The Stupid Things People Are Putting Around Burgers Instead of Buns

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 30 2013 9:06 AM

Your Stunt Burger Isn’t Good Food, and It Isn’t Good Art

Almost ready to be sandwiched between two Cronuts.

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The world had already seen the doughnut burger, made famous by Paula Deen, which squeezed a beef patty inside a halved Krispy Kreme doughnut instead of a bun. So when New York baker Dominique Ansel invented the croissant-doughnut hybrids known as Cronuts earlier this year, Canadian foodies knew just what to do with them: Slap two around a ground-beef patty! Unfortunately, the Cronut burgers served at a Canadian food festival in August made more than 200 people sick. This past summer also saw the rise of the ramen burger, which uses two fried noodle cakes in lieu of a bun. But the country's leading champion of the burger-with-something-else-taking-the-place-of-the-bun is a Philadelphia restaurant called PYT, which has served burgers made with fried rice patties instead of buns, burgers made with crab cakes instead of buns, and burgers made with fried spaghetti clusters instead of buns, among other variations. This week, PYT is serving its most ambitious creation yet: a burger made with deep-fried Twinkies instead of a bun.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

What accounts for our era’s explosion of bunless stunt burgers? One harbinger might be KFC’s infamous Double Down—bacon and cheese sandwiched between two breaded chicken patties. The Double Down was not a burger, but it was definitely a stunt, and by all accounts a successful one: It’s not every fast-food offering that gets an appearance on the Colbert Report.


The low-carb craze of 10 years ago, which had people eating burgers swathed in iceberg lettuce leaves instead of buns, may also be to blame—although the recent iterations of the genre are obviously not low-carb. Their over-the-top unhealthiness, in fact, is the key to their archness. But the real joke is on the people who eat these things.

A burger made with deep-fried Twinkies is just another example of foodies valuing foods precisely because most people find them disgusting. Contemporary food culture has taken on a Fear Factor-like ethos, in which he who eats the most bugs and offal without vomiting wins, as Dana Goodyear demonstrates in the upcoming, entertaining Anything That Moves. Still, taste is not my main objection to stunt burgers. Sweet and savory flavors often complement each other. Who am I to tell PYT that crème filling and ground beef don’t mix?

My main objection is that gourmands who replace hamburger buns with deep-fried [fill in the blank] willfully ignore the architectural purpose of hamburger buns. They are not just there to provide flavor contrast to your seared beef patty. They are there to sop up beef juices and whatever delicious condiments you have smeared on your burger. They are also there to prevent your hands from getting messy. Deep-fried things are very, very bad at sopping up juices and sauces—their crispy, hardened shell acts like NeverWet is supposed to—and, worse, they actively contribute to getting your hands messy. A burger sandwiched between two deep-fried Twinkies or bundles of noodles will fall apart after the first bite; it has no structural integrity. You may as well put a Sno Ball on a plate next to a slice of meatloaf and call it a day.

Perhaps you are rolling your eyes right now, wondering why I’m taking the Twinkie burger at face value. Perhaps it’s clear to you that stunt burgers should be understood as edible art—as a morsel of tongue-in-cheek commentary on contemporary culture—rather than as a serious lunch offering. The problem with this reading: The conceit of the droll postmodern hamburger is tired. As Alison Pearlman chronicled earlier this year in Smart Casual, chefs have been imitating and reinventing the burger for years—and the results mostly feel like rewarmed pop art. Pearlman summarizes what another author described as a “haute burger skirmish”: In 2003, fancy restaurants competed by developing increasingly expensive and ludicrously rich burgers containing ingredients like foie gras and truffles. (Those highbrow, winking burgers have since been sent up by a $666 “douche burger” containing caviar, lobster, and gold.) Pearlman also describes a macaron-based dessert made to look like a McDonald’s cheeseburger that was introduced by a Chicago restaurant in 2009.

These days, crazy burgers are common enough that the food gossip blog Eater has a topic tag devoted to the genre. In other words, novelty burgers aren’t novel, and they don’t push the envelope (except calorically). A deep-fried Twinkie burger doesn’t say anything new about American culture—it just fecklessly recombines familiar symbols of excess. And then falls apart.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.