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On Pickles and Burgers

April 27, 2017

Mr. Dave likes pickles on his cheeseburger. And I get it. I do. Remember, I come from the land of Cuban sandwiches and grew up with a few slices of pickle pressed between ham, cheese, and lechon. Plus, I’m on the record of being a fan of the Big Mac precisely because of the interplay between the special sauce, lettuce, onions, and pickles.

But those are special circumstances, and unique variations where the presence of pickle is central to its very identity.

What I like is how Country Drive In presents its burger. This seasonal burger stand puts the pickle slices on top of the burger. And just to make sure those palate cleansing discs don’t blow away in the breeze, they are secured with a skewer that holds the whole sandwich together.

Now why do they do that? I can’t say for sure, but what I can tell you is why I wholeheartedly endorse this approach.

It’s the same reason that I enjoy cornichons next to a slice of raw milk camembert, but I would never use one of those little gerkins to scoop up the runny paste from a ripe piece of the cheese.

The pickle is great for enjoying in between bites of rich, fatty, mouth coating foods. Think about kosher deli for a minute. This is an institution where the currency is pastrami sandwiches. Reubens, as delicious as they may be, are an aberration. You can’t have cheese in a kosher deli. So you eat a hot, fatty, hand sliced sandwich of pastrami in between slices of rye bread.

Naturally you need a pickle to help cut through all that fat. And that’s why there is a never ending bowl of half sours on the table in front of you.

But a pastrami sandwich with pickles on it? Perish the thought.

Let’s get back to burgers though, because while it’s repugnant to imagine pickles on pastrami, people still put them on burgers all the time. In part because that’s how burgers have always been made. That said, one of my gripes about pickles is more of a modern one.

Pickles today are terrible. Seriously, go to a grocery store and look at the ingredients on a jar of pickles. It’s hard to find ones that don’t contain added flavors, colors, and preservatives. The whole point of pickles in the first place was to naturally preserve summer’s bounty.

It creeps me out to remove a pickle from some sandwich and realizing that it has stained my food a fluorescent shade of green. That’s not food I want to eat.

You know what else I don’t want to eat? A hot, steamed pickle.

More often than not, when you have a pickle on a quick-service burger, that’s what you’re getting. If I’m going to take the sodium hit of a pickle, which is not insubstantial, I want to enjoy it dammit. And it should be all about offering a zesty burst of acidity to refresh the taste buds from the barrage of delicious fat you have released upon them. That way, you can taste all that juicy beefy goodness again, for the first time.

What does a warm soggy pickle accomplish? Nothing. Well, it gives you a hot burst of sour salt. And that’s not nothing. But I can’t say it’s particularly desirable.

Pulling the pickle out of the sandwich and treating it as an accompaniment solves so many of these problems. For starters you get to see it before you eat it. Does it look cooked to death and artificially colored? No? Great! Eat that pickle.

I’m a picky pickle eater, so I’m going to skip a lot of subpar pickles just upon visual inspection. Once you’ve learned the telltale signs of an industrial pickle, it’s easy to avoid the ones that aren’t worth eating.

But by removing the pickle from the confines of the bun, you are also bringing back all that crisp, refreshing power that the pickle is supposed to pack in the first place.

Can a fancy restaurant pull off a better pickle inside a burger? You bet. But the odds are against you at roadside seasonal burger stands. Or at least I suspect them to be. And that’s why, if given my druthers, I’m going to try and be on a team that gets a double cheeseburger without the pickle.

Whew. Thanks for listening. I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2017 9:52 am

    I’m not really hung up on cucumber pickles on cheeseburgers, it’s more the acid component which possibly could be a pickle (and not just a pickled cucumber) that I was speaking of. Certainly mustard (acid from the vinegar) on pastrami isn’t a concept that blows your mind… My point stands. You are a cheeseburger deviant.

  2. April 27, 2017 1:32 pm

    So wrong.

    When I was growing up in Dallas, there was a fried chicken chain called Youngblood’s. They’d bring pickle spears that were nestled among the chicken pieces and so inevitably hot and steamy. So good. Today, the easiest way to get a delicious hot steamy pickle is to order a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. The only thing I’ll eat there.

    Pickles are necessary on a great burger because not only do they add acid, they provide a natural lubrication sort of like they synovial fluid in your joints. Which is why the world’s best burger is an In-N-Out modded with double onions, pickles and mustard instead of sauce.

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