It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of paying double-digits for a burger would have sent incredulous customers packing.
But today, upscale restaurants and fast food joints across the country are using signature burgers to draw crowds and keep their name in the headlines.
David “Rev” Ciancio, director of marketing for ground beef purveyor Schweid & Sons, which provides meat to big names in the business, says today’s over-the-top burgers started with one chef: Daniel Boulud.
“If I had to pick one [burger], let’s call it when the timeline changed, I’d say it was the DB Bistro Moderne Burger,” Ciancio explained to Chew on This. “That was the one that made it acceptable to have crazy burgers on your menu.”
In 2001, Boulud started offering the signature burger at his New York City restaurant for $27 (today it’s $35). Composed of seven different varieties of meat, including short rib and ground sirloin, the thick patty surrounds a generous portion of foie gras and black truffle. The Cronut may have opened the door for mashup pastries, but Daniel Boulud escorted a humble fast food item to the big leagues.
Gourmet burgers increasingly appeared on menus after that. But when the recession hit, diners started looking for new ways to enjoy meat.
“When people had more discretionary income, they’d go out for a steak dinner and drop $50,” Ciancio said. “The wacky burgers we see today were restaurants responding to the consumer who still wanted to go out and enjoy something fun and celebratory.”
As “foodie” culture grew, buoyed by bloggers and the rise of social media, chefs responded to more adventurous palates by putting pretty much everything but the kitchen sink between two buns.
“You can have stuffed burgers, you can have stacked burgers. Burgers with multiple proteins in them … At this point it is limitless what you can do to a hamburger,” says Ciancio, who has been a judge at dozens of burger competitions and who helped created the burger blend for Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger, which debuted at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg food fair in 2013.
Since then, more restaurants have used limited edition burgers to drum up press and bring in new customers. The latest nationwide offering is Burger King’s A.1. Halloween Burger – a riff on the company’s Japanese Kuro burger, which made headlines last year. The Japanese Whopper featured black cheese and was colored with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, but the American version used a variety of food dyes and steak sauce. The result was that diners reported that their poo turned bright green.
Though the A.1. Halloween Burger debuted less than two weeks ago, and some outlets reported that it would be in stores until the end of the month, Burger King outlets in the New York City area said they were either sold out or were no longer selling the black burger.
But even if you can’t get your hands on a Halloween Whopper, Ciancio says there will be plenty of iterations down the line.
“Chefs and restaurants going to keep one-upping each other in the future. Wacky and gourmet burgers are definitely here to stay.”