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March 6, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Seattle contest winners build a better burger

Korean-Hawaiiam Taco Truck

Waiting in the long lines for Spam sliders and bulgogi tacos at Seattle’s Marination Mobile paid off big for Katie Sherrill — beyond just getting her lunch.

Inspired by the “amazingly delicious” food truck, the Edmonds resident created a “Korean-Hawaiian Taco Truck Burger” that’s a finalist in the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest, one of the biggest cooking contests in the nation.

(”We are super-flattered…” Marination’s Facebook page read. “Will you make us one, pretty please?”)

In fact, two Seattle-area residents — Sherrill and Mark Richardson of Snohomish — were among the competition’s ten finalists. Sherrill was one of five finalists in the category of best beef burger, which will serve up a $100,000 prize to the ultimate winner in a cook-off at the California winery on May 18. Richardson was one of five finalists in the “alternative” burger category, competing for a $15,000 prize. Another finalist in the beef category, Mark Pyne, used to live in Kent, where he won the $15,000 “alternative burger” award in last year’s contest and was also a finalist the year before.

Contest reps couldn’t say whether we had proportionately more entrants than other states, but Washington has had outsized representation among finalists in the past as well, including multiple finalists in past years and Seattle stylist Jaeger Stoltz winning the grand prize in 2010.

If this year’s two local finalists have anything in common, it’s forethought.

Richardson has had his eye on the contest for a few years, cooking a lot of the burgers that have made the finalist’s cut. “I was always really impressed with the skill levels. They weren’t just these simple burgers, to me it was a real contest for real cooks, even if they’re, like me, more home cooks,” he said.

Richardson, a former board member of Sierra Trading Post, had entered the contest before, submitting a Reuben burger (it included caraway seeds, Swiss and sauerkraut) and a Thai burger with galangal and lemongrass.

He started his culinary tinkering as a kid, “opening up a can of Campbell’s soup and figuring out it didn’t taste so good and needed some vinegar and oregano. Sometimes I’d ruin it, of course. ”

His entry this year was inspired by a neighbor from his college years who introduced him to Indian food. Richardson loved it, started cooking it on his own, and began thinking that a filling commonly used for stuffing samosas could be worked into a good burger. He developed the cumin and coriander-spiked lamb burger the summer before last, then started working on a condiment to match it. His tahini pistachio mayonnaise was worth the wait; he’d studied other finalists enough to know he had to “spice it up” to stand out for the judges.

Sherrill, who described herself as “food-obsessed,” got her inspiration when her husband, who works in SoDo, insisted she had to try the Spam sliders at a food truck there.

“He was right. It was delicious,” she said.

She had learned to cook from her mother. “When we were really pretty young, she started having us be in charge,” teaching Sherrill and her sister about meal planning and balancing food groups and presenting food well. “I owe a lot of what I think about food to her and to her training us that way,” she said.

Sherrill, who works at a hospital print center, started thinking about the burger contest after seeing the celeb-studded judgings on TV several years ago, debating whenever she ate something delicious “how I would convert it into a burger.”

She had entered the Better Burger contest once before, as well as the Pillsbury Bakeoff and Eggland’s Best. The parameters and limitations of contest entries are a fun challenge, she said, whether a 6-ingredient limit or Sutter Home’s requirement that the patties be cooked at the finals on an outdoor grill.

“When you’re just making a recipe out of thin air you don’t have to consider all this stuff,” she said.

This year she tried out a knockoff version of the sliders for her “foodie book club,” thought it turned out well, and started wondering how to convert it to a hamburger. “Around the same time I discovered those delicious seaweed snacks. I wasn’t sure how they would work on a burger, I thought they might get weird and chewy,” she said. Nope. She’s headed to Napa Valley.

“It’s like winning the lottery. It’s one of those things you think happens to other people, but it really does happen to real people.”

Inspired to try your own luck? Entries open for next year’s competition open April 1, check here for details. Here are the winning local recipes:

Indian Lamb Burgers

Recipe by Mark Richardson
Snohomish, Washington

In this burger, the unique taste of lamb is accentuated with Indian spices and fresh aromatics. Spicy and delicious, the exotic tastes are tempered by the addition of Tahini Pistachio Mayonnaise.


• 2 pounds ground lamb
• 2 tablespoons minced shallot
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
• 1 tablespoon seeded and minced serrano chile
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 1/2 teaspoons garam marsala
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup cream cheese
• 2 tablespoons tahini
• 1/3 cup ground pistachios
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
• 1 tablespoon minced shallot
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 2 teaspoons seeded and minced serrano chile
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
• 6 pita breads, top third removed
• 3 cups shredded romaine lettuce hearts
• 18 slices (1/8-inch-thick) English (hothouse) cucumber
• 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped into 1/4-inch dice


To make the patties, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form the portions into patties to fit the pitas. Cover and refrigerate until grilling.

To make the mayonnaise, combine the mayonnaise, cream cheese and tahini in a small bowl and mix until smooth. Add the pistachios, cilantro, shallot, garlic, chile, lemon juice, sesame oil and salt. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until assembling the burgers.

Heat a gas grill to medium-high.

Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, 4 to 6 minutes on each side for medium. During the last few minutes of cooking, place the pitas on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly, turning once.

To assemble the burgers, spread 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise on the inside of each pita pocket. Place the patties inside the pita pockets. Divide the romaine, cucumber, and tomato evenly among the pitas and tuck around each patty. Serve.

Makes 6 burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing (the contest is sponsored by a winery, after all): Merlot

Korean-Hawaiian Taco Truck Burgers

Recipe by Katie Sherrill
Edmonds, Washington

In Seattle, there is an amazingly delicious and wildly popular Korean-Hawaiian taco truck called Marination. My husband and I happily wait in line (sometimes 50-plus deep) to score our fix of kalbi or bulgogi tacos, SPAM® sliders, and, if we are lucky, musubi. This burger is inspired by my favorite things on their menu. Nom Nom Nom Nom.

• 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
• 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 1/4 cup minced jalapeño chile
• 2 cups finely shredded iceberg lettuce

• 2 pounds ground beef (80/20)
• 6 ounces 25% Less Sodium SPAM® (1/2 of a standard tin), diced pea-size
• 1 cup thinly sliced green onion
• 1/4 cup Korean barbecue sauce for kalbi

• 1/4 cup gochujang (Korean chile sauce or paste)
• 2 tablespoons Korean barbecue sauce for kalbi

• Vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
• 6 onion brioche rolls, split
• 10 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 24 sheets sesame-flavored Korean roasted seaweed snacks, such as Annie Chun’s brand


To make the slaw, combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, ginger, sugar, and soy sauce in the bottom of a bowl large enough to toss the slaw in. Whisk until combined and smooth. Add the cabbage, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. Toss to combine. Top with the lettuce, but don’t mix in. Cover and keep cool until ready to assemble the burgers.

To make the patties, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands until evenly distributed, but do not overwork. Divide into 6 equal portions and form thick patties about the size of your hand. When forming the patties, make the middles a little thinner than the outside and the edges smooth.

To make the basting sauce, combine the two ingredients and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a gas grill to medium-high.

Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the patties and spread half of the basting sauce on the tops. Cover and cook for 4 minutes longer. Turn the patties again and spread with the remaining sauce. With the lid open, cook the patties for about 1 minute longer, turning and rearranging so they all get a nice caramelization of the basting sauce and a few grill marks. During the last minute of cooking, place the rolls on the grill rack and toast on both sides until lightly browned and warm, about 30 seconds.

Remove the slaw from the refrigerator and toss to combine the lettuce with the cabbage mixture.

To assemble the burgers, spread 1/6 of the mayonnaise on the cut sides of each roll. Top the bottom half of each roll with 4 sheets of seaweed snacks, followed by a burger patty, 1/6 of the slaw, and the roll top.

Makes 6 burgers

Suggested Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Photo of Katie Sherrill’s burger courtesy of the Build a Better Burger contest



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