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"Drive-in" Cooking (Quintessential American Fare)

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Post your questions here -->>Q&A

"DRIVE-IN" COOKING -- AKA "Quintessential American Fare"

Author: Holly Moore

I don't know from quintessential.

This course is about "Drive-In" fare. Basic American eats. Hamburgers. Hot Dogs. French Fries. Onion Rings. Milk Shakes. How to prepare them. How they used to be made before the corporations took over and shrunk the burgers, blanded out the dogs, froze the fries, prechewed the onion rings and undairied the shakes.


Assembling the ingredients:

Most important to the hamburger is the ground beef that goes into it. The cooked burger should have good flavor and be nice and juicy without being overly greasy. 80% lean to 20% fat is an ideal beef blend. Avoid the 90% and 95% lean ground beefs found at the supermarket. Not enough fat for flavor and juiciness. In fact, avoid the supermarket meat counter all together. Their ground beef always seems mushy and watery. And it pales once removed from the special supermarket meat case cosmetic lighting. For home use I favor Black Angus ground beef from one of the higher end markets. Or the grindings of a good local butcher I can trust.

On eGullet there has been a lot of talk about adding brisket to the ground beef mixture. They say it gives a good beefy flavor. I haven't had any luck locating that blend here in Philadelphia. But if you grind your own or have a cooperative butcher, go for it. eGulleteers recommend a 75% chuck and 25% brisket blend.

Key to the bread is what McDonald's technologists once christened the "meat to bread ratio." Too much bread and the burger gets lost. There is no inverse. McDonald's has never had to worry about their burgers overpowering the bread.

Classic hamburger buns work fine. As do English muffins, kaiser rolls and variations there upon. Nothing wrong with plain ol' bread. Supermarket white bread soaks up burger juices quite nicely. I'm partial to an artisan, multi-grain wheat. For this class I'm using the traditional hamburger bun - buttered and caramelized on a griddle as opposed to toasted in a toaster.

Toppings. I'm going to be making a cheeseburger. The cheese a good, sharp, aged cheddar that can still be sliced without crumbling. Cabot's works fine. As does Kraft Cracker Barrel. Also onions, fried or fresh. I'm going with fried, using the center, unused portion from the onion rings. And a good brown mustard, though French's yellow is more typically drive-in.

The Recipe: Yield 4 hamburgers

Sliced Onion (Centers from the Onion Rings - halved and then sliced medium thick)

Butter or a butter/cooking oil mix

1 1/4 lb 80% lean ground beef

4 each Hamburger Buns


Salt and Pepper

Optional: Fresh sliced tomato, sliced raw onion, grilled bacon. And all manner of cheese and anything else that sounds good. One of my all time favorite chain burgers, Roy Roger's Double R Bar Burger - a quarter pound cheeseburger topped with sliced ham.

1. In a skillet, sauté the onions in butter until soft - longer if you wish for a caramelized brown. Remove and set aside. Keep warm. No reason not to fry up a bunch and keep them in the fridge for the next time. Adding some cooking oil to the butter keeps the butter from burning/browning.

2. Form the ground beef into 5 ounce patties. These patties should be loosely packed not firmly pressed into shape. About 1/4" thick. Maybe 3/8". And the diameter of the bun. I'm not a fan of super-sized 8, 10 or 12 ounce burgers. Harder to cook a perfect medium rare and too unwieldy a burger once topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and such. Then again, from his Q&A, Evan Lobel's burgers weigh in at 10-12 ounces. I won't be saying no to one of Butcher Lobel's burgers.


3. Pull apart the buns and spread on a light coating of butter. If the butter is cold, slice it thin and spread a few pieces on each side of the bun. By the time to toast the buns, the butter will be soft and spreadable.

4. Preheat a cast iron skillet for the burgers and a second skillet or griddle. Medium high flame for the burgers, medium for the buns. Toss a tablespoon of butter into the burger skillet. You don't need to fry the burgers in butter; the grease from the burger will suffice. But butter seems to bring out the beef's flavor. It's the way I've been doing it since my parents let me near a stove.

5. Once the butter has melted, add the burger. The goal is to fry the burger to a medium rare. Nice brown freckled crust on the outside, pink leading to red inside. Since e-coli has become trendy, health departments want the patties to be cooked to medium-well. I've been lucky I guess. Have been eating rare to medium rare burgers all my life and have never once been knocked about by e-coli. But if you're worried, or cooking for kids who are evidently more e-coli prone, grit your teeth and cook the burgers over a lower heat to medium well-done.


6. Once the burger is nicely freckled, about three minutes, flip it. Here is where the skillet, as opposed to a griddle, comes in handy. After the burger has cooked on the second side for about a minute, top it with the cheese and cover the skillet. The steam heat will melt the cheese. With a griddle you can achieve the same effect by inverting a stainless steel bowl or if you have it, topping the burger with a pot lid that has some height.

7. After you've flipped the burger, place the buns, buttered side down, onto the second skillet. The goal is to have the entire bun flat against the surface of the skillet. I weight the buns down with a glass casserole lid to get a nice even golden browning. The downside is that this flattens out the buns. Less photogenic, but more drive-in verite.

8. Time to assemble the burger. Cheeseburger onto the bottom (heel) of the bun. Then some of the still warm fried onions. Tomato and onion if so inclined. Spread the mustard on the top (crown) of the bun. Mustard isn't really a northeast thing. You see it mostly in the midwest and the south. Give it a try at least once.


9. Place the crown on the cheeseburger and enjoy.




Assembling The Ingredients:

Like burgers, it's all about the hot dog itself. And again my prejudices show. All beef, nice and spicy. I'll be grilling the dogs, and all beef dogs fry up better. For steaming or boiling, go with regular hot dogs.

eGullet's Hot Dog John has offered volumes on the various dogs. John and I seem to agree that Usinger's in Milwaukee makes one of the best, if not the best, hot dogs in the country. They sell them over the internet at http://www.Usingers.com. Usinger's is best known for their Black Angus hot dog which was chosen for the Utah Winter Olympics and was picked as outstanding stadium dog by the Baseball Hall of Fame. But their regular all beef wieners and franks have the same flavor and are available in more varieties with a natural casing.

Hot dogs are sold by count - the number of hot dogs to a pound. Most common are 8-10 to a pound. I wouldn't go anything smaller than 8 to a pound. Meat to bun ratio again. Usinger's also sells thicker 4 and 5 to a pound dogs.

The hot dog bun is one of my biggest frustrations. I don't live in New England so have no regular access to the top split (cut) or New England style hot dog bun. My local markets only offer the bun that is standard for the rest of the country - side split. What makes the New England bun ideal is that it has both inner and outer surfaces that are butterable and toastable. The side split has only an inner toastable surface. A hot dog tastes better when the bun can be buttered and toasted on all sides. Just does. Occasionally, in Philadelphia at least, Pepperidge Farms New England style hot dog buns show up on supermarket shelves.

The dogs I'm going to be cooking are Texas Wieners - a common Philadelphia and North Jersey variation upon a dog. Split and grilled hot dogs, topped with mustard, onions and a ground beef and chili based sauce called Texas Wiener Sauce, Coney Island Sauce or All-The-Way Sauce. It's a simple sauce - ground beef, minced onions, chili powder, cumin and paprika. I've seen recipes with ketchup and Coke, too. My guess is that Coney Island sauce is a combination of whatever was handy near grill that combined to taste ok. To top the dogs, some chopped onion and mustard.

The Recipe: Texas Wiener Sauce

12 oz Ground Beef

½ each Minced Onion - Chop the other half to top the dogs.

2 tbs Chili Powder

1 tsp Cumin

2 tsp Paprika

Salt and pepper to taste.

Water as needed (Approximate 2/3 cup)

1. Brown the ground beef.

2. Stir in all the other ingredients except for the water.

3. Thin with water until reduced about 50 percent.

The Recipe: Texas Wiener

4 4 or 5 Count All Beef Hot Dogs - I'm using Usinger's Black Angus 5/Pound

4 Hot Dog Buns, buttered

Texas Wiener Sauce

Mustard - Your Choice

Chopped onion

1. Split the hot dogs, but don't separate the halves

2. Place the split side onto a well heated skillet or griddle. Fry till nicely browned

3. Flip and fry on the other side until done


4. While frying, fry the buttered side of the buns to a golden brown.

5. Assemble the hot dog. Place the dog in the bun. Top generously with Texas Wiener Sauce. Top with chopped onions and mustard. Hot dog common law. The dog goes on the bottom. Everything else on top.



A pain to make at home, but so much better than frozen. Proper fries are cooked in two steps. First at a lower temperature to cook them through but not brown them. Then, just before serving at a high temperature to brown and crisp them. Do all this in one stage rather than two, and the fries turn brown and are limp and greasy.

When I first tried to do my own fresh cut french fries I bought a home deep fat fryer. It went out with the next week's trash. Two problems - it wouldn't get hot enough and it would not recover fast enough. Recovery is the time it takes for the oil to get back to the desired temperature once the potatoes have been placed in the fryer. It's not all that important for the initial frying but critical for the second. Nowadays I use a pasta cooker (pot with stainless steel pull out insert / drain. There are also stovetop fry set-ups available at most kitchen stores.

Assembling the Ingredients:

The potatoes - Idaho Number 1 - good sized and burly as opposed to lanky. Some people use Yukon Gold, but they don't produce a long enough fry for my taste. Idaho's are the classic American fry.

The cooking oil: Way back when, the potatoes were fried in lard. McDonald's cooked theirs in a mixture of 75% vegetable oil and 25% lard. Nowadays most potatoes are fried in vegetable oil. I'm using canola oil. Peanut oil works quite well too.

The Recipe: French Fries

4 Idaho potatoes


Cooking oil to fill your frying apparatus.

1. Peel the potatoes. This is optional. I like the clean look of peeled potatoes. Some maintain it is healthier to leave skins on. Some maintain it is easier to leave skins on. Restaurants leave them on because it minimizes the labor cost and improves the yield.

2. Cut the potatoes into fries. I have a french fry cutter that gives me a quarter inch french fry. Others may be able to figure out how to achieve this on a mandoline. Or it's the cutting board and french knife. The goal is a consistently sized, thick french fry. I am not a fan of shoestring cut fries. Too thin to achieve perfection in two step frying.


3. Chill the cut potatoes in cold water for at least two hours. Spin or thoroughly pat dry before cooking so the moisture won't spatter when potato hits the oil.

4. Preheat the oil to 275 degrees for the first cooking. Use a fry thermometer for all temperatures. The proper temperature is crucial. Place the fries into the basket (or in my case the pasta holder and immerse into the oil. Cook for approximately 4 - 5 minutes. If they clump together, separate them with tongs as they are cooking. The object is to cook the fries through, but not to brown them. The fry is cooked when it is the palest of yellows or still white and it is limp. Spread out on paper towels to drain and cool off in the refrigerator.


5. Remove the chilled fries from the refrigerator. Preheat the oil to 375 degrees. Place 1 -2 portions in the fry basket and cook to golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from fryer, shake off the excess oil. (Note: If the oil is fresh, the first few batches of fries may not brown well.)

6. Salt to taste and serve immediately.



Onion rings can be fried in a beer batter, or floured and re-floured without being breaded. Breaded is the way we did them at the Sip and Sup Drive-In in Parsippany NJ, back when cars had fins.

Assembling the ingredients:

Seek out giant yellow or Spanish onions - the bigger the better. Ideally, colossal size.

Breading will be a standard three steps. Flour, egg wash (eggs and milk) and breading (bread crumbs).

Same oil as for french fries. Same cooking apparatus.

The Recipe:

4 each Giant yellow onions

2 cups Flour

1 tsp White Pepper

1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

2 tsp Garlic Powder

2 each Eggs

1 Pint Whole Milk

Bread Crumbs

1. Peel and slice the onions into 1/4 inch slices. Separate the slices into rings. Put the slices in a bowl of water. (Only use the large ones for onion rings. Use the inner portion of the slices for other things like fried onions for the cheeseburgers.)

2. Prepare the flour mix by combining the flour with the white pepper, cayenne and garlic powder.

3. Prepare the egg wash by combining the eggs and the milk. Buttermilk is a nice substitution.

4. Set up your breading station. Bowl of onions in water to the left, then the seasoned flour, egg wash next, bread crumbs to the right.


5. Using your left hand remove a few onion rings from the water and shake off the excess moisture. Place in the flour. Use your right hand to toss til coated and then transfer to the egg wash. Using your left hand, remove the onion rings from the egg wash and drop into the bread crumbs. Then use your right hand to toss the rings in the bread crumbs until coated and place on a cookie sheet. Repeat until all onion rings are breaded. The basic theory is left hand for liquids. Right hand for solids. Keeps your fingers relatively unbreaded.


6. Preheat the cooking oil to 350 degrees. Drop the rings into the oil one or two at a time. Cook 1 or 2 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the fryer and let drain on a paper towel.


7. Season lightly with salt (optional) and serve immediately.



Assembling the ingredients:

Whole milk is fine. I've been messing around lately with half and half and light and heavy cream. These do make smoother shakes. Also much more expensive shakes. Light cream struck me as the best of the alternatives.

I'm using Hershey's syrups. One of these days I'll make my own which will be more bittersweet. But Hershey's is the milkshake standard.

Philadelphia is lucky to have a great ice cream - Bassett's, which I always use for shakes. Hate the stuff sold in the supermarket half gallons. Way too much air whipped in. At the same time, a super premium ice cream would be wasted on the shakes, but if it fits within your disposable income, why not.

For mixing the shake - I invested in a modern day Hamilton Beach mixer. Overkill, but I've never been able to make a good thick, creamy shake in a blender. If that's all you have available, maybe you'll have better luck.

The Recipe:

2 oz Chocolate Syrup

5 oz Milk or Light Cream or whatever

3 #24 Scoops (about 1/2 pint) of a good quality Chocolate Ice Cream (use coffee for a mocha shake or vanilla for black and white)

1. The colder everything is, the better, so consider prechilling your mixing container.

2. Add the ingredients to the mixing container in the order shown.

3. Mix at a lower speed to start. Then increase the speeds. My blender has three speeds. Mixing takes about three minutes for silky smooth maybe a little longer.

4. Serve immediately. Makes a 16 oz shake.


Post your questions here -->>Q&A

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