Hamburger America: Tessaro's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Editor's note: Burgermeisters! Here's another excerpt from George Motz's book Hamburger America. George and his publisher were kind enough to allow us to run them here, along with George's beautiful photos. Eat up!


20080725-hamambook.jpgFor years, the incredible ground beef that Tessaro’s used for their burgers came from a butcher shop directly across the street called House of Meats. When the shop closed one day, Kelly Harrington, part owner of this Pittsburgh burger destination, did what seemed the most sensible— he hired the butcher.

Unique to the burger world, the hamburgers at Tessaro’s are grilled over a fire made from West Pennsylvania hardwoods, not charcoal or a blue propane flame that seems standard for indoor flame grilling. Tessaro’s uses a mixture of yellow maple, red oak, and walnut, all indigenous to the area. "We stay away from Hickory because it’s too strong," Kelly pointed out, "and no fruit trees because they are loaded with pesticides." Hardwoods produce a flame that is far hotter than gas or charcoal. Grill man of 20 years Courtney McFarlane told me, "The fire can get up to 600 degrees in there."

The burgers at Tessaro’s are unmeasured but somewhere near a half-pound. Courtney grabs a wad of Dominic’s fresh ground beef and tells me, "After a while it's easy to guess the size." He then swiftly forms the ball into a patty, slaps the beef onto a stainless surface next to the grill, and does this move where he spins the patty to form an edge. The entire process takes seconds. He is a master burger-maker and the finished product strangely resembles a large, machined-pressed patty.

Served on a soft, Portuguese-type roll from a bakery down the street, the hefty burger is a sight to behold. It's perfectly charred on the outside and juicy and moist on the inside. And thanks to the hardwood, the burger has a taste like no other—a woodsy, barbecue essence that manages not to overpower the flavor of the high-quality beef.

Kelly's sister Ena told me that if they run out of ground beef on a busy night, they'll call Dominic the butcher back in to grind some more. I asked her why the burgers were so good and she told me bluntly, "Not everybody can afford a butcher."


4601 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15224 (map) 412-682-6809 Mon. to Sat., 11 a.m. - midnight; closed Sunday

Hamburger America is available at Amazon and comes with a DVD of George's movie of the same title.