Breaking down burger greatness

Uncle Herky burger (Provided by Luscher’s Red Hots)

Dallas has a reputation as a red meat town, where cattle barons and oilmen slice into thick rib eye steaks. While that cliché doesn’t quite capture the city’s dining scene, it’s true that Dallas chefs have a preternatural way with beef, producing burgers that rank amongst the nation’s best.

Yet even in a city blessed with countless superlative burgers, the Uncle Herky at Luscher’s Red Hots stands out. Since Luscher’s opened earlier this year, the magnificent, melty two-patty stack has catapulted to the top of D Magazine’s list of best burgers in Dallas, and forced the Dallas Observer (my former employer) to issue an emergency addendum to a four-years-in-the-making roundup of the city’s top 10 burgers.

“This is a fantasy burger,” Nick Rallo wrote. “No else can know what this burger can do. In fact, can you just not tell anyone? Let’s keep this one off of national lists, so no one knows how good it is. Whatever you do, do not tell Guy Fieri. Let’s keep this a Dallas secret, somehow.”

With sincere apologies to Nick, I’m sharing the Uncle Herky with Charleston, if only because the city is potentially on the brink of a serious burger conversation. Neighborhood Dining Group still hasn’t broadcast its plans for the East Bay Street venue set to be vacated by Minero, which is relocating to McCrady’s second floor, but rumors are so intense that readers now write to ask when, not if, Sean Brock is opening his burger place.

So it seemed like a sensible time to ask Luscher’s Red Hots chef owner Brian Luscher to dissect burger greatness. Prior to opening Luscher’s Red Hots, Luscher had already achieved burger fame with a steakhouse-style burger at The Grape, a bistro that serves braised rabbit and mussels. “I think a lot of folks wanted me to bring that over,” Luscher told me by phone. “But from an execution standpoint, it’s a pain in the caboose. I knew at this quick fast casual place, I wanted it to be quickly cooked, but cooked to order.”

Luscher took his inspiration from a suburban Chicago burger joint owned by his uncle and grandfather when he was a kid. “They would hold me up and help me flip burgers on the grill,” he recalls. That meant shunning the fancy ingredients that chefs looking to distinguish themselves in the burger arena sometimes employ.

“There are so many iterations of everything you can pile on it,” he says. “I tasted like four different kinds of American cheese. Are you going to get triple cream Brillat-Savarin? You know government cheese makes the best grilled cheese ever. Don’t kid yourself. It’s almost like sometimes chefs are given enough rope to hang themselves.”

Here’s how Luscher describes the Uncle Herky, which is ordered about eight dozen times on an average weekday: “Two thin patties that happen to be Texas wagyu, antibiotic-free, locally-pastured delicious ground beef patties; salt and pepper; fresh mayonnaise from local eggs; peppered bacon and quality bread. I mean, Smuckers and Jiffy on killer bread is an amazing sandwich.”

The burger’s also topped with housemade mustard, horseradish half-sour pickles and grilled onions. “Don’t call them caramelized onions,” Luscher warns. Once quality ingredients are lined up, he says, all that’s left to do is make sure the patty isn’t overcooked: “Leave them pink a little bit.” That’s it, he swears.

“I wish there was a scientific or really insightful description that I could give you, but it’s just that the simplest items, well-executed, are generally the most delicious,” Luscher says. “There is no secret ingredient.”