Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar last Friday triumphed at the South Lake Union Block Party burger-grilling contest, claiming its third consecutive win with a patty that teetered on the cusp of burgerdom.
How much bacon does a burger need?
Seastar's entry was made with 40 percent bacon, producing a spectacularly salty burger studded with pork fat. As a judge, I gave the burger a few extra points for creativity, but wondered whether beef burgers should be added to the growing list of foods that aren't made better by bacon.
Unlike ice cream and cornbread, burgers don't need an added oomph of salt. Nor are burgers lacking in the fat that bacon can contribute to green beans or freshwater trout. A burger shouldn't require a rasher of bacon to make it a juicy mess.
What bacon can bring to a burger is crunch, which is why I'm not opposed to putting a strip or two on a patty (although the purist in me fears that bacon, now an emblem of excess, is a gateway topping. It's far easier to accept ostentatious accoutrements like avocado and onion rings once the bacon boundary's been crossed.) While my preferred burger toppings are jalapenos and mayonnaise, I've ordered my share of burgers with blue cheese and bacon.
Still, there are endless ways to tinker with burgers that don't require adding bacon to the meat mix. Burger chefs can toy with buns, beef sourcing, fat-to-lean ratios, and condiments without violating the integrity of a sandwich that's pretty perfect when it's made from all-cow.
That's how I see it. But in yet another experience I never had in Texas, I discovered I'm more conservative than the state's beef council.
"We love bacon!," Washington State Beef Commission director Patti Brumbach told me when I asked her opinion of the 40/60 sacrilege. "So long as the ratio is mostly beef, we're in."
Intermingling cattle and swine in the kitchen isn't a new idea, of course: Many Bolognese sauces are made with veal and pork. But the technique has lately gained popularity with backyard grillers. Bacon/burger recipes have been circulating online for at least four years, and Brumbach says she's seen more burgers made with ground bacon and sausage--including ready-to-grill commercial patties stuffed with bacon and cheese (so much for those creativity points I gave Seastar.)
Brumbach theorizes the increased experimentation may be a result of a recession-related spike in burger consumption.
"If you can't afford a steak, you can afford a burger," she says. "We're seeing that as a very hot trend."