If you’re gonna talk food in the South, you better know your aspic from your elbow macaroni. Good cooks are thick on the ground here, and even folks who don’t actually do any cooking themselves can quote you chapter and verse when it comes to things like the key element of great fried chicken (Answer: buttermilk) or how long it takes to cook proper grits (Answer: how many hours you got?)
So I kind of flinch when someone says to me ‘What?! You never heard of fill in-the-blank?! Why, I thought even a Yankee woulda heard of fill-in-the-blank! What do y’all eat up there? Hell, we been eatin’ fill-in-the-blank down here since Jesus was in short pants’, etc., etc. (FYI, folks down here don’t really talk that way. They’re actually much more colorful. I’m still learning…)
But no, I’d never heard of ‘Bologna Burgers’ before my buddy Wayne mentioned them. Sure, I’d had fried bologna sandwiches growing up, but this was something a bit different. Like the famous red hot dogs at Martinsville Speedway, bologna burgers are the concession snack of choice at the South Boston Speedway (no, not that South Boston — South Boston, Virginia. We’re talkin’ NASCAR here, bubba.)
South Boston’s bologna burger, it turns out, is a fairly straightforward affair: hot off the grill, onto a burger bun, onions and mustard on top, and you’re back in the race. Though if you’re really hungry, you might head there for the next Mason-Dixon Meltdown bologna burger eating contest.
Folks in Tennessee (another big pin on the bologna burger map) smoke their bologna (either whole or sliced), glaze it with barbeque sauce, and top it with coleslaw – which sounds very promising indeed, since Slaw Dogs are one of the great culinary innovations of all time. IMHHDOO (In My Humble Hot Dog Obsessed Opinion), of course.
Now, I could have made mine in one of the traditional ways, but I had something else in mind. Nothing radical like Tandoori Bologna Burgers (although that does sound pretty good, actually); it’s just that when I heard those two words together for the first time, I had an almost eidetic vision of what one would look like.
So, when I went shopping for supplies, I guess you could say I was on a Bologna Burger Vision Quest. (Well, you could say that — but don’t, okay? Just don’t.)
For starters, bologna burgers require special thick-cut bologna steaks (no, really, that’s what they’re called), which were surprisingly easy to find. I’d somehow overlooked them before in the supermarket though they’d apparently been there the whole time. What was even more surprising (though I shouldn’t be surprised at this sort of thing by now) was that I actually had choices of bologna steaks. Man, I love this town!
Still, I ended up picking Kunzler’s. Yeah, they’re a Lancaster, Pennsylvania brand but they make really top notch minced-and-remixed meat goodies — try their Lebanon (pronounced ’lebnin’) bologna sometime and you’ll weep tears of joy. I lived on the outskirts of Amish Country for several years and learned firsthand that what the Pennsylvania Dutch lack in fashion sense they more than make up for in meat preservation skills. Plus, the Kunzler’s bologna steaks were cut thicker, which was important since they would need to stand up to the barrage of flavors I had in mind for this sandwich.
I’m happy to report that this bologna burger lived up to the vision. The sweet pickles, cheese, chili, raw onions, and spicy mustard are, of course, the culinary equivalent of a rugby scrum, but the bologna steak holds its own in the pileup. Corn chips are an appropriate and utilitarian side dish (it’s kind of messy to eat), and they make a fun, crunchy condiment too. (Go on – put ‘em in the sandwich. You know you want to…)
If you can’t find bologna steaks in your store, ask the guy at the deli counter to cut some 3/8 inch slices of balogna for you. There aren’t many 3/8 inch slices to the pound, so you’ll be making your deli guy happy, too!
You can use any hamburger or kaiser roll for this. Potato rolls would be especially excellent. Better yet, get a loaf of French bread and make a gigantic bologna Po’ Boy!
(Damn, why didn’t I think of that earlier? Well, at least promise you’ll send the pictures…)
Here’s how to make the Southern Chili Cheese Bologna Burger:
4 slices (approx 3/8 inch thick) top quality bologna
1/4 cup chili (with or without beans)
4 slices American cheese (I used white; yellow would be fine also)
2 burger rolls or kaiser rolls
Spicy brown mustard
Bread & butter-style pickles
1/4 cup chopped onions
Plain corn chips
Pan-fry or grill the bologna slices until nicely colored. While the bologna is cooking, heat up the chili.
Turn the bologna and top with cheese; when it’s is nearly ready, lightly toast the rolls.
Then, starting from the bottom bun, assemble as follow: mustard, pickles, bologna, cheese, bologna, cheese, chili, onions, corn chips, mustard, top bun. Serves 2.
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