Cook A Better Burger With 16 Ingredients Or Fewer

By James Ray

Simplicity might be the secret to earning $50,000 this year. For the 16th anniversary of Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest and Cook-Off, the search for America's best burger, judges are looking for entries to incorporate a maximum of 16 ingredients.

"In the past, there has been no limit on the quantity of ingredients," says head judge James McNair. "We're easing the challenge by paring down the quantity of items used."

McNair implies that competitors reinvent their favorite burger with new and different toppings or show off their ethnic background by incorporating standard ingredients from their country of origin.

From shiitake mushroom ketchup, Cuban pickle salsa and banana duck chutney to tzatziki with feta, Creole honey mustard and chermoula mayonnaise, winning burgers have included a variety of exotic tastes from across the world.

Therefore the question remains, can you build a better burger with 16 ingredients or less? McNair claims yes. In the past 15 years, 4 grand prize winners used 16 ingredients or less to make their unique burgers. Last year's $50,000 winner, Barry Rosenstein of Elmhurst, Ill, utilized a record 35 ingredients to build his Sweet and Spicy Red Fez Burgers.

"All of the judges were extraordinarily impressed by the taste and show of Barry's burgers, but the length of his recipe was a bit discouraging for the average individual to re-create," announces Jeffrey Starr, culinary director and executive cook for Sutter Home Winery and Build a Better Burger. "For 2006, we need burgers that are creative, yet accessible to everyday cooks."

McNair recommends reading "Build a Better Burger," released by Ten Speed Press last year, to see all the previous winning recipes thru 2004 and get tips on cooking burgers on the grill.

Build a Better Burger accepts entries from May 15, 2006 to Aug 21, 2006. For complete contest entry rules, visit build or send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Build a Better Burger, Sutter Home Winery, P.O. Box 248, St. Helena, CA, 94574-0248. Build a Better Burger is not open to people living in California or Utah. 10 finalists will be flown to the Napa Valley to challenge in a burger griddling cook-off on September 30, which should be judged by a renowned panel of cooks.

Build a Better Burger is sponsored by Sutter Home Family Vineyards, State Cattlemen's Meat Association, the California Avocado Commission, Colavita Olive Oil, BBQs Galore, Grey Poupon, Snyder's of Hanover and Kettle Chips.

Napa Valley Basil-Smoked Burgers

Makes 6


2/3 cup mayo

2 large spoons prepared basil pesto


2 pounds ground sirloin

1/4 cup Zinfandel

1/4 cup minced fresh basil

1/4 cup minced red onion

1/4 cup fresh Italian bread crumbs

8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, chopped finely

2 little spoons garlic salt

Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack

8 giant fresh basil sprigs, moistened with water

6 massive seeded sandwich rolls, split

6 slices Monterey Jack cheese

6 red leaf lettuce leaves

6 (1/4-inch-thick) large tomato slices

6 paper-thin red onion slices, separated into rings

6 fresh basil sprigs

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or heat a gas griddle to medium-high.

Combine the mayo and pesto in a little bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate till needed.

To make the patties, combine the sirloin, Zinfandel, basil, onion, bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic salt in a giant bowl. Handling the beef as little as possible mix well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and mold them into patties to fit the rolls.

When the griddle is ready, brush the rack with plant oil. Toss basil sprigs directly onto the fire. Place patties on the rack; cover and cook 5 to 7 minutes on each side. During the last few minutes of cooking, place rolls, cut side down, on the outer edges of the rack to toast gently. Top each patty with a cheese slice. Cook 1 minute.

Spread the mayo over the cut sides of the rolls. On each roll bottom, place a lettuce leaf, a patty, a tomato slice, an onion cut and a basil sprig. Add the roll tops and serve.

With 16 ingredients, this burger took the grand prize in 1990.

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