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Boston Chefs Recall the First Burgers They Ever Ate

In honor of Burger Week, we've surveyed local chefs all about burgers, and we're sharing their responses throughout the week. Next up: What's the first burger they remember eating?

Shutterstock/Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz

Matt Jennings burger week portrait "The first burgers I remember eating were in my backyard with my dad, right after we had mowed the lawn. It smelled like fresh grass and charcoal. I would watch the fat drip into the coals as my dad would flip the burgers with care, always making sure they had the proper hash marks. We would put a slice of pepper jack on top, and it would melt down the sides like paint dripping down a wall. Perfection." —Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman

Vincent Vela"Growing up in California, burgers were a regular thing. However, my most outlandish burger memory was discovering the 'secret menu' at In-N-Out while in high school. Prior to this experience, we had always ordered Animal Style, Neapolitan Shake, etc. We thought everyone knew that, so it really wasn't a secret menu. What I didn't know was that you could get as many patties of meat and cheese as you like. Therefore your Double-Double (two pieces of meat and cheese) could be increased to 3x3, 4x4, or whatever you like.

I convinced my friends that I could eat a 9x9 — that is nine beef patties and nine pieces of cheese, sandwiched between one bun. As soon as class was over, we raced down to In-N-Out. I ordered my 9x9, with a side of fries and a shake. This six-foot, 140-pound scrawny kid began the challenge. It started off well. I ate, and ate, and ate. About 3/4th into the burger, and fries, and shake...it started to hit me. It was marathon eating. I took breaks, felt full, laid down. In the end I finished the whole lot, and never again have I attempted this challenge. I still eat a 4x4 occasionally when home, but that is the limit." —Vincent Vela, maître d’ and owner of 80 Thoreau

Robert Sisca"I hate to say it...but McDonald's." —Robert Sisca, executive chef and partner at Bistro du Midi

Tiffani Faison burger week portrait"The Meersburger in Meers, Oklahoma. It's a huge flat patty burger, cut into four sections. I think I was six." —Tiffani Faison, chef/owner of Sweet Cheeks and the forthcoming Tiger Mama

David Verdo Burger Week portrait "The first burger I remember eating was one my father said he was cooking on the grill, or should I say 'trying' to cook on the grill." —David Verdo, executive chef at Chopps American Bar and Grill

Michael Schlow Burger Week portrait"The best 'first' burger I truly remember (other than at home) was when I was 13, at a place called The Newsroom in Somerville, New Jersey. They would grind their own meat; cook it perfectly; top it with mushrooms, bacon, and cheese (my favorite combo at the time); and serve it on a homemade bun with homemade French fries and a pickle, with a side of mustard and ketchup. Perfection every time!" —Michael Schlow, chef/owner of Via Matta, Tico, and Alta Strada

Andy Husbands Burger Week portrait "Burgermaster in Seattle. I always loved that burger." —Andy Husbands, chef/owner of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel, author of Wicked Good Burgers

Ken Oringer burger week portrait "White Manna in Hackensack, New Jersey. A classic flat-top smash style with caramelized onions. Simple and perfect." —Ken Oringer, co-owner of Toro, Coppa, and more

Michael Sutton burger week portrait"My first burger memories are cooking burgers on the grill on our back porch in Marshfield and enjoying them with my whole family." —Michael Sutton, chef de cuisine at M.C. Spiedo

Miles McAlpin burger week portrait "First burger I remember would be one of my dad's pan-fried cheeseburgers. With nowhere for the fat to drain except right back into the burger next to it (and later down my chin), they were always perfectly juicy. For the last minute in the pan he would cover them and let the cheese melt perfectly. The only toppings they needed was a little Bertman's Ball Park mustard that was harshly rationed as we could only get it on summer trips to Cleveland." —Miles McAlpin, formerly marketing manager for Grillo's Pickles

Will Gilson burger week portrait "The first burger I remember eating was a cheeseburger sub. It was from the local 'House of Pizza' in my hometown. I don’t think anybody outside of Massachusetts knows how awesome/terrible a cheeseburger sub is, or that they even exist." —Will Gilson, chef/owner of Puritan & Co.

Tony Maws burger week portrait "My parents cooking burgers for my brother and myself, served on a toasted English muffin with ketchup." —Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

John Delpha burger week portrait "I'm pretty sure the first burger I ever had was a McDonald's burger back in the days when they ran coupons in the newspaper for 10-cent burgers." —John Delpha, chef/partner of Rosebud American Kitchen + Bar

Kathy Sidell burger week portrait"My father cooked beautiful chopped sirloins on our grill for Sunday lunch. He would call them Dagwood sandwiches as we would pile them high with all our favorite toppings. And he would make his own special sauce which I believe was a doctored-up Russian dressing with horseradish and steak sauce in it. He was ahead of his time ;)" —Kathy Sidell, owner of The Met Restaurant Group and the forthcoming Saltie Girl Restaurant

Tom Woods burger week portrait "It was from the Haven Brothers food truck in Providence. They are such an institution down there. My dad and I had just left the circus, and he decided to treat me to my first burger. We had to stand in line outside in the cold, but the smell of the grill sort of warmed the air. I couldn't wait to see what was inside. Once there, I got to see a real kitchen at work for the first time. So many people crowded in such a small space, firing 20-30 burgers at a time. It was there I caught the restaurant 'bug.' I actually remember what I ordered: single burger, American cheese, ketchup, mustard and a pickle. I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted!" —Tom Woods, executive chef at Blue Dragon

Sean McDonald burger week portrait"Houston’s served the most memorable burger — it was the first time I ate a burger that was made at a serious level. I remember all of the components of it still today. It had cabbage on the bottom of the bun and was stacked with a nice patty, shredded lettuce, tomato, and served on a sesame bun. I remember having a very, very hard time getting it in my mouth.

But really the first burger I remember eating, although not the most memorable, was a burger served open-faced in my first job (in the South back then, it was very popular to serve every burger with a combination of mustard and mayonnaise slathered on the bun) or maybe it was a Big Mac at McDonald's when I was probably five years old." —Sean McDonald, corporate executive chef at Tony C's Sports Bar & Grill

Robert Tobin burger week portrait"At my parent’s house; it was a family barbecue. I was probably nine or so. My mom used to put A1 sauce in the meat." —Robert Tobin, chef at The Seaport Hotel

Dan Bazzinotti burger week portrait"The first burgers I remember eating are my dad’s burgers. Thick patties, grilled. He also mixes in onions and other seasoning, like a meatloaf. They are freakin' delicious." —Dan Bazzinotti, executive chef at BISq

Greg Weinstock burger week portrait"Ok, I’ll just say it...McDonald’s Happy Meals when I was a kid. It was always a hamburger, never a cheeseburger; I didn’t become a fan of cheese until later in life. Am I getting too deep?" —Greg Weinstock, executive chef of Salvatore's Restaurants

Caleb Graber-Smith burger week portrait"The first burger I remember eating was a Morningstar Farms veggie burger. Surprisingly enough, I was raised a vegetarian until I was 13, which gave me a great appreciation for tofu, grains, and things like that. The first real burger I remember eating was a McDonald’s cheeseburger, but there’s nothing nostalgic about eating garbage." —Caleb Graber-Smith, head chef at The Gallows

Rodney Murillo burger week portrait"Every weekend on Saturday — the name of the place was Zofiro in my town (Tarrazu) in Costa Rica. The burgers were hand-packed to order, cooked in lard, and the roll was a potato roll with black sesame seeds, secret sauce (similar to Thousand Island dressing), yellow American cheese, with crumbled plantain chips inside the bun. You could hear the crunchiness every time you took a bite." —Rodney Murillo, culinary director at Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse

Chris Coombs burger week portrait "The first burger I remember eating is my father’s burger on the deck of my childhood home. His burgers used to drive me crazy and still do because he insists on never cleaning our grill and never melting the cheese." —Chris Coombs, chef/owner of Boston Chops, Deuxave, and dbar

Brian Rae burger week portrait"A McDonald's cheeseburger from a Happy Meal." —Brian Rae, executive chef at Centre Street Cafe

Bill Brodsky burger week portrait "I distinctly recall downing charred and over-sauced 'house' burgers as a kid. They looked like oversized meatballs on a bun that dripped crazy amounts of juice with every bite." —Bill Brodsky, chief culinary officer of Boston Nightlife Ventures (The Tap Trailhouse, Wink & Nod, Griddler's Burgers and Dogs)

Brian Poe burger week portrait "Shoney's Big Boy in Dalton, Georgia is the first I remember falling in love with — it had special seasoning, sauce, iceberg lettuce mess. And I remember having a homemade grilled burger with my family, and I recall a super-charred burger with dry Lipton onion soup mix folded into it." —Brian Poe, chef/owner of Tip Tap Room, Estelle's, Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, and Bukowski Tavern

Patrick Gilmartin burger week portrait"While I don't know if it was my 'first' burger, I remember while growing up, on Cape Cod, being a kid and taking a small grill out onto the beach with us. There were always burgers, and while they may have been overcooked or lacking certain condiments, the setting is exactly what a burger is about: easy and filling food that is best enjoyed outside with friends and family." —Patrick Gilmartin, executive chef at River Bar

Richard Vellante burger week portrait"I remember eating my first burger at a family cookout where my dad made cheeseburgers with English muffins. I can still remember the juicy meaty flavors, combined with the tangy ketchup and the juice from the meat running into the crispy muffin. Good memories." —Richard Vellante, executive chef at Legal Sea Foods

Matt Foley burger week portrait"McDonald's as a small child, although I probably remember it for the playground or the toys." —Matt Foley, chef at The Merchant

PJ Crowley burger week portrait"My first burger was at a huge family barbecue as a child. I remember being so full that everyone around me reminded me to 'wait an hour before you go swimming.'" —PJ Crowley, general manager at Battery Park

Paul Callahan burger week portrait"My mom’s. She always added parsley and garlic powder. I couldn’t get enough of them; I would freeze them and cook them every other day." —Paul Callahan, executive chef at No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits

Tom Borgia burger week portrait"My mom’s. It was just a patty on an English muffin with ketchup. Simple, and seared in a cast aluminum pan. Perfect." —Tom Borgia, executive chef at Russell House Tavern

Bertil Jean-Chronberg burger week portrait"My first burger was when I was ten years old with my dad in Paris on Champs-Elysees when they opened the first McDonald's." —Bertil Jean-Chronberg, co-owner of The Beehive and Beat Brasserie

Michelle boland burger week portrait"Burgers grilled by my dad in the backyard!" —Michelle Boland, pastry chef at Davio's Chestnut Hill

Eric Brennan burger week portrait"My mom’s...it was exactly like the old Eddie Murphy routine: Mom says, 'We don’t have to go to McDonald’s; we can make the same right here at home!' Then she cooks the burger into a well-done ball and serves it on two slices of white bread. The meat drippings soak the bread to the point where it falls apart and cannot be picked up. Let me tell you...we were some sad kids sitting around the dinner table. On a brighter note, she made one heck of a meatloaf." —Eric Brennan, executive chef at Post 390

Stacy Cogswell burger week portrait"The first burger I remember eating was a burger that my uncle cooked for me and my brother and cousin. It was so burnt that we couldn't physically eat it. So, when he wasn't looking, we hid it under the couch. Needless to say, he found it and we were in BIG trouble. Not a good first experience!" —Stacy Cogswell, chef at Liquid Art House

Adam Resnick burger week portrait"My mom’s burger. Plain, 95% lean beef with cheddar cheese and ketchup." —Adam Resnick, chef at Highball Lounge

Jason Bond burger week portrait"Though I can’t say for sure, my first burger was probably backyard on the grill with Jack Daniels-mustard BBQ sauce." —Jason Bond, chef/owner of Bondir

Brendan Joy burger week portrait"The first burger I remember eating would have to be my grandfather's. He made it on the grill and topped it with regular cheddar cheese. It was grilled perfectly, moist, and placed between a potato bun." —Brendan Joy, chef de cuisine at Bondir Cambridge

Lola Sotomayor-Ellis burger week portrait"My first burger-eating experience was when I was a kid back in Puerto Rico — a family barbecue hosted by my parents. Not the best burger, but the best memory ever." —Lola Sotomayor-Ellis, chef at Ester

Tim Wiechmann burger week portrait"It must have been McDonald's. I have fond childhood memories of Big Macs for sure. They are an excellent sandwich, perfectly thought-out." —Tim Wiechmann, chef/owner of Bronwyn and T.W. Food

Patrick Campbelle burger week portrait"The first burger I remember eating was at home. There were six of us growing up, and there was always someone over for dinner, especially during grill season, because we had a pool. My mom and dad kept a chest freezer full of huge styrofoam trays of assorted meat from Stop & Shop at all times. My mother would do burgers often. They would be huge, super rare, and often on a onion roll, eaten right off the grill with raw onion and melted orange cheddar cheese." —Patrick Campbell, executive chef at Cafe ArtScience

Michael Scelfo burger week portrait"McDonald's Big Mac. I was a total McDonald's kid. My grandmother used to take me there, and we would get a Filet o' Fish (still my secret crush) until I got into burgers. No shame, McDonald's was it. White Castle, too." —Michael Scelfo, chef/owner of Alden & Harlow

Matt Mahoney burger week portrait"It was definitely a burger from Squaw Mountain in Maine, while I was skiing with my grandparents, barely four years old. It was greasy and delicious. I've eaten thousands since, and that one is still one of the best I've ever had." —Matt Mahoney, chef de cuisine at The Butcher Shop

Ben Weisberger burger week portrait"At The Ground Round." —Ben Weisberger, chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park

Jon Awerman burger week portrait"I can remember the first time I ate cow tongue, but not my first burger. Burgers have always been ubiquitous in my life, something natural like drinking water or breathing air." —Jon Awerman, chef de cuisine at Drink

Donley Liburd burger week portrait"It would probably have to be a McDonald's Big Mac, as a kid." —Donley Liburd, executive chef at Cask 'N Flagon

Jonathan Kopacz burger week portrait"Summertime on the picnic table in our yard. Homegrown beef and mom's dinner rolls." —Jonathan Kopacz, executive chef at Brass Union

Mark Sapienza burger week portrait"Carrols Hamburger in Stoneham, MA, where I grew up. My mom use to take me there, and we would sit at the counter. I remember a big wooden cask used as a dispenser for root beer. I believe it closed in the late '60s to make way for a Burger King." —Mark Sapienza, executive chef at The Langham, Boston

Jason Waddleton burger week portrait"It was in Aberdeen at a Wimpy's in 1981. They served tea at the tables, and it was table service in a fast-food setting! Very strange nowadays. Scotland was only a little bit ahead of Russia in terms of getting McDonald's, so for a while it was Wimpy or nothing else." —Jason Waddleton, owner of The Haven

Matt Baker burger week portrait"The first burgers I remember eating were the ones off of a grill at a barbecue my parents were throwing. The burgers had no seasoning, just cheese and a bun, but you would eat, like, four of them and maybe a few hot dogs no matter the quality." —Matt Baker, chef of Coda Bar & Kitchen

Avi Shemtov burger week portrait"Bill Gray's in Rochester, NY. Cooked on a griddle with grease and white American. Classic." —Avi Shemtov, chef/owner of The Chubby Chickpea

Jaime Suarez burger week portrait"Mom's." —Jaime Suarez, chef at Common Ground Arlington

"​A X-Tudo in Minas Gerias Brazil. Any Brazilian native knows this iconic street food masterpiece. With 'X' standing for large and 'tudo' meaning everything, this baby came loaded with two-three beef patties, cheese, ham, an egg, pork belly, corn, and fried potato sticks. Making it an epic meal time, every time." —Rafael Barbosa, director of operations at FiRE + iCE

Photos: Patrick Campbell by Wayne Chinnock; Patrick Gilmartin by Brian Samuels; Tim Wiechmann by Eric Wolfinger; Michael Scelfo by Kristin Teig; Stacy Cogswell by Chris Coe; Tony Maws, Chris Coombs, and Brian Poe by Rachel Leah Blumenthal.

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