Jella, Meet Krystal and Your Great Grandmother (recipe: Copycat Krystal Burgers)
Pleasant food experiences that lead to good food memories happen at places other than the kitchen table. They can happen at a hamburger joint that has curbside service, trays that attach to your door and square hamburgers. Krystal burgers were a favorite of my mother’s and we would go there for dinner frequently when my father was out-of-town. Mama loved those little hamburgers. She also loved the fact that we didn’t have to get out of our car to get service. After a hard day at work, she like to get in some comfortable clothes, load us in the car and head off to Krystal. I can’t remember if the curbside ordering stand had music that you could select or if we listened to the car radio but we heard a whole lot of Petula Clark singing “Downtown”. Every time I hear that song today, which is rare, I instantly crave a Krystal burger. Curbside service was considered a big convenience. These were the days prior to drive-thru service. The Golden Arches kept track of how many hamburgers they sold and displayed it on their signage in front of the restaurants. We are in the mid 1960s.
Krystal was started in Chattanooga, TN during the depression. The owners believed, despite economic hard times, folks would appreciate a restaurant that offered good inexpensive food, friendly service and a spotlessly clean restaurant. The first customer, Mr. French Jenkins, purchased 6 Krystal burgers and a cup of coffee for $0.35. One of our Syrup and Biscuits Facebook friends relates the story of her brother-in-law who was a grocery store delivery boy in Chattanooga and he would deliver groceries to the Krystal family. The lady-of-the-house would frequently invite him to come in and have breakfast. Southern hospitality is a way of life for us regardless of our economic standing. Many Southerners have memories of this iconic restaurant that served the square hamburgers.
As we munched on the simple little square hamburgers that had a beef patty, cooked onions, dill pickle, mustard and a steamed bun, we would talk about our day at school. Mama always seemed relaxed. I don’t know if it was due to the fact that dinner was easy, the Krystal burgers were satisfying, the comfort of dining in the car in comfortable clothes, or a combination of all three, but it definitely agreed with Mama. Since Mama was happy……I don’t even need to finish that sentence. You know how it goes.
The story of Mama and Krystal burgers is a story that I will tell my grandchildren, Jackson and Ella. Mama never got to meet them. Amy was pregnant with them (they’re twins) when Mama died. We were all hoping that Mama could hang on and see them. It didn’t work out that way. I have a picture of her in their room at my house. I feel like she’s looking over the babies each time they’re here.
A few years back, I heard a friend talking about making copycat Krystal burgers. She said she had found the recipe on the Internet. I never gave that another thought until a few weeks ago as I planned some upcoming blog posts. Jella (that’s Jackson and Ella’s celebrity name - we thought they needed one) is too young to understand the story of Mama and Krystal. Soon, I’ll be able to tell them. In the meantime, I wanted to get a recipe down pat that would be reminiscent of the hamburger. I found several recipes that I just didn’t think would be suitable. One had baby food beef. Wrong. One had the meat scrambled like Sloppy Joes without the sloppy. Wrong. One had dried onion soup mixed in the meat instead of having onions on the outside of the meat. Wrong. The one I thought was closest to the genuine thing was at Big Red Kitchen.
We had the hamburgers for dinner this week with Amy, David and Jella. They were the perfect size for toddler-sized hands. We all enjoyed them so much and they are earning a place of distinction among the menu rotation. I would have loved to share these burgers with Mama. She would have been beside her self with excitement. The burgers have such a special meaning to me that I’m renaming them Jella burgers at the suggestion of Sam. Mama would love that.
Y’all come see us!
Jella Burgers (Krystal burger copycats)
This recipe is so easy you are not going to believe it. The original Krystal burger had cooked onions, a meat patty, mustard, dill pickle and a steamed bun. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. I tossed around the idea of using fresh onions but decided on dehydrated onions since they were going on the bottom of the ground beef and the
grease juice from the ground beef could rehydrate the onions thus retaining all the flavor from the juice. Actually, the meat was lean enough that it didn’t give off very much “juice” at all. I used ground round that was an 85/15 ratio. This is one time that you don’t want ground sirloin.
1/2 cup dehydrated onion
2 lbs ground round (85/15 ratio)
Morton’s Season-All or your favorite seasoned salt
6 American cheese slices
24 dinner rolls (We used potato rolls)
French’s yellow mustard
dill pickles slices
Sprinkle the dehydrated onions on the bottom of a 9X13 pan
Sprinkle seasoned salt on top of the ground beef. Place in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. The beef patty will shrink so don’t be alarmed. Blot up the excess juice from the top so the cheese will adhere to the meat. Sam’s getting into the action and being a hand-model for me.
Add 6 pieces of sliced American cheese. It’s important to use 6 slices because it will give you landmarks to help divide the patty into 24 pieces. Return to the oven for about 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and lest rest for 5 minutes. Slice into 24 slices.
Lift out each burger patty and place on the bottom of the roll. Make sure you get some of the onions on the bottom, too!. Top with a dill pickle slice. Add some yellow mustard to the inside of the top of the roll.
All we’re missing is Petula Clark singing “Downtown”.