Story and Recipes by Terese Allen, Food Editor
When Americans think of cooking outdoors, hamburgers and hot dogs are what first come to mind. We imagine grilled burgers in the backyard or at a beachside picnic site, and wieners boiled on the Coleman stove, or skewered on a whittled stick and roasted over a campfire.
And though we down 'em nationwide by the billion, burgers and hot dogs are all about local flavor. We go for onion burgers in El Reno, Oklahoma, butter burgers in Milwaukee and bean burgers in San Antonio. In hot dogs it's a Fenway Frank in Boston, a red hot or a white hot in upstate New York and a Chicago-style hot dog in the Windy City.
But traditional favorites are just the beginning. If you let regional crops and products be your inspiration, burger and hot dog variations have no bounds. Try burgers with woodsy chanterelles, culled from the forests of the Northwest, or Vermont-theme hot dogs blanketed by maple-spiked baked beans. Or any of the recipes listed below.
Like Americans themselves, hamburgers and hot dogs are diverse, adaptable, easy-going. Indeed, as culinary historian John T. Edge has written about burgers (and the same could be said about hot dogs): "They transcend inter-regional variation....Recognized from the Atlantic to the Pacific as uniquely American, they evoke the culinary and cultural fabric of our nation."
The dense, dewy forests of our nation's Northwest yield a savory harvest of wild mushrooms. Elegant, trumpet-shaped chanterelles are an aromatic favorite during the summer and into fall, and in this recipe they turn an everyday burger into something very special. Other fresh mushrooms, wild or cultivated, may be substituted for the chanterelles.
Never had a butter burger? Then you're probably not from eastern Wisconsin, where pats of creamery butter often are tucked between the bun and burger (and sometimes inside the burger itself) to produce a hot, golden ooze. Get your napkin ready, for this one can be gloriously messy.
Tex-Mex cuisine shares many ingredients with New Mexican and California food--beans, corn, cheese, tortillas, and above all, fiery chilies--but what distinguishes border fare from its Southwestern neighbors is the prominence of beef. Here, Tex-Mex salutes the great American burger, and crowns it with the big, bold flavors of that quintessential Tex-Mex specialty, steak fajitas. Serve with Tex-Mex Guacamole!
There's lots of lusty California flavor in a burger sandwich that includes artichokes, fresh basil, sun-kissed red peppers and the garlicky olive paste called tapenade. The latter is a snap to prepare in a food processor, so after you've slathered as much as you like on your burgers, use any leftovers to spread on crackers, stir into dressings or liven up a pasta salad.
Is there any time more joyful than tomato season? Red-ripe, fat with juice, tomatoes are the nation's favorite vegetable, especially the vine-ripened, flavor-happy heirloom types. They come in all colors and sizes, and the ones big enough to blanket a burger include meaty Brandywines, mahogany-colored Black Kris, and the super-sweet beefsteak variety called Striped German. Slice 'em thick and layer them with burgers between dark rye bread and a smear of garlicky feta butter.
The Northeast's famous baked beans are traditionally made with molasses, but here they are sweetened with another New England classic: maple syrup. One pound of dry navy beans will yield enough hot topping for a crowd...and then some.
Have you ever treated a hot dog like a brat? A bratwurst, that is, the peppery German-style sausage that's popular at picnics and tailgate parties throughout Wisconsin. The treatment involves a beer-and-onion bath, a turn on the grill and topping choices from stone-ground mustard to sauerkraut. In Sheboygan, the epicenter of bratwurst culture, sausage-lovers go for a "double with the works," which includes catsup, mustard, chopped onion and pickles, all served up on "brat buns" or the crusty, oversized roll known in the area as a semmel bun.
Chili dogs are relished practically everywhere in the United States...and the colloquialisms abound. In Geogia a "scrambled dog" is crowned with a spicy, onion-studded chili sauce. In Detroit, a "Coney Island" comes with meatless chili, diced onions and yellow mustard, while in western North Carolina a chili dog "all the way" includes tomato-based cole slaw. In Los Angeles the chili topping is so thick it's called "California mud," and in Ohio, a "cheese coney" is a hot dog covered with Cincinnati chili, mustard, onions and shredded mild cheddar cheese.
The classic hot dog accents of pickles, onions and mustard come together in a Southern-inspired preparation of quick-cooked greens. If you want to spice it up, substitute pickled jalapeņo juice for the dill pickle juice.