It Takes Onions
In preparation for some April coverage of the El Reno Fried Onion Burger Festival, I traveled out to Canadian County with a little help from some friends for a tour of the Fried Onion Burger Holy Trinity: Sid’s, Robert’s and Johnny’s.
View El Reno Onion Burger Tour in a larger map
David Egan, co-owner of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, isn’t the mayor of El Reno, but he might be Grand Poobah. He lives within walking distance of all three, and when he’s not eating lamb fries or grilling up Presidential Steaks on national television, he’s eating at one of the big 3. He offered long ago to be a tour guide, and at long last I accepted.
Tagging along were chef John Bennett and Keith Paul, president of A Good Egg Dining Group.
Fried-onion burgers first started popping up in Western Oklahoma in the late 1920s as a way to stretch ground beef in Depression-era cafes. As serendipity would have it, this cost-saving measure gave birth to Oklahoma’s unique twist on the traditional burger. The fried-onion burger is to Oklahoma what the dipped Italian roast beef sandwich is to Chicago. There are burger joints that carry onion burgers, but they’re not necessarily true fried-onion burgers.
Technique determines the classification. A wad of fresh ground beef is dropped onto a blazing hot griddle then covered with fresh onions. Then the onions are pressed, usually with a retro-fitted, cast-iron paving tool, into the raw beef. When flipped, the unadorned side is dark and crusty. The tool is used again to flatten the uncooked side and integrate the onions into the newly forming crust. When done, the onions are charred, crisp and standing with toes over the edge of burnt from whence they carefully creep back from the dangerous acrid flavor of overcookedness. A few pickles, plenty of mustard and fried-onion burger nirvana is reached. Yes, you can do mayo, but somehow it’s just not the same.
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