In 1960 a guy named Wilber Hardee started a restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina that he creatively named Hardee’s. There seems to have been a tiny bit of exciting drama surrounding the first few franchised locations of Hardee’s, including a story about how Wilber lost most of his shares in his own company in a poker game that you can read over at Wikipedia. Otherwise, the history of this southeastern fast-food chain seems typical.
In my own personal history with Hardee’s, the chain was easily my favorite fast-food option when I was younger, mostly because of their biscuit sandwich-focused breakfast menu. I also do remember enjoying their burgers and I have fond memories of Hardee’s hot dogs, which most chains did not have at the time.
In the early 1990s, someone at Hardee’s concocted a sandwich menu item that they named The Frisco Burger. Believe it or not, this was one of the earlier instances of bacon appearing on a fast-food burger.
Why don’t people name their kids Wilbur or Wilber anymore? 🤔
I blame Charlotte’s Web.
A few years later, in 1997, Hardee’s was purchased by a holding group that owned a West Coast founded fast-food chain called Carl’s Jr., and the menus were merged to be identical which meant the Frisco burger finally found the west coast. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s didn’t change their names though and they market themselves as if the other location is still a different franchise.
The decision-makers at Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. retired the quarter-pound Frisco burger in 2003 only to bring it back two years later as a larger 1/3rd pound Thickburger. Since 2005, the sandwich has appeared on and off the menu a few times.
Both Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. still exist under the same ownership with the same menus, which is possibly confusing to a few travelers or people who live in the small number of states that have both. Most other consumers likely have no idea that they are one single incorporated franchise.
The Frisco burger also still lives on, 30 years later. After doing a tiny amount of research—aka googling—to write this blog post, I felt the Frisco burger held enough weight in sandwich/burger history that I should try to make my own at home and write about it.
Unneeded knowledge: Carl’s Jr. isn’t specifically named for a person who is named Carl. Instead, the name comes from the second and third smaller locations of Carl’s Drive-in. Those were both Carl’s junior restaurants. Therefore, Carl’s Jr.’s is acceptable possessive punctuation that also still doesn’t make any sense.
What is a Frisco burger?
The original Frisco burger was a quarter-pound burger patty with an onion-based mayonnaise, two slices of Swiss cheese, bacon, and tomato slices in between butter-griddled sourdough. Marketing materials for the 2022 version of the Frisco burger no longer mention the onion-focused mayonnaise and the beef patty is sized up to a 1/3rd pound of pre-cooked beef which puts it more in check with Hardee’s Thickburger branded line of burgers. Other than those two changes, everything else seems to be the same.
Both my wife and I have strong memories of the Frisco burger from the early 1990s simply because at the time it was unique. Viewing the burger with 2022 colored glasses, the ingredients seem simplistic, but it still has a bit of a unique twist with the butter-toasted sourdough. It’s like a patty melt without the full griddling process.
Now it’s time to travel back to 1992 when grunge was young and fast-food burgers rarely had bacon. Check out this video advertisement from Hardee’s about the newly launched Frisco Burger.
The Frisco name
The Frisco burger is named for one ingredient in the sandwich, the sourdough slices/toast. According to the above promotional video, in the early 1990s, San Francisco was known for three things, “cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, and that delicious sourdough bread.” (Four if you count Rice-a-Roni).
No one in San Francisco calls the city San Fran or Frisco. Don’t do it.
If you’ve been following along, I’ve been baking a bit more sourdough sandwich bread lately, and this week that’s exactly what we need.
First, I made it square
For the square version of my slices, I used my most recently released sourdough sandwich loaf recipe in a square Pullman loaf pan with the lid attached. At this point, I’ve used this bread recipe free form without a pan, in a 4×8 standard loaf pan, and in my small Pullman pan with and without a lid.
And then I made it round
This part was just me fooling around and experimenting. I tried several different ways to make round slices of bread without buying anything new. The final solution I came up with was to take a 4-inch diameter can of San Marzano tomatoes and using a few pieces of aluminum foil, I molded a form that I could use to proof and bake bread inside. This effectively meant I could bake an extra tall bun that I could slice into round slices. There’s a photo of the roughly circular homemade aluminum pan down below. First, I want to show you why I wanted round slices.
Frisco burger promo photos
As you can see from these two official Hardee’s promo photos, the bakery that they are using to source their sourdough slices for the Frisco burger is likely using some sort of pan that has rounded edges similar to this $57 pan I found on Amazon. I didn’t want to spend sixty bucks for a pan that I might never use again, so I was happy the aluminum experiment worked.
I formed, placed, and baked 250 grams of sourdough dough inside of this Macgyver-ed aluminum foil smokestack and then I removed the aluminum foil after the halfway point of baking to allow the bread to brown. You could get roughly 3 aluminum foil pans worth out of my recipe, which turns out to be about 6 Frisco burgers worth. Note: you probably should just bake in a regular pan.
Here’s my sourdough sandwich loaf recipe, the instructions do not cover making round slices, but you can use the techniques I describe above to get you there if you’re crazy like me.
This is a soft sandwich loaf with extra flavor from the sourdough starter. You must have a starter prior to starting this recipe and all of the measurements are in grams. There are resources and links about sourdough starters in the notes section at the bottom of this recipe.Get Recipe
As I covered above, Hardee’s was one of the first fast-food chains to offer bacon on their sandwiches. They weren’t THE first, that honor goes to A&W Restaurant, but Hardee’s helped popularize it as an addition to fast food. It seems weird to think that there were very few bacon-focused sandwiches in the 1980s until you remember how health-obsessed the media was at that time. It took some targeted PR campaigns from the National Pork Board to bring bacon back into fashion in the 90s. And apparently, the Frisco burger was one of the sandwiches that kicked it off.
Here’s my oven-baked bacon recipe that I use all the time to cook bacon. I typically will cook more bacon than I need and keep it in the fridge. Later, if I’m using it on a burger or sandwich, I will toss a slice or two from the refrigerator into the pan with the burger patty for the last minute or so to heat up and soften. The technique works perfectly, it’s quick and requires very little cleanup.
Here’s the beef
Shocking no one, I have a few things to say about ground beef. For this type of burger, if I’m not buying my own cuts of beef to grind and I’m buying it from the grocery store, I opt for 80/20 ground beef. This means there’s 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat and the fat part equals flavor. You can buy 90/10, and there will be less grease in the final product, but your final burger will be leaner and, in my experience, less flavorful.
When you form your own patties, you should consider the shape of your roll or bread. Also, remember that when the beef cooks, the fat will render off which means the meat patty will shrink. So, if you’re cooking 80/20, a good rule of thumb that I use is that the patty will shrink about 20%. No one likes a burger that doesn’t fit in the bun.
If you’re using square sourdough bread slices, you should form more of a square or oval patty, if possible, to make sure you don’t have any bites that are just bread.
The Frisco burger copycat
Don’t get me wrong, this is a good burger, but its main flaw is the tomato. During peak tomato season, I’m sure it’s a big winner. But as I type this, it happens to be December. Save this recipe and pull it out to make during peak tomato summer.
Below are a few photos that I took of the default version that’s a copycat of Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr Thickburger Frisco burger and then below the recipe, I attempted to combine the best parts of this version with another Hardee’s classic to make what became an even better and more exciting burger that can be enjoyed during any season.
Here’s the Frisco burger recipe. Keep scrolling though, there’s another burger down below.
This is meant to be a Hardee's or Carl's Jr.'s Frisco burger copycat recipe. Bacon, tomato and Swiss cheese form a great combination in this sourdough sandwiched burger.
- 2 slices of sourdough
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1⁄3 pound ground beef (80/20)
- 2 slices of Swiss cheese
- 2 to 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 slices of tomato
- 2 slices of cooked bacon
- salt and ground black pepper
Spread butter on one side of each piece of sourdough bread.
Place a medium skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once the pan has pre-heated for 4 or 5 minutes add the slices of bread, butter side down. Toast for 2 to 4 minutes or until the outside surface of the bread is golden brown and toasty. You can toast the other side of the bread if you want, but it's not required.
Raise the temperature under your pan/griddle to medium-high
Once the bread is toasted to your liking, form the third pound of ground beef into a thin patty (about a 3/4-inch thick) that is a little bit wider than your toast (or as close as you can get). Salt and pepper the ground beef patty and place the seasoned side down in the hot pan. Season the second side and allow the patty to cook, untouched, for 3 to 4 minutes.
Flip the patty and add one or two slices of Swiss cheese on top of the patty. Cover the pan to help the cheese melt and cook the second side for at least 2 minutes. If you're worried about undercooking the burger, cook the second side for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the patty to a plate while you assemble the rest of your burger.
Add mayonnaise and the second slice of cheese to the inside of the bottom slice of bread. Top the cheese with your tomato slices. Season the tomato with a tiny pinch of salt and ground black pepper.
Top the tomato slices with the burger patty and cheese. Add two slices of bacon and top with the second slice of sourdough that you have also spread mayonnaise on.
Serve and enjoy.
Hardee’s also brought in a Mushroom N’ Swiss burger way back in the day. Here’s a YouTube video of a Hardee’s ad for the burger from 1987. According to that ad and my memory, the Mushroom N’ Swiss burger had a beef patty, two slices of Swiss cheese, mushrooms in a mushroom sauce. This burger wasn’t served on sourdough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually did have a Frisco sandwich version of this combo.
According to their current ads and website, they’ve also updated this burger to the third-pound Thickburger patty, but otherwise, it still seems to be the same. I think this combo is a lot more interesting than just tomato and Swiss, so I decided to make this and turn it into a Frisco-style burger. There’s a lot that can be done with the mushrooms and sauce to make this one even more exciting than the burger offered at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
Roasted garlic mayonnaise
First, I upgraded the mayonnaise. The Frisco burger originally came with an onion-focused mayonnaise, but I went with roasted garlic mayonnaise instead—partially because I already have a recipe for this, and it is super savory and adds great flavor to a sandwich.
Whenever I post on social media about this recipe, I usually get one or two people who understandably ask why this is mayonnaise instead of aioli. Garlic is one of the main ingredients in aioli and I can see how there is some confusion there. Below is a table describing what I perceive as the two main differences between aioli and mayonnaise.
|neutral, like canola oil
Real aioli can be made with simply pulverized garlic, salt, and olive oil.
Basically, it doesn’t seem to make a difference as to what you call this. The word aioli is so bastardized in our culinary society at the current time that there’s already tons of confusion about it. Restaurants these days will simply mix some store-bought sriracha into commercially produced mayonnaise and then call it a spicy aioli on the menu. The cat is out of the bag it seems to me, so just go with it.
I am a big fan of mushrooms; they bring texture and savoriness to the dish that they are incorporated into. this mushroom sauce pairs well with the melty Swiss in the final burger. You could just salt and pepper the mushrooms and cook them down with butter but adding the beef broth and a tiny bit of marsala wine really brings everything together.
Once you have the mushrooms with sauce, you can basically start making this burger. You could also use these mushrooms—in possibly a larger portion—to make a fantastic pasta, topped with the mushrooms, sauce, and a big sprinkle of parmesan.
But let’s get back to the burger.
Frisco more burgers!
I know everyone doesn’t have easy access to sourdough, but that sounds like a you problem, not a me problem. Do it. Make this burger (you could also use regular bread, but don’t tell anyone).
Check back next week when I get spicy. Real spicy.