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Quesadilla Burgers

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There has been a Burger Renaissance happening around my house and the Quesadilla Burger is the item responsible for that. When I first ordered Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger I was looking for something other than a run of the mill burger. It was a bit of an after thought-I just didn’t want the same old same old. This burger fit that bill nicely but was far more. It was actually rather complex for “just a hamburger.” It quickly moved up into my top burgers list. I was determine to try to recreate this great burger at home. When I began discussing the project with my boss, he started thinking about burgers too. When he found the Build a Better Burger cookbook at Willliams-Sonoma, he grabbed a copy for himself plus one for me. Since then in addition to making the above mentioned Quesadilla burgers, I have begun working my way through the recipes in Build a Better Burger. But let’s begin at the beginning.

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The stainless steel sheet pan holds all the various ingredients & grill tools in one place

The first thing that made this burger interesting is that is served on a grilled tortilla. The first bite revealed a lot of different flavors going on: There was the taste of the burger with its spicy rub, also a spicy ranch dressing, pico di galo, cheese and bacon. It was a wonderful blend of flavors. The burger went from being a change of pace, to a wonderful discovery. I grabbed a menu to see what the various flavors were. I was right about the pico di galo, the dressing was called Texi-ranch dressing and I guessed the Texi part was the source of some of the spices I was tasting. The cheese was actually two cheeses: cheddar and pepper jack. I also tasted and saw lettuce and chunks of bacon.

The spicy Texi-ranch dressing is ready to go

I began to deconstruct what I’d need to do to recreate this burger. I’d need to find burger sized tortillas-no biggie there. I decided for my rub I’d use the 10 spice Southwestern rub I use for steaks. I also needed to find a good recipe for pico di galo and another one for a spicy ranch dressing. I’d also need to figure out how to build this burger so it didn’t disintegrate in your hands as you picked it up. I also needed to learn more about grilling tortillas. I know they can burn like paper and if you cook them too long they become brittle. A search on the internet yielded suitable recipes for pico di galo and the ranch dressing. Just for the heck of it, I actually searched for “Texi-ranch dressing” and was surprised to find there were many recipes listed. In terms of grilling the tortillas I found some tips online, including a video by Steven Raichlen.

The stainless steel sheet pan holds all the various ingredients & grill tools in one place

I knew the burger had to be cooked separately. At first I thought they must assemble it and finish it off together to grill the tortillas and melt the cheese. This concerned me because I wasn’t sure if the burger would continue cooking and if so how much should I reduce the grilling time? Also how would you keep it all together while it was grilling-a grill press? I actually ordered two grill presses from Steven Raichlen’s store just in case. The foil coated bricks I use for Chicken Under a Brick would be too heavy for these burgers. After thinking about it some more, I decided the way to go was grill the burger, grill the tortillas and then assemble the burger off the grill. I’d add the cheese and bacon to the top tortillas before pulling them off the grill. The pico di galo, ranch dressing and lettuce would be added back in the Kitchen.

The burgers received a spicy Southwestern style rub

Saturday rolled around and it was time to make it all happen. I decided I would start with 2 burgers for Saturday and would make 2 more on Sunday using the leftover ingredients. I had no idea what the yield of the pico recipe and the Texi-ranch recipe would be in terms of 4 burgers. I hoped I wouldn’t have a lot of leftovers as the dressing would only have a 3 day shelf-life. I started with the rub. The rub would be applied to the burgers which would then rest in the fridge for 2 hours. During this time I would make the pico di galo, the Texi-ranch dressing, chop up the bacon and shred the cheese.

The bottom tortilla receives lettuce & spicy Texi-Ranch dressing

After the burgers were rubbed I began making the pico di galo. Until recently I’d never had too much to do with sliced or diced tomatoes. I searched for “How to dice tomatoes” and found the web site had a step by step tutorial complete with pictures. Next came the Texi-ranch dressing, followed by the shredded cheese and bacon. It never ceases to amaze me the quick work the Microplane ribbon graters make of grating even a hard cheese. The prep for all of the other toppings fit nicely into the 2 hours the burgers were resting in the fridge.

The burger is topped with the tortilla, melted cheese & pico di galo

It was time to fire up the grill. I’d decided I’d swap out one of my modular grill grates for a modular ribbed cast iron griddle made for my grill. This would be used for the tortillas. It would give me more surface in contact with the tortillas and the fact it was closed would keep the spillage of the burners. I have a large stainless steel sheet pan that I would use to transport the toppings out to the grill. After the grill was ready I brought the sheet pan outside and tossed on the burgers. I grilled them for 4 1/2 minutes per side. I tossed the tortilla on the griddle around the same time. Unfortunately only after I sprayed them with EVOO and placed them on the griddle, did I notice the directions on the tortilla package said place them on the pan dry. Oops. My first problem. The tortillas did not want to brown at all. In fact they went straight from white to black and got rather crispy. I stopped just short of over doing them, but there was definitely room for improvement here the next time.

The Round 1 tortillas were a bit crispy-room for improvement

I applied the cheese and bacon to the tortillas after I flipped them. This proved to be a bit of a messy prospect. I was glad I used the griddle insert because the spilled cheese would have caused flare ups on the open grill. After the burgers and tortillas were done it was back to the house for the assembly. First a tortilla followed by the shredded lettuce and ranch dressing, then a burger. The next item the pico di galo proved to be double trouble: the pico di galo. I should have drained it before applying it as it was far too soupy. The pico di galo also didn’t want to stay on top of the burgers. I capped the burgers with the tortillas with the melted cheese and bacon.

The finished Round 1 burger

The burgers tasted great! They were a bit different from the ones I’d tried at Applebees, but I liked them just as well if not better. This was a bit of a challenging meal for me where it was assembled from various untried recipes. I’d give these Round 1 burgers an 85 and I was rather pleased with the results considering the degree of difficulty. Three things needed work. 1) I needed to correct the problems with the tortillas. 2) I needed to drain the pico di galo and 3) I needed to find a way to get the pico to stick. All of these were relatively minor items.

The pico di galo mixed in with the cheese for Round 2

Sunday rolled around and it was time for Round 2. I’d decided to combine the pico with the shredded cheese and bacon and let the melted cheese bind the pico in place. This appeared to be how Applebees did it, but I had decided the hot griddle wouldn’t be the best thing for the pico. But something needed to be done, so I decided to mix the pico with the cheese. Before mixing the pico in with the grated cheese I drained it with a metal strainer. The last item was to deal with the tortillas. This time I wouldn’t spray them with any oil, plus I would dial down the heat under the griddle from Medium High to High. The rest of the cook went as before. The tortillas were definitely an improvement. They didn’t burn and they were softer, but they could have still been a little more browned for my taste. But this was a visual flaw only, the taste was great. The cheese did indeed help bind the pico di galo to the tortillas, although I’ll admit I was a bit scared when I flipped them over to top the burgers. But everything stayed in place. The time on the grill didn’t seem to affect the taste of the pico either. For the Round 2 Quesadilla burgers I gave myself a score of 91. Considering that this was not simple burger I was very pleased.

The finished Round 2 burger-the tortillas were closer to the mark

Tired of the same old burgers? If there is an Applebees near you you might want to stop in and try the Quesadilla burger. I’ll warn you though you may end up trying to reverse engineer it like I did. But hopefully your job will be a bit easier with the help of this blog. You can start here and let your own creativity suggest changes you should try. If you find any god variations please feel free to post a comment here.

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