Six weeks before some of the area’s best chefs compete for bragging rights and burger supremacy at Cesar Chavez Park downtown, Sacramento Burger Battle has already sold out.
In just its fourth year, the Burger Battle has gone from an unknown event organized by a self-proclaimed burger junkie to a must-attend gala for foodies. The 2015 rendition takes place Sept. 17, but just last week, the last of the 900 tickets were gobbled up.
That breaks down to 350 VIP tickets for $75 each and 550 general admission tickets at $55 a pop for the charity event. Proceeds go to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, which conducts research into the gastrointestinal conditions.
Organizer Rodney Blackwell built a national following by using social media to showcase his passion for the all-American hamburger. He dreamed up the event, put up his own money the first two years and has since received financial backing from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to stage the Burger Battle.
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Those who purchase tickets get sample sizes of all 15 entries in the contest, along with sample pours from wineries and breweries. Eateries will compete for overall winner as well as a people’s choice prize.
On Monday, Blackwell announced the participants, which include most of the heavy hitters when it comes to top-notch burgers. They are: de Vere’s Irish Pub, Dawson’s, Iron Grill, Culinerdy Cruzer, Krush Burger, Bacon & Butter, Capitol Garage, Broderick, Dojo Burger, Dad’s on J Street, Lowbrau, Pangaea, Mighty Tavern, New Old Sloughhouse Inn and Blue Prynt.
Reigning champ Dawson’s at the Hyatt Regency faces stiff competition from Bacon & Butter and Broderick, among others. Newcomers to the competition this year include LowBrau and Pangaea, both of which have developed serious burger reputations over the past 12 months. One entry to watch is Sloughhouse Inn, which has been revamped in recent months under new ownership by highly regarded chef and caterer Betsy Hite.
There are notable absences. Because the battle is donation-based, it can limit the ability of small restaurants to donate food for 900 guests. Juno’s Kitchen, for instance, is perhaps the most notable no-show.
“I would love to have Juno’s there but they are small, with just three people in the restaurant, and it wouldn’t work out for them to be at the event,” Blackwell said.
Even though battle-goers get a so-called sample size (about a quarter of a burger) from each restaurant, it works out to an epic eating experience. Last year, several restaurants took to serving a more visually appealing slider-sized burger instead of cutting up a large burger.
What does the future hold for Burger Battle?
“I love the size of it now, but I’d like to see more restaurants participating,” Blackwell said. “I’d also like to see people from outside the Sacramento area to witness what we put on here.”
Meanwhile, Blackwell has been active on social media in recent weeks showing off his own burger experiments at home (he’s @burgerjunkies on Instagram and Twitter). Asked if he’s picked up any secrets during these burger sessions, Blackwell said, “The sear is important. I like to sear the meat in a cast iron pan. Smash the patty and get a good sear.”
But what about losing the juices when you put pressure on the ground beef?
“What happens is, when you smash the patty and the pan is hot, as soon as you press down it actually seals the juices in with the Maillard reaction,” he said, referring to the process that gives browned foods their distinctive flavor and scent. “Then you flip it, but you don’t smash it again.”
Also, “Nothing beats a burger where you grind your own beef. The texture and freshness of it is better than any prepackaged meat that you can buy.”
So there you have it. If you can’t get into the burger battle on Sept. 17, you can cook your own winning burger at home – just remember to grind it, smash it and then flip it.