Annapolis’s Keith Long Chats About Burger Fat, Game Day Prep & Spiritual [Burger] Experiences
It’s safe to say this will be an away game for Keith Long.
As chef of Harvest Wood Grill & Tap in Annapolis, Long will be travelling farther than any of the other competitors to make it to the Throwdown this Sunday. But it doesn’t sound like he’s too bothered by it. His competition experience combined with his meticulous pre-event prep (down to the salt and cutting boards he uses) should offset his upcoming road trip.
In our final Throwdown interview before the big dance, Long discusses the important role fat plays in making a great burger, the difference between a medium-well burger and a medium-well steak (one of the two, he won’t eat) and what kind of burger gives him a true, spiritual experience.
This is one in a seven-part interview series with the competitors in the 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown taking place Sunday, May 15, 2016. Additional interviews will be linked here as they are published: Matt Adler, Scott Drewno, Travis Weiss, Alex McCoy, Ryan Hackney, John Critchley, Keith Long. Tickets for the Throwdown are available at bit.do/bbthrowdown.
Chef, Harvest Wood Grill & Tap
Without giving away any secrets, can you let us know what you’ve got planned for the 15th?
It’s still a little bit in the works, we’re finalizing a couple of things right now. We’re trying to impart a lot of different flavors and textures. The challenge with these type of events is inevitably you end up making the food and then the time between when the food is made and when it’s actually consumed by the judges is always up in the air. So, that’s a big factor that I look into. What else can we grind into the meat that makes it stay juicy for longer and doesn’t dry out immediately? How do we elevate the toppings? It’s great if you have beautifully melted cheese right then but four minutes later when the cheese is re-solidified, then it’s not the same experience. It’s how you translate that. That’s what we’re looking into. It’s a lot of southern influence right now. We’re looking at ways to enhance the patty using other meats. I can tell you it has salted pig in it. We’re trying to incorporate smoke, spice and texture all in the toppings.
How much time have you spent planning your burger?
I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks. Just sort of playing with different elements as we get along. You develop it for the restaurant and then you develop it for other events. I have no idea, honestly.
Who do you think is your biggest competition in the Throwdown?
I’ve done an event with Scott [Drewno] before. But really, I haven’t done any other events with anybody else at this point. I’ve been looking at who they are and where they came from and what they’re known for. I’m paired up in a heat with John Critchley, so that’ll be fun to go head-to-head with him. I’m always fascinated to see everybody’s take. It’s such a neutral platform, the burger. It’s a defining genre. I think everyone involved is going to elevate it beyond just taking a patty, seasoning it with salt and pepper and embellishing it with toppings. I think everybody is taking it to the next level above that.
How you done any burger-cooking competitions like this before?
This is my first with just burgers.
Are there any special routines that you and your team go through before cooking competitions?
We don’t really rehearse as much. I’m pretty detail oriented. I write out everything in advance that I want, down to the type of salt, what cutting board, what blades, etc. We have these big build sheets that we’ll roll out the day or two before, just to make sure that everything is organized. I’ve been to a lot of these competitions before and I’ve seen a lot of other guys show up for events who forget one or two elements, and it just throws you off your game. You’re not ready and it just messes up the whole experience for the day. I like to make sure we don’t have any excuses. What we brought to the table is what we wanted to bring to the table.
What’s the key to a great burger? If there’s one thing that makes or breaks a burger, what is it?
Fat. What type of fat and how you’re using it. Just the change between softened butter on a bun that’s griddled, if it’s melted butter verses clarified burger. That has a dramatic impact on the whole experience. Something that simple. Where the fat comes from on the animal you’re grinding into the burger, what type of animal it is…
What’s your preference: thick, ½ lb. patties or diner-style, smash-griddled patties?
I do both at the restaurant. Personally, I think there’s a lot more room for freedom and creativity with the thicker ones.
Ketchup on a burger? Yes or no?
If I’m in the right mood, the big ones with American cheese, bacon, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion…it’s a spiritual experience. So, no, I don’t have anything against [ketchup].
How do you like your burgers cooked?
Med rare. I’m more forgiving with burgers than with steaks. I would eat a med well burger but I would not eat a med well steak.
What’s your favorite burger in the D.C.-Maryland area?
Even around me, I don’t order them out very much. Which sounds lame because I’m doing a burger throwdown.
What’s the best burger you’ve ever eaten in your life? Do you have a go-to burger?
I used to do one with with house-cured bacon, Taleggio cheese, warm mustard. It was a half-pound burger ground with local meats and soft buttered grilled brioche bun. That combination of Taleggio cheese oozing off of it with crisp bacon and the rich veal stock embellished in the mustard sauce.
What’s your favorite cheese to put on a burger?
If I had a go-to it would be white cheddar. A really aged white cheddar.
If you were walk into a Five Guys, what are your ideal toppings?
Really fresh vegetables – lettuce, tomato, crisp bacon, a lot of raw red onion on it and then American cheese, ketchup and mustard.
What’s the best beer to have with a burger?
Raging Bitch by Flying Dog. Something that’s hoppy so it’s big enough to stand up to the big flavors of a burger but also doesn’t overpower the burger. It also brings out the natural flavors of the bun.
Fries or tots?
There are so many burgers in D.C., my friends and I wanted to try them all but it was taking too long to eat just one a day. So we started going out and eating burgers all day long in order to speed up the process. That’s how Burger Days came about. The most we’ve ever eaten in a day was seven or eight burgers. My question to you, what are the most burgers you’ve eaten a day?
Four in a day.
And finally, is there anything you want to say to your Throwdown competition?
Just bring it.
The 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown is this Sunday, May 15, from 3 – 7 p.m. at The Commodore Public House & Kitchen. Tickets are available at bit.do/bbthrowdown.