Get Lit: Hamburger America: A State-By-State Guide to 100 Great Burger Joints, by George Motz

I boiled the hamburger in beer in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove, adding five pinches of salt and three squirts of mustard along the way. It was the only “loosemeats sandwich” in the hamburger book and my daughter and I wanted to try something different – different at least for people like us who’ve never been to Marshalltown, Iowa where Taylor’s Maid-Rite makes “a sloppy joe without the slop.”

Actually, put between two pieces of bread with plenty of pickles it was great. Just like a lot of the other slightly more traditional burgers look to be in this ode to that most American of meals.

For two years George Motz drove around the country, eating burgers. (His wife is a vegetarian, he delights in telling us.) He’s written up 100 of his favorites and although recipes are few – Taylor’s being one of the few places not keeping secrets and secret sauces – just reading about these places and the hamburgers they serve makes for true entertainment.

Oh and of course you can forget the McDonalds, Burger Kings and Whataburgers. This book sought out the unique and special. Some are famous on a local or regional scale, most you might never have a chance to know about unless you read this book.

Some states (Alabama) don’t have a single representative. Texas has eight, including two Houston spots: Christian’s Tailgate Bar & Grill (7340 Washington Ave.) and Lankford Grocery (88 Dennis St.) , as well as the Tookie’s in Seabrook (1202 Bayport Boulevard) with its famous Squealer. In the interests of full disclosure, Houston Press food writer Robb Walsh, himself a man who’s gone in search of many burgers and lived to tell the tale, is acknowledged in the book for steering Motz to some of the places he tried out here.

Tucked into the back of the book is a copy of the documentary film that Motz made, catapulting him to semi-fame on the Sundance Channel and, as his publicist points out, a James Beard nomination and a chance to teach a course on hamburgers at New York University. The film, also called Hamburger America, shows off eight places where Motz stopped. The people who run these places explain what’s special about their burgers and why they keep on doing what they do as they construct burger after burger. Motz never appears on camera. (You will have a chance to meet him, however, on May 7 when he’s at Brazos Bookstore.)

The DVD starts off with a deep-fried burger from Dyer’s Burger’s (205 Beale St., Memphis, TN) --just drop it in the vat of grease and fry it till it floats to the top -- and then does a 180 to a steamed cheeseburger at Ted’s Restaurant (1044 Broad St. Meriden, CT) – where the burger and the white cheddar cheese on top are steamed.

Along the way there’s the guberburger (which my daughter wanted to try but I did not) in which melted peanut butter is spread on top of a really thin hamburger before it’s put in a sandwich. Apparently its owner featured in the film wasn’t able to save his place in the path of highway expansion; the book notes that the Wheel Inn Drive of Sedalia, Missouri was forced to close in 2007 but that the burger was moved around the corner to a nearby store.

Just in case you can’t get there, the book includes a recipe. – Margaret Downing

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