Serving Texas hamburgers in Cornwall

Texas ran head-on into Britain last weekend and—. I was going to say that I’m not sure who won but it wasn’t a contest so maybe no one had to. Let’s say that both sides learned something.


Our village hall held a fundraising barbecue, and Wild Thing volunteered to make and grill Texas hamburgers.

Irrelevant photo. Four people. Evening. The cliffs.

Irrelevant photo. Four people. Evening. The cliffs.

The first thing you have to understand is that barbecue is one of those words that look like they’d mean the same thing on both sides of the Atlantic but don’t. In Britain it means cooked outside, on a grill. In the U.S., it has to do with sauce, fire, secret rites and recipes. It’s close to being a religion. Maybe it is a religion. I’m a vegetarian and originally a New Yorker, so you shouldn’t take my word on the subject.

The second thing you have to understand is that hamburger’s another of those words. In the U.S., it’s both the raw meat and the cooked thing that you eat. It’s made with ground beef and nothing else. In Britain it means only the thing you eat. The meat it’s made from is called mince, and to make it into a hamburger you add stuff and then cook it. Not just stuff, though, all kinds of stuff. Onion, egg, bread, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, sweet chili sauce, cumin, coriander, tomato puree, breadcrumbs, bicycle tires. Not all in the same recipe, I admit, but one recipe I found tossed thirteen ingredients into the meat.

It’s enough to drive a Texan to tears. Or drive her to say she’ll make the burgers and everyone else should stand back.

The number of ingredients explains why so many people here buy their hamburgers ready made. Because it never occurs to them that they can just divide up the meat and flatten it. They have to empty the contents of their kitchen cupboards into a bowl and mix it all up before they have—as folks here would say—a proper hamburger.

I don’t suppose I can go any further without mentioning that there were some scandals here a couple of years ago about horsemeat working its way into the food chain and showing up in, yes, preformed hamburger patties. They’re a perfect host, since they have enough extraneous ingredients to hide anything that doesn’t belong there. You could probably slip in a screwdriver and call it chopped onion, only onion’s cheaper so why would you bother?

If you’re from a culture that doesn’t eat horsemeat, finding that you just chowed down on it is shocking. More serious, though, is what its appearance in the burger patties says about how much any of us knows what we’re eating. Is someone selling not just the wrong animals but diseased animals? You can see the problem.

Anybody want to bet that the funding for food inspection has been cut?

Enough with the politics, though. We’re talking burgers.

So Wild Thing bought the beef and shaped the patties. She had some help, but if anyone had been tempted to add anything but beef she was right there to fight them off. Then she stood by the grill, flipping the meat and promoting the politics of the Texas hamburger. When meat’s involved, she does tend to, as J. puts it, open a can of Texas.

So how did the hamburgers go over?

A lot of people liked them enough to ask what was in them.


Yes, but what’s in them.

Beef. You don’t add anything.

A. stopped by yesterday to say they were the best hamburgers he’d ever eaten, but he had trouble believing they wouldn’t need something to bind them together. No egg?

Just beef.

So that was one group of people.

Then there was the other group. They brought theirs back and asked if Wild Thing would put them on the grill for another few minutes. Or another twenty. Two or three brought them back again because they could still see pink. If a trace of juice landed on the bun, it wasn’t done.

A couple of the re-grillers volunteered that they liked their steak rare but couldn’t eat hamburger that way. No matter how much Wild Thing begged them to close their eyes and try.

So Wild Thing put them back on the grill. She’s not given to tears, but if she was she’d have wept to do that to good beef.

Who learned what? It’s hard to say. Wild Thing thinks she’s learned that she won’t get to grill the hamburgers next year, although it’s too early to know if she’s right. A few people learned how to make an American burger. If anyone learned to eat their hamburgers rare, I haven’t heard about it.

50 thoughts on “Serving Texas hamburgers in Cornwall

  1. I must admit to being a big fan of the American style burgers – why wouldn’t anyone want to cook a burger with the same care and love one would cook a steak? There is no need to incinerate the things. You do realise I shall be thinking of lovely burgers all day now. Pah.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Excellent post. Barbecues in UK are often a bit of a male thing. The danger of fire. The hunter. The weight of the sausages. Not sure if we have any rites or special sauce recipes handed down from Grandad Walton. We are slowly learning about the art of hamburgers. It will take many generations to take hold. Really enjoy the way you write.
    All the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am envious of your proper burgers! I have mentioned many a time that I am not really british despite the tendency towards bolwer hats..I would love burgers made from only beef!
    the only reason I don’t cook burgers rare is because I don’t trust all the other random ingredients that get put in them…and I tend to only buy butcher made ones not random supermarket ones…and I don’t entirely trust prepacked mince.

    I have a mincer attachement for my kenwood mixer, maybe I should start with real meat and make my own from there…then I would definitely eat them raw!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It sounds like what they’re making there and calling hamburgers is what we here in America call “meatloaf.” I’m dying to know what they put in their meatloaf (Marmite? Kidney?)

    So the upshot of this experiment is the American hamburgers did not go over well? I’m absolutely stunned that they preferred their meatloaf-urgers over genuine, authentic hamburgers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Meatloaf’s a stranger here–probably because they make it into patties and call it hamburgers.

      The hamburgers themselves went over well, and Wild Thing announced this morning that she thinks she won the showdown. It was the pinkness of them that caused some problems. I’ve suggested that next year she should cook two separate batches–incinerated (marked, maybe, by a weeping emoji) and genuine. I think I’ll be ignored, but we’ll see how this plays out.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can imagine veins popping out of Wild Thing’s forehead. I feel for her. All I know is that the three of us would have happily eaten her burgers. But we understand these things on a deeper level.

    We just have fun trying to get Americans to stop calling a cottage pie “shepherd’s pie”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hush shuuuussh… Tell wildthing to dry her eyes, there are others who weep with her. We dare not speak our name for fear of attracting the baleful eye of the Elf’n-safety affiliates and fellow travellers. A burger made out of real meat! Oh gosh how daring.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a native Texan and you’re so spot on! We don’t like “stuff” on our beef, most Texans don’t even like sauce on our BBQ meats. A well smoked meat doesn’t need sauce. In Texas it’s all about the beef, good quality fresh beef, and good beef doesn’t require lots of extra “stuff”. I mean we are making burgers not meatloaf right? Great Post and it sounds like a fun time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A few years ago (when I was not so young but naive about British burgers) I wondered why no one here had heard of meatloaf. Was there ever an easier way to stretch a pound of meat? Then I found out why: They make it but think it’s hamburger.

      It was a fun event. And I didn’t even write about the raffle. You can’t hold an event in Cornwall without a raffle.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The same is true here on the central coast of California. We like our Hearst Ranch meat from cattle who stare at the Pacific all day long without any additives at all. Of course, a good bun helps and a good slice of tomato and some lettuce from the garden and maybe a slice of avocado from the tree in the yard. Interesting post–I didn’t know about these Brit meatloaf burgers probably because I’m stuffing mysel with pasties and scones and custard tarts when I’m over there. It’s gonna be burger night here after reading this!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I will say that the hamburger buns here are better than most you’ll find in the U.s., which are made of spun cotton. The British ones taste like bread. What a revolutionary idea. But your choices of what to eat over here are perfect. The only thing I’d add is this: If you get to the Southwest, try a cream tea. They’re heaven. And–well, pretty much anything baked, in any part of the country. Have you tried the apple pie? They use a sweet crust, and the filling tends to be softer. It’s wonderful. And in the southwest they sometimes serve it with clotted cream.

        Oh, damn, I’ve just eaten breakfast and already I’m dying for a slice of pie.


  8. I love the old joke about cultural stereotypes.

    Heaven Is Where:

    The Italians are the lovers
    The British are the police
    The Germans are the mechanics
    The Swiss make everything run on time.
    And the French are the chefs

    Hell is Where:

    The Swiss are the lovers
    The French are the mechanics
    The Italians make everything run on time
    The Germans are the police.
    And the British are the chefs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoyed this post immensely!
    “What is it?”
    LOL Oh my!
    British burgers sound like meatloaf — especially Midwestern meatloaf, where everybody’s mama makes it her own way!
    Yes, barbecue is such a loaded word, best to only use the word barbecue around people one knows will understand the inherit magnitude of the word! For us, barbecue means a rub, a long marination, slow-cooking, fallin apart, sauce optional — for some poor souls, it means overcook the meat and slap barbecue sauce on it! Oh the horror! :O

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thinking of horsemeat and patties is actually a bit offputting, I do remember the great taste of US barbecued burgers, but mine were pinkish and delicious – you’re telling me they weren’t the real McCoy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If they were pinkish and nothing but beef, they were the real thing–and if you got them in the US they’d have been all beef. The horsemeat scandal was in the UK and involved prefab burgers, not ground beef sold by the pound. I’m not sure how much any of that answers your question.


  11. I’ve never been fond of meat, even as a kid, but managed to swallow it when others cooked it. I had to give up beef (couldn’t even stand the smell of it cooking) after living down the road from a feed lot in California. The stench and seeing those poor creatures standing around in mountains of their own muck. That did it for me. Around here, butchers are becoming a threatened species. They don’t even have the the token butcher at the supermarkets any more unless it’s really upscale. Everything comes prepackaged in saran wrap. Lord only knows what they are or where they came from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here the local supermarket–not a fancy one–has butchers, and I’ve seen them cut meat (they do it out in the open, so yes, I know it happens) but one time when I was trying to buy a different combination of chicken pieces from what they had on the shelves he said they couldn’t open the packages. And, clearly, didn’t package the chicken either. So they exist, but their range is limited.

      On the other hand, there are some actual butcher shops that do the whole thing, and can tell you what farm any piece of meat came from.

      And I know it’s strange, but I will buy and cook meat, although I don’t like doing either. Where I draw the line is eating it. I’m grateful never to have lived by a feed lot. It must be horrible to look that much misery in the face. What a world we’ve made.


  12. I could not let this post pass by! As an American who lived in East Anglia as late as the 80’s, I would always quote actor John Wayne’s line in the 1975 film “Brannigan”, where he is in London, every time I bought a British burger and took a bite. Sorry you cannot hear my imitation of his voice. Try imagining it..

    Policeman: “This isn’t Chicago!”

    Wayne: “You’re right. You can’t get a decent burger anywhere in this town.”

    Maybe things are changing. . . . !

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Serving Texas hamburgers in Cornwall, part 2: the definitive recipe | Notes from the U.K.

  14. I’ve always seasoned my burgers before grill, but can’t imagine adding a dozen more ingredients, too. Now I might have to give it a try just to see the difference.


  15. Oh, and in South Africa we call a barbecue a “braai” (pronounced like the word “buy” but just add an “r” after the “b”). It is also a religious experience here. We do, however, add everything and the kitchen sink to our mince before forming patties ;)

    Liked by 1 person

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