The classic roadside diner seems to be a staple of childhood memories and Hollywood films alike.
The greasy food, swiveling bar stools wrapping around the counter and the characters--both real and imagined--loom large in our thoughts.
There is one single menu item that seems to dominate the diner, and that is the cheeseburger. Diner burgers are different than other burgers for one major reason: They’re cooked on a hot griddle, and usually, but not always, smashed down under a cast iron weight to deliver that perfect thin, crispy patty beloved by so many.
Most people have a strong memory of at least one diner experience, and I’m no different. Many years ago I was helping my best friend and Cooking with Fire co-host Tom Jackson move back to Kansas from Michigan. We were starving and had been driving for hours when we saw a sign for a diner. We pulled in past the tree line and the diner looked like something out of a movie, with requisite neon lights, faded chrome decor, and a single waitress working the late shift. The locals were all hunched in what I assume were their favorite booths and we took a seat at the counter. I ordered my usual: a double cheeseburger and onion rings.
Now, something about that memory makes me believe that this was the single best burger and onion rings I’d ever had, and maybe they were. But it also could have been our late night hunger and exhaustion kicking in, which would make any meal seem great. But even with hindsight the memory doesn’t change. I have no clue where that diner was or its name. Heck, it may be closed now, but I can picture the whole place in my mind, and when I think of roadside diners, that unnamed space off an interstate between Wichita and Michigan is what comes to mind.
And even though I probably wouldn’t be able to find my way back it that diner, it doesn’t matter. Perfect “diner” burgers can be replicated at home. Chef Tom and I will tell you how on this episode of Cooking with Fire:
Yield: 4 burgers
- 1 lb 80/20 ground beef
- 2 large yellow onion, sliced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 slices bacon
- 4 slices American cheese
- 4 burger buns
- clarified butter, as needed
- mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, (optional)
- Preheat your griddle/skillet. Cook the bacon to desired doneness on the griddle. Remove and set aside.
- Use the bacon fat to cook the sliced onions. Season the onions with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until softened and browned. Remove from the griddle.
- Portion your burgers into 1/4 lb (4 oz) balls. Melt some of the clarified butter on the griddle. Place the burgers on top of the butter, topped with a piece of parchment paper to prevent the burger from sticking to the grill press. Smash each burger down using a grill press. Leave the press on top of the burger for about 10 seconds to allow the crust to begin to form. After you remove the press, also remove the parchment and season the burger with salt and pepper. When a nice brown crust is formed on the bottom side, flip the burger to brown the other side. Top each burger patty with a slice of cheese. Cover with a bowl and squirt a little water under the bowl to steam the cheese. Remove from the grill when the bottom side is crusted and cheese is melted.
- Place some clarified butter on the griddle. Place your buns on the butter. Toast and remove.
- Build your burgers. Add to the bun two burger patties, one slice of bacon, torn in half, the griddled onions and your choice of condiments.