The Burger Lab: The Burger Gadget Edition

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"Tired of the same old burgers? Stop having boring burgers, stop having a boring life."

There's a lot of stuff out there that can only be described as "burger junk." You know, the things sold on late night informercials that try to convince you that your burgers are not good enough, fast enough, or novel enough for discerning modern palates. In the interest of being utterly thorough, this week I've decided to round up five of the most popular burger gadgets and put them through their paces.

The Adjust-A-Burger

The Adjust-A-Burger ($7.89) is an adjustable patty mold for making 1/4 pound, 1/3 pound, and 1/2 pound patties. It's a simple design based on a piston. The outer plastic sleeve locks into place with a little twist at one of the three predetermined size settings. You then add meat, level off the top, then push the formed patty out.

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The idea is that if you are planning a big barbecue, this'll help you save time by portioning and forming the patties for you. That sounds like a fine idea to me.

At first, the thing worked flawlessly. Weighing the patties on my scale after forming them, I found it them to be slightly larger than the device indicated, but no big deal. The problem came after I'd made about three patties. My fingers, slick with fat and meat juice, couldn't get a grip on the outer sleeve to twist it and eject the formed patty. I ended up having to wash my hands in between every single patty I formed, completely negating and time-savings the machine might have given me.

Still, the patties were at least uniform.

  • Novelty: 2
  • Usefulness: 7
  • Construction quality/ease of use: 4
  • Overall assessment: If the grips were a little more grippy, I'd actually use this on a regular basis.

The Hamdogger

Don't you just hate it when you get to a barbecue* and you're forced to choose between a hot dog or a hamburger? Maybe you've always longed for your burgers to be a little more lengthy and a little less girthy? Or perhaps you find yourself constantly annoyed at the four extra hot dog buns you have leftover because the dog makers and the bun makers refuse to communicate on servings per package?

Or could it just be that you no longer see the big deal with your gadgets and gizmos aplenty, your whozits and whatsits galore, or your score of thingamabobs and simply long for more?

Before I get any guff—yes, I'm consciously using the word "barbecue" to refer to what 98% of the world describes as a barbecue, despite the fact that a few overzealous and misguided sectarians insist that we should call them "cook-outs."

The Hamdogger ($10.95) might be the tool for you.

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Unlike the other gadgets in this roundup, it doesn't even pretend to be practical. It's a plastic mold that shapes burger meat into a bun-sized log. Figure out how to work it right, and you can even stuff your hamdogs with a thin strip of whatever you'd like (I really can't imagine fitting anything but a little cheese into the narrow trough the mold creates).

The hamdogs it produces are a whole lot trickier to cook than regular burger patties—they roll around and tend to fall apart easily—and they certainly don't taste any better than a regular burger. It's applications are limited pretty much to little kids' birthday parties or the third nights of Grateful Dead festivals.

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  • Novelty: 7
  • Usefulness: 4
  • Construction quality/ease of use: 8
  • Overall assessment: It does exactly what they claim it will do, but leaves you wondering "why?"

The Burger Buddy

The Burger Buddy ($19.95) is essentially a large, brown, plastic press designed to squeeze fat out of your cooked burger.

As someone who actively tries to find ways of introducing more fat to his burgers, I must admit up front that I'm already predisposed to dislike a product whose sole goal is to remove it. Nevertheless, I feel I gave this a very fair chance, tasting both 1/4-pound well-done and 1/2-pound medium-rare "treated" burgers side-by-side with untreated counterparts.

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Here's how it works. You place a cooked burger patty (like the ones I shaped in my Adjust-a-Burger) into the brown trough which is set over a bowl to collect juices. Then you add hot water (yes, that's right—hot water) and press down firmly with the handle. Once fat has started to squeeze out of the patty, add more hot water to rinse it off, let the patty drain, and consume. With caution.

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"Hey!" You might be saying to yourselves. "That burger don't look half bad!" And yes, at first glance, it really doesn't seem all that bad. But biting into it reveals its true nature.

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It's difficult to describe, but the burger is simultaneously dry and wet. It's almost pulpy. Like chewing on pieces of moist confetti. It's a rather shocking experience, to say the least.

Here's what I'm trying to say: The Burger Buddy is to hamburgers what Harry Potter's Dementors are to humans: it effectively sucks out the very living soul, leaving it as a cold, empty, defeated shell of its former self. A terror to behold and a veritable nightmare to taste.

The website also makes some rather dubious claims about increasing the wholesomeness of a burger by washing out hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, carcinogens, dyes, bacteria, and rancid fat. Here's an easier solution: If you're afraid of those things, buy your meat from a better source, or don't eat meat at all. Afraid of the fat? Eat regular burgers less frequently.

I'd like to be able to say that even my dog wouldn't eat them, but that's not true. He devoured every last scrap of that burger. You know what else Dumpling likes to eat? Dog food.

  • Novelty: 9 (points for an idea that nobody else would ever dream of)
  • Usefulness: 1
  • Construction quality/ease of use: 8
  • Overall assessment: Great as a gag gift. Otherwise, steer clear.

Disclosure: The Burger Buddy was provided by the company for review.

The Big City Slider Station

Warning: only click on the link to their website if you are ready for a full-on aural assault. Spokesperson Billy May's couldn't possibly be more excited about the "mini burger sensation that's sweeping the nation."

The Big City Slider Station ($19.99) is essentially a five-in-one burger press that doubles as a pan. Seems like a decent idea. You add meat to the pan with the provided scoop (it turns out roughly 1 1/2 ounces of meat per scoop), press down with the handled portion of the pan, and set the whole thing on a burner.

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And you know what? It actually works. Because the little wells trap in moisture, the burgers don't get any kind of sear on them—they more or less steam in their own juices—but for sliders, that's not a particularly bad thing. The rapid heat distribution from the aluminum means the burgers cook within a couple of minutes, and the non-stick surface is actually non-stick.

The main problem? Adding toppings. A slider's not a slider without copious amounts of onions and melty cheese (see what I mean in my recipe for the ultimate homemade sliders). And unfortunately, because of the bottom-up cooking of these patties and the tiny wells, it's difficult to get the cheese and onions to cook simultaneously with the burgers. I had to resort to cooking the onions separately and adding the cheese after removing the meat.

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All in all, not the worst sliders in the world, but I believe the Slider Station's usefulness lies in its ability to function as a burger press. I can see myself using it to form patties before cooking them in a separate pan or on the grill. You'd better be the kind of person who makes a lot of sliders to justify the space it takes up though.

  • Novelty: 6
  • Usefulness: 6
  • Construction quality/ease of use: 9
  • Overall assessment: Not great for cooking in, but useful as a mold