The “what” of Burger Bowl 2013 will be instantly familiar to anyone who has watched cooking competition shows like “Iron Chef.”
Eight teams, cooking two at a time, will race against the clock Saturday to make the best burger. Teammates have 45 minutes to make the most delicious meat patty possible, using a charcoal grill, smoker, griddle, deep-fryer or anything else in the kitchen of Ireland’s Own, 2163 Seneca St.
How elaborate can the burgers get? In last year’s competition, Team 12 Pack Jack offered a burger that was a blend of ground beef brisket, ribeye and apple-smoked bacon. It was grilled over charcoal laced with hickory, then covered with abundant Irish cheddar cheese, which was allowed to melt onto the grill and get crispy. It was served on a freshly baked garlic roll, smothered in homemade mole sauce and topped with a bacon weave, an onion ring and crispy fried shallots and peppers.
It didn’t even place.
This year, as spectators look on, a panel of four judges will taste the burgers and ponder their merits. Once all the teams have presented their entries, the winning team will get a trophy and the right, for an entire year, to be insufferable to their friends whenever burgers are mentioned.
Spectators will get to taste entries and vote on a crowd choice. They’ll also be fed barbecued pulled pork, aged Irish cheddar mac and cheese, and more, plus have an open bar for their donation ($25 presale, $30 door). More than 300 are expected. Proceeds go to charity. This year’s cause is the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps former service members readjust to civilian life.
The “why” of Burger Bowl is not quite as selfless.
It started a few years ago when a personal trainer named Andrew Pentheros was talking to guys he knows, members of his wife’s family, about how they should get together sometime, make a bunch of barbecue and eat it – while drinking adult beverages and being guys together.
So they did. In early 2009, maybe 10 or 12 guys met at his wife’s uncle’s house. “All the guys loved the food so much, they said, ‘We gotta do it again.’ ”
So about six months later they did, except this time 60 guys showed up. “All the guys who were there told all their friends, and everybody else, ‘You have to check out the food these guys make.’ And it just kept growing from there,” Pentheros said.
It was dubbed Man’s Night, a fitting moniker for an evening dedicated to meat and booze, with no females allowed. “It gets a little crude because it’s a bunch of guys, but there’s no strippers,” Pentheros said of Man’s Night. “We’re raising money through [ticket] auctions and raffles and stuff.” The last edition of the event raised $1,200 for Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
By 2011, though, the guys were feeling the pressure.
“All the ladies in our lives were complaining that they couldn’t go to our Man’s Night event,” Pentheros said. Plus, as fellow organizer Michael Shurmatz noted, “We started having so many people showing up for Man’s Night that we wanted to spread it into more than one event.”
So to get the wives and girlfriends off their backs, and to give their faithful followers another chance to party, Pentheros, Shurmatz and the rest of the Man’s Night team created an event for everybody: Burger Bowl.
“We chose that because it was after the Super Bowl, and an event revolving around food,” said Shurmatz, who has worked as a personal trainer and photographer since finishing his hitch in the Army. “Some kind of theme makes it cooler than, ‘We’re just getting together to eat.’ We put a purpose to the day, then serve our food around that.”
At Burger Bowl, some of the best teams have been coed. Glen Gebhardt, a digital account coordinator for LocalEdge, competes with his wife, Karrie. Cooking together, they took third in 2011, and second place last year. He’s a huge fan of food television shows, and they enjoy cooking together as a hobby, he said.
As Gebhardt describes their 2011 entry, it becomes clear that the drive for a better burger can lead to the land of excess.
“For our stuffed banana pepper burger, we roasted the banana pepper, de-skinned it and folded it over a filling of ricotta, cream cheese, Parmesan, asiago, other Italian cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, sausage, bacon and basil,” he said. That filling was made into a patty, wrapped in roasted pepper and used to top a beef patty, a ground beef and ground rib-eye combo, then drizzled with steak sauce on a ciabatta roll.
For 2012, the Gebhardts got serious. Their sweet chile short rib burger started on a soft toasted Costanzo’s kaiser roll and a layer of sweet Thai chile coleslaw, hen a layer of crispy applewood smoked bacon.
Then the burger, a patty of ground beef short ribs that were marinated overnight in Asian flavors. The meat was formed around a core of smoked bacon Gouda cheese, so it oozes when cut.
It was topped with homemade onion frizzles and Cajun aioli.
Too much? The judges didn’t think so.
And it takes a lot to impress Brian Duffy. The Philadelphia-based veteran chef and restaurant consultant, whose television career includes serving as the culinary expert for Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” agreed to serve as a judge at Burger Bowl 2012 after spotting photographs from Man’s Night on Facebook.
After a shoot in Los Angeles, Duffy took a Friday night red-eye flight to Buffalo, and took part in the Saturday event, waiving any fees because it was for charity. Then he flew back to California on Sunday.
Was it worth it? “I would absolutely do it again, there’s no doubt about it,” Duffy said. (He won’t be there this time, however, having committed to time with his daughters.)
“It was amazing what these guys have put together. I mean, the concoctions, bacon-wrapped and bacon-laced and deep-fried,” said Duffy. “It was amazing, some of the stuff they were doing.”
The cooking he saw was “pure passion, every single thing these guys and girls did.”
If you want to go:
Burger Bowl 2013
5 p.m. Saturday
Ireland’s Own, 2163 Seneca St.
Tickets: $25 advance, by calling 913-5178; $30 door.