"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 Erin Jackson, our San Diego correspondent since last August. She also covers the San Diego pizza scene at Slice.
How has writing for AHT changed your burger-eating habits? How often do you eat burgers now compared to before? Since I started writing for AHT, my burger consumption and burger cravings have increased dramatically. One of the biggest reasons why is that until I moved to San Diego, I'd never had a properly cooked (i.e., medium rare) burger. This is largely because of strict health by-laws in Toronto, which say burgers should be cooked completely through until they are "brown or grey." I literally had no idea what I was missing, and now I can't get enough. I also discovered that contrary to my previous beliefs, I do, in fact, like mayo (and aioli).
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest burger encounter? It was either in my own backyard, eating grilled Schneiders Beef Steakette patties on the deck, or like most North American kids, at McDonald's. My parents have a great photo of me celebrating my 3rd birthday there (rocking a mean Astroboy haircut, I might add). You'll have to trust me on this one.
When did you realize you loved burgers? I can't remember a time when I didn't!
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? Anything that's got a good amount of bold flavor and melts well—including cheddar, pepper jack, mahon, or even a nice, smoked gouda like the burger at Sessions Public. My strongest opinion about cheese is that if it's going to be on the burger, there has to be enough of it to actually register. Otherwise, it's just a waste of calories. Sometimes, American is the smartest choice because it's so flavorful and has a delicious texture.
Ketchup or mustard? Neither, ever, under pain of death. Unless we're talking about Dijon mustard, and even then, only once in a while. Ideally, I would like to enact a restraining order against ketchup, which would require it to remain 100 feet away from my plate at all times.
Preferred bun? As long as it's not too dense, and is toasted (preferably with some butter), I'm not too picky. Sesame seed, brioche, potato, or challah are all fair game.
Grilled, griddled, broiled, or other? Grilled, but I've got no problem with griddled or broiled either, so long as it's cooked properly and all of the toppings are fresh.
How do you like your burgers done? Medium rare—lots of pink in the center, but warm all the way through. The burger at Ave 5 was just about perfect.
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? 7-8 ounces of fresh 80/20 ground beef (grass-fed if you've got it) seasoned with salt and pepper (and maybe a touch of garlic powder), grilled medium-rare with some char. Top that off with a thick slice of cheese, arugula, tomato, house-made pickles, and a smear of chipotle aioli on a toasted and buttered bun. Ideally with sweet potato fries and an Arnold Palmer.
What's your favorite fast-food burger? In-N-Out, with Steak 'n Shake a close second. In terms of burgers, no fast food offering can touch In-N-Out, but Steak 'n Shake makes a killer milkshake. I also have a weakness for McDonald's fries.
What topping or condiment should never grace a burger? Peanut butter. There's a place here in San Diego that serves a burger with peanut butter and jam. Pass.
What's the best burger you've eaten this year? The poutine burger at Pink Bicycle in Victoria: a half-pound patty topped with cheese curds, rosemary gravy, and fries. That burger and I shared a beautiful moment together.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? See above.
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? Overrated: Nessy Burgers in Fallbrook. Or maybe the chili cheeseburger from Tommy's—after eating that monster, I lost an entire Saturday. Underrated: the first place that comes to mind is Dairy Queen, but to be fair, it's been a long time since I've been able to track down a location that sells burgers. Maybe I'm remembering the burgers as being better than they actually were, and maybe I liked them so much because the combo meals came with ice cream. This is a distinct possibility.
Imagine that for some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? McDonald's, for a Big Mac with extra Thousand Island, ketchup, and onions. After suffering through that ordeal, there's no way I'd be craving a burger anytime soon.