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How to make an El Reno-style Oklahoma Onion Burger in your own kitchen…

10:52 AM EST on March 4, 2013

(Editor's Note: In an effort to land our own Food Network Show like the Pioneer Woman, we're introducing a semi-regular food feature that describes how to make classic Oklahoma food items. It's kind of a rip-off of DeadSpin's "Food Spin Series," only better. The column is written by top-level Ogle Mole and food enthusiast "Oklahoma Fats." Enjoy.)

So, you want to eat like a real Oklahoman? It’s pretty easy: Mazzio’s delivery line is 799-9999. Get the Traber special.

OK, fine, if you want to learn how to make Oklahoma’s most famous dishes, we can do that, too. Today, we're making El Reno-style onion burgers.

In El Reno, there are three restaurants that make great onion burgers -- Sid’s Diner, Robert’s Grill and Johnnie’s Grill. It’s a magical concoction that shouldn’t seem all that magical. It’s just onions and beef and a bun. But what they do with them...

Here’s what you need to make your own:

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Essentials

- A large yellow onion

- A pound of ground chuck

- The cheapest hamburger buns available

- Some butter

- Some vegetable oil

- Salt and pepper

Options

- American cheese

- Dill pickle slices

- Mustard

- Pepcid taken 30-minutes before meal

- God help you, ketchup

Makes: 4 onion burgers

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How to make it

The first thing you’ll do is take the onion and slice it through the root end. Peel off all the papery skin and throw it away. You’ve eaten an onion before, right? You don’t eat that stuff. Take the onion and slice it thinly into half moons. It should look like this:

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Break the half moons up into individual slivers with your hands and put them in a colander over a bowl. Toss the onions slices with a teaspoon of salt.

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And now you wait. 30 or 45 minutes. Maybe toss the onions every 10 or 15 minutes, to mix things up.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have a real griddle in your home. I mean, if you do, congrats. That’s awesome. But the restaurant griddles they have at Sid’s and Robert’s and Johnnie’s? They get so hot and they’re so smooth and what they do is sizzle and grill those onions very quickly and very well. All the moisture goes away and the onions get brown and black and sweet and wonderful.

But my stove doesn’t do that. So we salt the onions and that draws out a lot of moisture. After they’ve drained for a half hour or so, you spread them out on a dish towel and then roll them up. Twist the towel over the sink. Hard. A lot of juice is going to come out. Squeeze as much out as you can. Moisture is the enemy of browning.

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Final drying step -- spread the onions out on some paper towels and put some more paper towels on top. Maybe toss a little more salt and some pepper on top to season the whole mess.

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If you’ve got a friend, companion or lover, ask one of them to butter and toast the buns for you. If you’re all alone in the world, you miserable bastard, then you can do a little multi-tasking. Get a big non-stick skillet and get it going over low heat. Take your stick of butter and wipe it all over the surface of the skillet and then drop the open buns on there for a few minutes.

Why are we using the cheapest buns? Because they don’t matter. This bread is a delivery system and nothing more. Using a fancy bun for a fried onion burger is like wrapping an Xbox in a Monet print: The only thing you’re really paying attention to is what’s on the inside.

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Once the buns have been lightly toasted, take them off and turn the heat up to medium high. Drop a tablespoon (big T) of unsalted butter on the skillet and a splash of vegetable oil. The butter adds flavor. The oil keeps the smoke point high, so your kitchen doesn’t look like the set of NBC’s hit show that nobody watches, “Chicago Fire.”

Take those onions and spread them out on the skillet. They will sizzle and start to smell good very quickly. Don’t hover and stir. The key to the El Reno onion burger is a certain laissez-faire attitude. Some of the onions will burn. Some will still be raw. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

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Leave those onions cooking for a few minutes and get out your meat. I recommend ground chuck, because it’s got a nice fat content and lots of flavor. You can use whatever kind of ground beef you want, but if you can get it, chuck is a winner.

You know how you always roll your meat up into balls and flatten them into perfect patties? Don’t. Much like your mom always told you, it’s better if you keep your hands off your meat. Stop beating it up. Just break it up into four equally sized chunks and leave it alone.

After two or three minutes, go over and flip the onions. They won’t go all at once and it doesn’t matter if every single onion gets flipped, so just try to get most of them.

Take your chunks of beef and put them on top of the onions--each gets its own quadrant. Take a spatula (you’re never supposed to do this, but it’s OK here) and smash that beef down into the onions. You want the meat and the onions to meld together.

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OK, leave that alone for a while longer. Maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Go get all your other crap ready. Buns out, unwrap the cheese, get some pickle slices. Go back and flip the burgers, scraping up as much of the onion underneath the burger as you can. If there’s still some on the bottom, it’s fine.The burger should be nearly entirely covered by the onions.

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Leave that for another 2 minutes for a medium-rare burger, 4 minutes for medium-well. What if you want medium? Christ, do the math. It’s right there for you.

If you want cheese, now is a good time to put it on top of the burgers. But maybe don’t do it your first time. I love cheese, mustard and pickles on my onion burgers, but if this is your first batch, you really ought to taste it without any distractions. Just onions, beef and bun. It’s still a pretty tremendous sandwich.

Once you’ve pulled the burgers off the skillet and put them on the buns, everybody is going to be ready to eat, because this whole mess smells amazing. Do yourself a favor, though, and after 5 or 10 minutes, go back to the skillet with a wet paper towel and just wipe it down. This will save some headache when you’re cleaning up later.

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You’ll note I didn’t mention jalapeno or bacon or avocado or any other fancy burger accoutrements. It’s not that they aren’t good, it’s just...unnecessary. Add them on if you want to, but the beauty of an onion burger is that it is simple and wonderful. But do whatever you want. I don’t care. I already ate my burgers.

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