Since its introduction to the American public over a century ago, the hamburger has cycled through various phases—shedding its stigma as “left-over food,” finding success in the post-war period, and finally experiencing a renaissance in the late 1990s after its image was tainted by fast-food giants.

The hamburger is the ultimate survivor, a food that fended off constant persecution only to entrench itself deep in the heart of American culture. Through it all, the hamburger rooted itself in some of the most important food institutions—namely, the diner.

“Old-time hamburger restaurants are direct descendants of diners,” says George Motz, scholar, filmmaker, and author of Hamburger America. There, the hamburger was absorbed into the highly regionalized vernacular of short-order cooks.

“It’s almost like going from country to country, where the language changes,” says Motz. “Patrons know what’s going on, but outsiders have to pick up on the nuance, and it becomes more pronounced as you go deeper into America. It may be the same product, made the same way, but there’s very specific terminology used at each place.”

Slang and nicknames were a natural byproduct of these quick-service kitchens. “It’s an economy of language that compels people to talk like that. It’s about making things happen faster.”

To sift through and understand this new vocabulary, we reached out to a handful of burger nerds and cooking pros:

  • George Motz, author of Hamburger America (@motzburger)
  • Jennifer Puccio, executive chef at Marlowe (@chefpuccio)
  • Richard Chudy, founder of Boston Burger Blog, co-author of American Burger Revival
  • Adam Fleischman, founder of Umami Burger (@umamiburger)
  • Andrew Zurica, chef-owner of Hard Times Sundae (@hardtimessundae)
  • Matt Hyland, chef-owner of Emily (@matthewshyland)
  • Rodney Blackwell, founder of Burger Junkies (@burgerjunkies)
  • Brad Garoon, founder of Burger Weekly (@burgerweekly)
  • Chris Mitchell, chef at Bubby’s
  • Samuel Monsour, chef, co-author of American Burger Revival (@samuelmonsour)

All-the-way

A term mostly used in the South. Refers to a burger with all of the toppings associated with that style of burger. Doesn’t mean “everything.” For instance, if you’re talking about a Carolina Slaw burger, all-the-way means chili, coleslaw, mustard, pickles, and onions.—George Motz

Binky

A Cake tester used to check the internal temperature of a burger patty while it’s cooking. This is a very intimate, personal way to get inside your meat and feel its temperature. The cake tester becomes an emotional sidekick that one cannot do without. It becomes your fucking binky.—Samuel Monsour

Brulee

To melt cheese perfectly.—Adam Fleischman

Blood Bath

When the meat juices soak into the bottom bun.—Jennifer Puccio

Blowout

When the cheese escapes while you’re cooking a juicy lucy (see below). Also: When you’re eating the front of the burger, and all the toppings fall out of the back and onto the plate.—Rodney Blackwell

Blue

Extra rare.—Matt Hyland

Butter Burger

A burger with fresh Wisconsin butter on it. The butter is not used to toast the bun or lubricate the patty, however; the patty literally comes with a piece of butter that you bite into.—George Motz


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Combo

A hamburger patty with a sliced hot dog on top. Marty’s in Los Angeles is credited with inventing it. There, they’ll butterfly the hot dog, fry it flat, and then cut that in half, so it almost looks like a little raft that sits atop the burger.—George Motz

Condiment Sandwich

All the toppings, sans meat.—Chris Mitchell

Dissection Shot

Refers to when you cut open a burger to reveal its juicy interior to the camera (a development of the food-blogging era).

Doped

A bun that’s been dressed and is awaiting the burger. First time I heard it was at Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, Iowa.—George Motz

Double Meat

If you ask for a “double-meat” burger, it’s not actually double patties. Double meat means the cook takes two portions of same size and smushes them together. This practice goes back to the beginning of the hamburger—earlier than White Castle even. In the interest of speed and timeliness, places would make small burgers, and they’d portion the beef. If you wanted a bigger burger, you’d smash portions into one patty. You can still get double-meat burgers in Oklahoma and Mississippi.—George Motz

East Coast

Refers to a thick, pub-style patty generally found in New England. Usually char-grilled.—Richard Chudy


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Face-slapper

When garnishes such as bacon and onion rings are not crispy enough, so they pull out of the burger on the first bite.—Jennifer Puccio

Facial (a.k.a., Squirter; a.k.a., Money Shot)

When a piece of bacon or burger pops or squirts off of the grill and hits you in the face.—Andrew Zurica

Grandma’s Toast Recipe

When one of the cooks burns the shit out of the buns in the sally, so you ask if they are using “Grandma’s toast recipe.”—Chris Mitchell

Grey’s Anatomy

When a burger turns an unpleasant, gray color on the inside, signifying an overcooked patty.—Richard Chudy

Half-Assed

A burger with no bun.—Chris Mitchell

Hammered

Well-done.—Matt Hyland

Juicy Lucy

A burger with a pocket of cheese cooked on the inside of the burger.—Rodney Blackwell

LTO

The standard toppings of lettuce, tomato, and onions found at a lot of burger joints.—Rodney Blackwell


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Mini-burger

Each patty has been formed by hand. If it hasn’t been smashed onto the griddle, it’s known as a mini-burger, even if it is same size.—George Motz

MR

Mid-rare.—Matt Hyland

No Fun

When someone wants the burger with something taken off it (e.g., no cheese).—Matt Hyland

No Funion

No onions.—Matt Hyland

On Wheels

Burger to-go.—Chris Mitchell

Overdone

Anything over medium.—Adam Fleischman

Plain Jane

Plain burger, not dressed.—Chris Mitchell

Rabbit Food

Lettuce, tomato, and other raw vegetables that often come standard on a burger.—Brad Garoon


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Ratio

The diameter of the bun as it relates to the diameter of the burger. Too much meat and the burger is unwieldy; too much bun and you’re left with extra bread in the end.—Brad Garoon

Sear

The brown maillardian layer of caramelized meat on a cooked beef patty that separates the great burgers from the good burgers.—Rodney Blackwell

Shrinkage

When a patty shrinks upon cooking, negatively affecting the meat-to-bun ratio.—Richard Chudy

Sissy Burger

The Meers Store in Oklahoma refers to a burger with mayo on it as a Sissy Burger. In southern parts of the state at places like Folger’s, this is also known as an ‘educated burger.’—George Motz

Slider

Not to be confused with mini burgers, which are often listed on menus as sliders despite being nothing more than smaller versions of regular burgers. Technically a slider is a ball of beef pressed onto a flat top, served on a small bun, with pickles, mustard, and onion. It’s never more than 2.5 ounces of beef. The potato-roll bun is heated on the same grill, soaking up the onions steam.—Motz & Garoon

Slug

Originates in north Mississippi. A burger with breading and cornmeal mixed into a burger patty to extend the meat. The practice has changed—now it’s just cornmeal and pork. Back in the day, it was the combo of beef and breading; you fry it on a flat top, the burger renders fat, and the crispy bread bits soak up the beef tallow.—George Motz

Smash Burger

Starts with a ball of beef (above three ounces) that is smashed on a flat-top grill to give it a perfect crust.—Rodney Blackwell


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Special Sauce

Usually a blend of mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, and a secret mix of herbs and spices.—Rodney Blackwell

Upper West Side

Well-done.—Chris Mitchell

West Coast

Refers to a thin, griddled-style patty, a lá In-N-Out.—Richard Chudy

Yin Yang

Cooked half rare, half well-done.—Jennifer Puccio

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