all of the other entries straight to the top of the Stratosphere.
A.1. was a sponsor of the event, and a required ingredient in all of the burgers, but only a few of the entries really embraced the steak sauce. Most competitors simply infused their burger patty with so little of it that I couldn't really detect it. From my personal perspective, this wasn't such a bad thing, since I'm not a huge fan of the condiment.
My favorite entry (by a hair) was this burger on ciabatta by Jeffery Boudreaux. It struck a great balance between classic and unique, and had some awesome pickles. A Texas toast burger by The Burger Deacons and the winning burger tied for second place on my scorecard. If you're curious about the final tallies, you can take a look here.
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 San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax