Curderburger for your thoughts

On October 15th, for one day only, Culver’s plans to release the Curderburger. Instead of waiting, I made my own.


I didn’t expect to write about two fast food copycat recipes/sandwiches in a row, but because of timing and what some real writers would call an “editorial calendar,” here we are. Let’s Curderburger and enjoy it.


The April Fools joke 2021. A big fried cheese curd in a bun.

A Wisconsin based burger chain known as Culver’s shared an April Fools’ joke on social media earlier this year that jokingly announced The Curderburger. Cheese fans across the land got excited.

If you don’t know what a fried cheese curd is, congratulations; you’ve never been hungry in a bar in the Midwest of the United States. Cheese curds themselves are young unaged cheese — typically cheddar — that is separated from the whey. Instead of packing that cheese up and molding it into huge wheels, it’s chunked up into small pieces and sold immediately as cheese curds.

The Midwest delicacy known as fried cheese curds, takes these fresh curds and batters or coats them in breadcrumbs and they are fried to order. Much like the more well-known mozzarella stick, you end up with a crispy exterior and a tender, slightly melty interior.

The feedback from the comments on the April Fools’ joke convinced Culver’s to follow through and create a Curderburger. They’ve announced that it’s coming October 15th, at a Culver’s near you!

The original joke concept was just a big ole fried cheese curd in between a top and bottom bun. But Culver’s concept brought to life is their Deluxe butter burger with a fried cheese curd disk placed on top of the burger patty. Witness the following promo photos and action shots for the Curderburger coming out on October 15th.

The Curderburger promo photo.
A real-world version of the Curderburger. I think Dan Higgins/USA Today has credit for this photo.

It appears that Daniel Higgins/Green Bay Press Gazette gets credit for the real world Curderburger above.

If you want to know more about how Culver’s makes their burgers, this video should be instructive.

Culver’s is pretty good for a fast-food burger, but this is NOT what most Wisconsin butter burgers are actually like.

[side discussion/rant on butter burgers]

A Wisconsin butter burger often has scoops of butter on top of the burger patties before the patty is sealed up and then everything below gets all buttery. The only butter in a Culver’s “butter burger” is a spread of butter on the top bun before it gets toasted. That’s just fine, but it’s not what you’ll find at other burger joints in Wisconsin. I must stand up for my northern Wisconsin neighbors. Many burgers around the world are served on butter toasted buns. That doesn’t make them a butter burger.

Maybe one day I’ll attempt a Wisconsin butter burger for a blog post. I’ll make sure my doctors are all alerted before I start down that path, though.

[/side discussion/rant on butter burgers]

I’m going to use the techniques in that video plus all the promo photos and make a Curderburger.

A disk of cheese curds

Somehow, I opened this bag from the bottom because it’s chaos in sandwich land.

First, we need a big ole fried cheese curd patty.

My goal was to make disks out of cheese curds and then coat them in breadcrumbs and fry them just like normal people do.

At first, I thought that I would just coat some curds in an egg wash and then freeze them all together in a disk. The more I thought about it, it seemed that this would never really make a solid disk.

My second plan was to melt the curds and then shape them into disks. I had never melted cheese curds before, but about 30 seconds in the microwave does the trick. Turns out, lightly melting the curds and pouring the slightly melted cheese into a ring mold in the freezer for an hour will give you perfect disks of cheese curd ready for frying.

Here’s a two-photo slideshow of that process.

Then I lightly coated my curd disks in breadcrumbs and fried them. Culver’s uses breadcrumbs and not a batter so that’s what I did.

1 hour and 35 minutes
Fried cheese curd disks

Q: What's better than a bunch of fried cheese curds?
A: A bunch of really big fried cheese curds.

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Two fresh fried cheese curd disks.
A cross section of a fried cheese curd disk.
A big ole frying cheese curd hockey puck.

I made two different colors of curd disks because I spare no expense bringing you sandwich content.

Once you have your frozen disks of formed cheese curds, you coat them in all purpose flour, then run them through an egg wash and then coat with seasoned breadcrumbs.

Fry all your cheese curd pucks for 2-ish minutes at around 375 degrees F and you’re left with nice crunchy, soft in the middle cheese curds to turn into Curderburgers.

Once the cheese curds are fried, you’ll want to drain them on a wire rack, or a tray lined with paper towels. You can place your fried cheese curd disks in a 200-degree F oven to keep warm while you make the rest of your burger (don’t put paper towels in a hot oven though, watch out).

The smash burger

Frying curd disks and cooking cheeseburgers at the same time does take a bit of timing. But your burgers will be smash burgers which means they will cook only two or three minutes for a super thin patty.

I’ve covered smash burgers in a post before, and they’re easy as long as you have a hot surface and some way to smash the patty. I attempt to detail the process again in the full recipe down below.

Curderburger assembly time

Here’s the layering process if you’re writing these things down (and you should be):

  • Top bun
  • Butter (toasted on bun)
  • Fried cheese curd patty
  • Smashed burger patty (4 ounces)
  • Tomato slice
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Two slices of red onion
  • Three pickles
  • Bottom bun (toasted)

The toppings going in as bottomings here really gives me a bit of pause, but this is how Culver’s does it, so I did my best to do it as well.

Theirs vs mine

Overall, I think I did a pretty good job, but I won’t really know until I try a real life Curderburger. I will probably update the post at the very bottom after October 15th, 2021, with updates if I get the opportunity to try one.

30 minutes
Fried cheese curd smash burger

Based on the Culver's Curderburger, this is a fully loaded smash burger with a fried cheese curd patty on top.

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I’m going to attempt to try the Culver’s Curderburger on Friday. I’m not sure what the interest level will be or whether things will sell out, but if I get the opportunity I will try one, take a photo and give my review via @beerinator on twitter and @beerinator on instagram. I will also post more details on the new Bounded by Buns facebook page. Check out one of those and follow or like the page for this and future updates.


BREAKING: CURDERBURGER UPDATE

Updated: October 15th, 2021
I got the chance to try an official Curderburger today and it was pretty good. The curd disk was about a quarter of an inch think, where some of mine were closer to a half inch. If I were to make mine again and adjust the recipe I think that’s about the only thing I would change. My homemade bun was lighter and fresher than theirs, but everything else was pretty similar.

The thickness of the curd disk made a pretty big difference in texture. In some bites of the official Curderburger you couldn’t even tell that it was there other than the cheese flavor. The edge bites of the Curderburger were definitely the best parts because you not only got the texture from the smashburger patty, you also got the crunchy fried breadcrumb exterior from the fried cheese curd disk.

Overall, I enjoyed this burger. I would order it again, but I don’t think I’d order it every visit to Culver’s. If the Curderburger was a once a year or seasonal menu item then I would definitely use that opportunity to come back and try one.

An official Culver’s Curderburger. There’s lettuce, red onion, pickles, and tomato under there along with a slathering of mayo. Cheese is oozing out the side of the fried curd disk.
This guy’s name is Curdis. You can get him if you upgrade to a family sized cheese curd. I didn’t need him or the family sized cheese curd order but sometimes things happen for a reason. This was not one of those times because it happened for no reason.

If you didn’t get a chance to try this, I’m hoping that Culver’s brings it back from time to time. Maybe it’ll be a once a year thing they do for #NationalCheeseCurdDay.


When in doubt, chili crisp out

You should add more crunchy textures and spicy and savory flavors to your life.


Adding an egg to french fries totally makes it breakfast. Hot chili crisp on top turns it into brunch.

If you’re not familiar with chili crisp (sometimes called chili crunch), then I’ve got some things to teach you today. I’m not a chili crisp scientist or historian, nor do I consider myself to be an expert on the condiment, but I have eaten a lot of it and I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express at least once.

At its most basic, chili crisp is fried chili peppers mixed with crunchy fried garlic, onions, oil and other ingredients to make an oily, crisp, savory condiment. Many chili crisps will have an addition of something like mushroom powder or even MSG to add extra savory umami and flavor.

Many versions of chili crisp will have Sichuan peppercorns which have a mouth numbing effect and some will have soybeans, black beans or peanuts in the mix. I have about six or seven versions of chili crisp in my fridge now and they’re all different. It seems the main goal of all the recipes is to add crunch, savoriness and spice in that order.

Hate spice? If you’re not a fan of spicy/heat flavors, many chili crunches have a mild option available that offers a tiny bit of spice but mostly focuses on being a savory, crunchy condiment.

How to use chili crisp

Almost any time I’ve tweeted about chili crisp I get a question from someone asking, “I put it on eggs, but what else should I do with the condiment?” Hopefully some of the recipes below will help inspire you to try to use chili crisp in different ways.

The most often use of chili crisp in my house is when we are snacking on cheese and crackers. I spoon a tiny bit on top of the cheese on a cracker and get down to work. But chili crisp works great on lots of different dishes.

Here are just a few things that most chili crisp companies suggest you should put chili crisp on:

  • pizza
  • eggs
  • french fries
  • noodle dishes
  • ice cream
  • avocado toast (shout out to millennials)
  • breakfast cereal

Ok, the last one is a joke, but I guess you could try it. I suggest Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Passenger chili crisp

#notsponsored

This blog post may look like it, but it’s not sponsored. My friend, Phil Wymore, started a new company this year that makes chili crisp. Passenger Foods makes three versions (heat levels) of chili crisp and I bought the mild and hot. I used Passenger chili crisp in all these recipes, but no money has changed hands. I’m just a fan of their flavors.

You can purchase Passenger chili crisp here or you can likely find another version of chili crisp in the Asian section of your grocery store, and you can definitely find many different chili crisp options online.

Some of the recipes I write about today are using the Hot version and some the Mild. When incorporated with cheese or bread, the spiciness of hot foods is dulled. But if you’re skeptical about heat, the Mild version is a condiment that adds savory flavors with crunchy textures.

These are the two flavors of Passenger Chili Crisp that I have in my fridge. They have recently released a Very Hot Chili Crisp version, but I haven’t tried that one yet.

Here are the ingredients in Passenger Foods Hot and Mild chili crunch.

The Hot version has jalapeno and serrano chilis.
The Mild version uses New Mexico hatch chilis for pepper flavor but less heat.

Hi. This is a sandwich blog, let’s make sandwiches

We’re going to make three sandwiches with a focus on chili crisp. First, it’s going to be a hot dog. I bet you folks have heard of hot dogs.

The chili crisp hot dog

Hot dog time. Let’s make a hot dog.

Hot dog with cream cheese, chili crisp and crispy fried shallots on a homemade toasted potato hot dog bun.

My chili crisp hot dog needs to have the emphasis on the chili crisp. To do this, I want at least one ingredient that accentuates the chili crisp and one ingredient that contrasts the chili crisp.

To accentuate, we’re adding crispy fried shallots, this will add even more crunch to the hot dog, and it will bring a shallot/onion flavor that will be similar to flavors in the chili crisp. To contrast the chili crisp we’ll add cream cheese, which will be cooling, creamy and smooth; all things that are not present in chili crisps. If you’re weirded out about cream cheese on a hot dog, someone invented this already in the 80’s or 90’s in Seattle. Cream cheese is a base ingredient in Seattle dogs and in my opinion, it’s a very underutilized hot dog ingredient that I will be fighting to bring into the limelight.

I have a super easy microwave fried shallot recipe that you can get done in less than 10 minutes. Crunch in a hurry is a great thing for sandwich enthusiasts.

13 minutes
Microwave fried shallots

Crispy, crunchy and flavorful. Yes, you can fry shallots in the microwave for a great sandwich or burger addition.

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And here’s my whole chili crisp hot dog recipe. It’s easy if you know how to add things to hot dogs, but I made a recipe anyway.

20 minutes
Chili crisp and crunchy shallot hot dog

Change up your hot dogs with a focus on spicy and crunchy. Cream cheese and chili crunch are the pairing you never knew you needed.

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The chili crisp brie and apple burger

That’s quite enough hot dogs. Now we can burger.

Third pound patty with green apple and melted brie. Topped with chili crisp. Everything on a homemade potato burger bun.

This is a good burger combination. The texture added from the green apple and the crunch of the chili crisp make each bite a different experience. Brie is very melty and creamy which contrasts in a good way with the chili crisp.

I suggest that you change things up and make this super flavorful recipe next burger night at your house.

25 minutes
Chili crisp and green apple brie burger

Green apple provides texture and sweetness to balance the spice from the chili crisp. Add a little creamy brie and you're all set for a fantastic burgering experience.

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The chili crisp grilled cheese

More cheese please!

Shredded fontina and gouda cheeses melted with hot chili crisp on griddled homemade harvest grains Pain de mie bread.

A basic grilled cheese is the perfect platform for interesting condiments. Adding chili crisp brings savory flavors and spice that works well with the creamy cheese. If you have problems getting the cheese in your grilled cheese to melt before the outside is brown, this recipe has a trick where you steam the cheese to melt it as the first side of the sandwich cooks.

15 minutes
Chili crisp grilled cheese

Gooey, melted cheese and crispy crunch from the chili crisp leads to an almost perfect combination in this grilled cheese.

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The extra

Chili crisp popcorn

Now on to some not sandwich recipes. Add chili crisp to popcorn. You can do it with the microwave type or the kind you pop on the stove. Here’s a recipe with instructions for both options. You also don’t have to follow a recipe and you can just spoon some chili crisp on top. But the recipe incorporates things a little better.

Chili crisp popcorn

Popcorn is a perfect vessel for chili crisp flavors. You could just sprinkle some chili crisp on a small serving of buttered popcorn, but these recipes integrate the flavors into a whole batch.

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Chili crisp ice cream

You can just put a teaspoon or tablespoon of chili crisp on your next bowl of ice cream, or you can use this recipe to flavor a whole batch of ice cream. This ice cream is great, with a fun somewhat crunchy texture. It pairs very well with chocolate brownies or cake. Add some chopped walnuts or pecans on top for extra flavor and texture.

40 minutes
Chili crisp ice cream

Sure, you could just spoon chili crisp on top of a couple scoops, but you can also use this recipe to make a whole batch of chili crisp flavored ice cream!

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Chili crisp is awesome.

Buy some chili crisp if you haven’t already.

Chili crisp adds crunch, spicy heat, and savory flavors to everything it touches. Buy some and add it to your next sandwich. Check back next week when I’m tacoing about other sandwiches.


Beyond the Impossible

I ate a plant!


We’re writing about burgers again. This time with a twist. Instead of beef we’re pitting Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger against Impossible Food’s Impossible Burger. I bought at least a pound of each and my wife and I went to work testing and tasting.

Beyond Beef = 1 lb at $9.99 | Impossible Burger = .75 lb at $9.99

First off, let’s look at some numbers. I typically use 80/20 (80% lean/20% fat) for my cheeseburgers, but in many comparisons online, you’ll see people compare 90/10 beef with both of these plant based options. If you’re making your burgers at home and you like to buy 90/10 beef, I think this is an honest comparison. But if most of your burgers are consumed in restaurants or takeout, you’re probably getting 80/20 with a higher calorie count than 90/10.

Here’s a table of calorie information:

TypeCalories per ounce
80/20 ground chuck71
90/10 ground sirloin49
Beyond Beef58
Impossible Burger60
Calories per ounce of each

And here’s a table of the pricing I found in the two large stores that I frequent in the Chicago area.

TypeMariano’s (Chicago)Target (Chicago)
80/20 ground chuck$4.99 per pound$5.39 per pound
90/10 ground sirloin$5.99 per pound$6.59 per pound
Beyond Beef$9.99 per pound$8.29 per pound
Impossible Burger$13.33 per pound$9.32 per pound
Comparison between two fairly large grocery chains in Chicago. Obviously your stores will be different.

Pricing for each plant-based alternative is sometimes close to double that of regular ground beef. And if you’re eating 90/10 ground beef (or even better, ground turkey) at home, you’re not going to see any calorie benefit by switching to plant-based protein.

What you are going to see in terms of health benefits from plant-based protein is a higher level of fiber than beef, much lower levels of cholesterol and higher levels of calcium and iron. Both the Beyond Beef burger and the Impossible Burger contain no trans fat and their total fat and saturated fat levels are below that of 80/20 ground beef.

Both the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger contain around a quarter of the sodium the FDA (USA) recommends you consume per day. We didn’t notice them tasting overly salty in our tests, but I have heard that some people do notice the higher sodium levels.

If you really want to get deep into the numbers, I found this medium.com post to be very educational and thorough.

Let’s now talk about how I made these burgers.

The burger buns

I baked King Arthur potato buns again. I’ve said it before but this just a great recipe for a burger or hot dog bun. It’s soft and pillowy and it takes a toast very well.

This time I used a technique to flatten the shaped buns prior to the final rise. Normally when I make this recipe I end up with fairly tall and round buns. This is great for some sandwiches, but fast food style burgers are typically not very tall. So I used a technique I learned from a brioche blog post where you are supposed to flatten your dough PRIOR to final rise. You do this with a bench scraper (Amazon affiliate link) or the bottom of a large measuring cup that has been slightly greased/oiled. Twist the flat surface on the dough and flatten as you twist. This gives you a flatter and smoother surface.

You can see what I did and how things rose in this short slideshow.

The plant-based protein

These two “meats” are pretty obviously different visually. Impossible looks a lot more like raw ground beef. Beyond looks a bit like pâté. The Impossible burger just looked a lot better to me since my mind was thinking of ground beef.

They both have an aroma when uncooked that isn’t terrible but it’s not something I expected. Beyond has a stronger aroma. One of the main ingredients in Beyond Meat is pea protein which is where Beyond gets its signature smell.

Cooking both patties could not be easier. The instructions are on the back of both packages. Basically I cooked them exactly the same way. I got a flat griddle surface hot (around 400 degrees F – 200C) and I cooked them 3 minutes per side.

You can view a few photos of the cooking process below.

The sample set

This was the most basic burger I could make with both of my plant-based options. I ended up splitting half of each burger with my wife and we jumped into sampling and discussing.

The ingredients of the sample burgers from the bottom to the top: homemade potato bun bottom, plant based patty, American cheese slice, a thin smear of mayonnaise, potato bun top. The mayonnaise went on the top because my wife was going to add more condiments and toppings and we didn’t want to fight the melted cheese. I ate my two halves just as you see them below.

Beyond on the left, Impossible on the right. Same homemade potato roll, American cheese and a tiny bit of mayo on the top bun.

The Beyond burger tastes more like a veggie burger than the Impossible burger. The Impossible burger gets closer to being a beef burger. My wife felt Impossible sort of had a low effort “pre-formed patty at a cookout” sort of flavor and texture going on. My comments were that the Impossible burger reminded me of a cafeteria burger and definitely a fast food burger.

When you eat the plant based meat alone, you notice that the Beyond burger is not very close to tasting like beef – it’s more like a veggie patty. But when you sear and get a little crust on the Impossible burger, you really do get close to a beef-like texture and flavor.

Beyond Meat also didn’t sear as well, especially compared to the Impossible burger. In this simple example I intentionally didn’t toast my buns so that this wouldn’t trick me into thinking there was seared crust texture when it didn’t actually exist.

I’m going to have a recap with conclusions at the bottom of this post, but first I’ll write about another plant-based burger I made.

The Beyond the Impossible Big Mac burger

The heel, club and crown parts of the bun.

At some point during the testing process I was struck with the idea to make a Big Mac copycat with both a Beyond Meat patty and an Impossible Burger patty. So I had to do it.

Again, I started with two quarter pound patties.

Next I needed special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun. 🎵

I did not have a sesame seed bun, so I had to perform a trick where I split a bun and painted the top with an egg white mixed with about a tablespoon of water. After the top is fully painted, sprinkle sesame seeds (or whatever you want) on top and put the bun in a 375 F degree oven for about 6 minutes. This quick baking process might brown your bun a tiny bit, but what it really does is “glues” your seeds to the bun.

I sacrificed an extra bun to get the middle “club” piece of bun. McDonalds has a name for the three pieces of bun. The heel is the bottom, the club is in the middle and the crown is the sesame seed covered part on top.

I just split a bun and got my heel and crown from that and then my second bun, I shaved off a thin slice of the top and the bottom to get the club piece.

The pickles and special sauce

I finely diced up a yellow onion, shredded some lettuce and secured a slice of American cheese. Then all I needed to complete the Big Mac jingle recipe was the special sauce and pickles. Luckily I have recipes for those and used them.

Here are the pickles:

25 minutes
Spicy MSG pickles

Spicy and dilly and savory pickles are great as a snack or in a sandwich. A great addition to any refrigerator. I based this recipe off of this tweet from Joshua Weissman and added extra spice.

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And here is the special sauce I use:

5 minutes
Special sandwich sauce

Great substitute for mayonnaise but way more flavorful. Perfect on a burger or even as dipping sauce for fries and onion rings.

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And here’s my finished Beyond the Impossible Big Mac burger.

Beyond the Impossible Big Mac burger: 🎵 Two all-not-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. 🎵 That’s Beyond Meat patty on the bottom and Impossible Burger patty on the top.

An extra

As usual, I made another burger with the last of the Impossible patties that I weighed out. This one was big on flavor with gorgonzola and sweet griddled onions. After this experience, I strongly feel that you could easily pack flavor into a plant based burger with condiments and cheeses and fool someone who didn’t know what sort of meat was in the burger.

Gorgonzola and brown sugar onions on an Impossible Burger patty.

Conclusions

I liked my experience with the Impossible Burger better and think the taste and texture of that protein after it is cooked is more like beef. Beyond Beef seems to end up with a cooked patty that is similar to that of a veggie burger (like Boca Burger brand) or a frozen prepared vegetable burger. This doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it different. If you’re used to bean based or veggie burgers, you might like Beyond better.

I think the biggest adoption issue these plant based burgers face is the pricing. Because the two plant-based proteins aren’t extra healthy and because they are – in some cases – double the price of ground beef or turkey, I don’t see people transitioning in large numbers from beef to plant-based right now. A friend on twitter reminded me that the meat industry gets government subsidies (at least in the United States) and these plant-based alternatives do not fall under that category. Maybe in this future this could change and pricing will be more competitive.

Overall, if you put calories and pricing aside, plant-based proteins are better for our environment than a beef burger. It takes almost 90% less emissions to make an Impossible Burger and requires much less water and land than what is required to produce the same amount of beef.

I have no doubt that in the future (if humans survive long enough) we will be transitioning to more plant-based alternatives in our cooking. I was impressed at how close the Impossible Burger got to replicating a ground beef fast food style burger if it was cooked properly. For me, it’s all about the texture and ground meat seems to be the easiest texture to emulate.

I’m not going to start eating only plant-based alternatives to ground beef, but if changes are made to the products or if new options become available, I will certainly be willing to try them and I will be watching to see where things go for these companies.

Impossible patty, American cheese, green leaf lettuce, tomato, pickles and special sauce on a potato bun.

Check back next week and possibly I’ll make another sandwich or two. Maybe I’ll even eat another plant!?