02 June, 2008

In Praise of Steamed Cheeseburgers

Chances are, if you're not from Southern New England, you've never heard of a "steamed cheeseburger." Fairly popular in central Connecticut, they are all but unknown in the rest of the country.

For diehard fans, steamed cheeseburgers are the only burgers that are worth eating. For everyone else, they're a delicious change of pace that should be experienced at least once. Five ounces of high-quality ground beef are packed into a rectangular tray, steamed in a stovetop contraption called the Burg'R Tend'R until done, then served on a soft Vienna roll topped with melted mild cheddar cheese and various fixings (which might include lettuce, tomato, onion, and bacon.)

As the burger steams, it sort of pulls together into a thick, deliciously juicy patty that almost resembles a meatball more than a hamburger patty. Just before serving, it's topped with a thick layer of steam-melted cheddar cheese (usually a mild to mid-sharp NY or Wisconsin cheddar, almost never a plain bland "American cheese.") The texture and flavor is wonderful. Top it with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a few strips of bacon and you have a sandwich that you will never forget.

The first steamed cheeseburgers were served in the late 1940's at a small restaurant called Jack's Lunch in Middletown, CT. A few other diners and lunch counters in central Connecticut also started serving them, and in the 1950's Paul Duberek of Meriden CT began selling them to workers at construction sites and factories, from a small lunch cart equipped with a sandwich steamer. His son Ted, who now owns and operates Ted's Restaurant in Meriden, carries on the tradition today.

The Burg'R Tend'R

Most diners and restaurants serving steamed cheeseburgers use a special stovetop steaming cabinet called a Burg'R Tend"R, which was invented and patented by Dale Greenbacker, a Connecticut metalworker, who incorporated his business as Daleco Inc. in 1978. The commercial-sized Burg'R Tend'R has twelve trays which are used to steam the burgers and melt the blocks of cheese. A somewhat smaller home-kitchen version is also available for true steamed cheeseburger fanatics.

Daleco is now run by Bob Gattilia, and has a website where you can buy your very own Burg'R Tend'R. Click here to visit the Burg'R Tend'R website.

Other Links:

Ted's Restaurant - Ted's is a great, funky, little luncheteria-type joint and the center of the Steamed Cheeseburger Universe. The website is loaded with info but is, unfortunately, rather hideously designed.

Serious Eats - This page on the Serious Eats website hosts the Steamed Cheeseburger excerpt from the documentary Hamburger America by George Motz. [Edited 01-20-2011 to remove link - the video is apparently gone from the Serious Eats site.]

The Better Burger Battle - A discussion on regional hamburger varieties with details on steamed cheeseburgers including an extensive bibliography. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.



Campy said...

Nice article, Dave. There was a small place in Pennsylvania that ran a steamed cheeseburger joint inspired by the ones in CT. It was truly the best burger I've ever had.

If anyone would like to craft one of these guys without purchasing specialized equipment, I put together a brief tutorial here:


Dave said...

Excellent tutorial. Thanks for stopping by and sharing it with me.

yuppicide said...

Excellent idea to make your own with sardine tins. I'm doing it tomorrow when I get paid!

Unknown said...

Hi, I wanted to let you know you got some facts wrong. My grandfather, Ted, started the business. It was his son, Paul, who continued on the restaurant after his death. Thanks!