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PIECE BY PIECE: A series of perfect little bites can be more rewarding than a sloppy, gloppy monstrosity.

Burger Tactics

Why try to cram the whole thing in your mouth?

By Ari LeVaux

Taiwanese dentists began campaigning last year about the dangers of large hamburgers. Their concerns regard an increase in jaw dislocations that have been attributed to diners trying to open mouths wide enough to take super-sized bites of the burgers being served at some of the nation's fast food restaurants.

Here in the States, the threat of jaw dislocation by hamburger lurks closer to home. Handmade patties tend to be more round and thick than commercial patties. And while fast-food buns seem designed to melt away at first bite, the kaiser roll brought home from the bakery could add solid inches to a burger's height. Add a creative desire to explore the possibilities of waffles or fried turkey on a burger, and one could really approach the danger zone.

A crumbling meat patty held together by soggy buns with tomato slices squeezing out the side and juices dripping into a puddle on the plate is generally a sight that appeals only to whoever ate the first half. A burger that's busy with fixings may have flavor, but the more that's piled on, the harder it becomes to hold it all together.

With the failures of Fourth of July barbecues behind us, now's a good time to discuss some ways to make a homemade hamburger tasty, pretty and safe. My strategy is to serve burgers as a deconstructed palette of options. If using cheese, it should be melted on the patty. The bread is sliced thin and toasted on one side. Jars of condiments crowd the table, including mayo, homemade catsup, hot sauce and mustard made from vinegar-soaked mustard seeds. Other fixings might include avocado, tomato slices, bacon, roasted green chiles, sauted mushrooms, greens, roasted garlic, pickled peppers and chopped or sliced onions.

Though I'm not typically a bread guy, I love it with burgers. Bread holds the sauce, keeps perfect record of the mixing juices and adds a nice flavor of its own. That said, I don't want bread on both sides of my burger. With small bites, an upper piece of bread doesn't serve any structural function, can complicate getting the thing into your mouth and take up valuable real estate in your belly.

Sitting down at one of these deconstructed burger spreads, I don't worry about cramming every fixing and goodie I could possibly want onto each small bite. Instead, I think about building a compact, stable structure that I can easily put in my mouth. I'll often press a piece of burger into a mixture of mayo and catsup that I dollop onto a piece of bread, and sprinkle it with chopped onions. As for the fixings that don't fit onto the burger bite, I simply put them into my mouth separately and chew it all together.

How tricky is that? Perhaps I'll then add a spoonful of chopped, roasted green chile, which I might follow with a nibble of burger patty dipped in mayo and catsup to keep the mouthful going.

It doesn't have to look like a burger to be one, because the real magic happens when it's chewed together; how the various players got there is irrelevant. Creating one-bite wonders gives you total control of your burger's flavor, keeping the mess in your mouth and not on your chin. If this style of eating ever catches on in Taiwan, some dentists might sleep a little easier.

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