Dover Post food columnist Judi Leaming tells readers about one of the new contests at this year’s upcoming Delaware State Fair.

    In this column I want to tell you about one of the new contests at this year’s upcoming Delaware State Fair. Late last summer Connie Howell, my culinary department “co-superintendent” and I had the opportunity to spend several days at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, N.Y. One afternoon we chanced upon the “Build a Better Burger” competition. Contestants in the New York State contest were striving to earn the right to compete in the 15th annual national competition that was held in California. They had two hours in which to prepare and cook their entries (before a very rowdy audience) in the hope of moving forward to the stiffer national competition. Looking for front row seats, we chanced to sit in front of a young man readying for the competition and his family asked us to join them in cheering him to victory. When he was awarded first place in the competition, his family gave us credit for being his good luck charm.

    Even before the awards were handed out, Connie and I had our heads together
trying to figure out how we could create a similar competition at our own Delaware State Fair. Now we’re excited about the 2008 Delaware State Fair’s Construction of a Bigger, Better Burger Competition that will take place Saturday, July 26. Competition will be limited to the first 12 burger-makers to sign up through the “Exhibitors: Contests” section on You’ll find the rules for the competition at this site.

    Contestants will be provided with two pounds of 81% ground beef as a basis for their burger. They’ll be able to bring any other of their “secret ingredients” with them and they’ll then prepare their burgers and cook them over the charcoal grills that will be provided. Judging will take place at 11 a.m. in the Grove Picnic Area and the audience will have the chance to taste the burgers entered in the competition.

    Remember the entry deadline for this year’s fair exhibits and contests ends June 13. In the case of this unique Construction of a Bigger, Better Burger Contest, space is limited. You may want to check out the recipes that appear online at www.buildabetter for ideas but the rules for Delaware’s contest are more lenient because our contest does not have national sponsorship and recipes do not have to be original or previously unpublished.

    If my sister-in-law Lynda were to enter this competition, I feel sure that she’d be preparing her Chipolte Burgers With Onion Jam. She’d have to figure out how to do all this in the specified time period but I know Lynda, she’d figure a way.

Spicy Cheddar-Stuffed Burgers
1 (7 oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, undrained
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 teaspoons steak seasoning (I used Mrs. Dash)
1/2 of a 10 oz. package of Cheddar cheese, cut into 4 thick slices (I used Cracker Barrel, aged, black label)
4 sesame seed hamburger buns (or your favorite kind. I like wheat.)
Toppings: Tomato slices, red onion slices, lettuce, yellow mustard, mayo, catsup or Onion Jam.

    Process chipotle peppers in blender until smooth. Measure 4 teaspoons puree, reserve remainder for next time. (I freeze.) Combine the 4 teaspoons pureed peppers, ground beef and steak seasoning in a large bowl until blended. Shape into 8 (4-inch) patties; place 1 cheese slice on each of 4 patties. Top with remaining 4 patties, pressing edges to seal well. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes. (I make in the morning.) Grill, cover with grill lid, over med-high heat 7 to 8 minutes on each side or until beef is no longer pink. Serve on buns with desires toppings.

Onion Jam (a must on any burger!)
2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped green onions
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar

    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the yellow and red onions; cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the green onions; cook mixture for 30 minutes or longer, stirring or until browned and caramelized. (I really cook them down.) Add balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes or longer until most of the liquid evaporates. (We like them really mushy and cooked down like jam!) Cover and chill for up to a week. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
    Lynda’s note: I usually make this in the afternoon and keep on the stove on low for a while. We serve at room temperature or warmed.

    The following recipe won the $50,000 Grand Prize at the 2007 National Build a Better Burger Competition for Karen Bernards of McMinnville, Ore., and this recipe is from that website.

Sweet-Hot Thai Burger Patties
2 pounds freshly ground chuck
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup bottled Thai sweet chili sauce
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup Spicy Thai Kettle Chips, placed in a bag and smashed slightly

Thai Salad Ingredients
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons bottled Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 1/2 cups fresh bean sprouts

Cilantro Mayonnaise
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill rack
6 good-quality potato hamburger buns, split

    Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
    To make the mayonnaise, whisk the mayonnaise, lime juice, and cilantro in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
    To make the salad, whisk the lime juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, sweet chili sauce, ginger, cilantro, and basil in a small bowl. Combine the cucumber, red pepper, and bean sprouts in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
    To make the patties, combine the chuck, salt, sweet chili sauce, green onions, and chip pieces in a large bowl, handling as little as possible. Shape into 6 patties to fit the buns. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
    When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. Place the buns, cut side down, on the outer edges of the grill rack to toast lightly during the last 2 minutes of grilling.
    To assemble the burgers, spread a generous amount of the cilantro mayonnaise over the cut sides of the buns. On each bun bottom, place a grilled patty, followed by equal portions of the Thai salad, add the top bun and serve.
    Even though this has several steps, none of the individual steps are difficult, and most all of the prep work can be done well ahead of time. You can cook the bacon ahead, too, and if you’re having friends over, have them help with some or all of the chopping and slicing — it makes for a great party.