The sizzle of a summertime staple

Hamburgers; what could be a more American taste treat than that great ground-beef sandwich named after a German city? (We're purposely ignoring frankfurters, of course.)

And who could forget that lovable character, Wimpy, from the "Popeye" comics? Or his ever-present tag line, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

Around hamburgers empires were built. The lowly hamburger is almost responsible for the very existence of the franchise-restaurant industry. One of the first was the famous Big Boy double-decker.

The advent of fast food

Big Boy restaurants were started in California as Bob's Big Boy, named after a drive-in on Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. Then, as the restaurants were franchised in other states to the east, they became Friches' Big Boy and Elias' Big Boy and probably a few other names, too.

Then came the phenomenon we all know as McDonald's. From a little, self-serve drive-in that served cheap hamburgers (does anybody else remember 15-cent hamburgers?) to a worldwide operation that serves billions. There are probably kids today whose first solid food came from the Golden Arches.

All this from a simple hamburger.

Getting out to the grill

Now that the days have lengthened out and warmer weather has returned, we've gotten back into the prime outdoor-cooking season. It's time to buy a new bag of charcoal and wire-brush the grill.

Is there a better taste treat than a just-cooked-and-dripping-grease, big, ol' patty of ground beef covered with a couple of slices of cheese, a slab of fresh-cut onion, a tomato slice, maybe a lettuce leaf and slathered with either mustard, ketchup or even perhaps your own concoction of a "secret sauce" and held between the halves of a bun?

I've got a friend who maintains, "If you can pick it's a sandwich!"

Research would probably show the main reason most outdoor grills are bought is so that hamburgers can be grilled outdoors. Hamburgers have to be the one thing even the most inept chef can cook.

Home-grilled hamburgers probably are, nationwide, the No. 1 staple at all block parties. After all, it's the only food you can practically guarantee kids will eat.

Even if there's a 12-pound roast, slowly revolving on a spit over a bed of charcoal and being lovingly basted every 15 minutes, there still has to be a small charcoal grill set up next to it to cook the kids' burgers.

The half-pounders

For me, some of the best burgers I've ever had were cooked near the thundering waves of the Pacific.

A church group I used to belong to in my teenage years would have beach parties every year during the summer months. Then, after a full day of volleyball in the sand, playing in the surf and just relaxing in the sun, at about sundown a fire would be built in one of the big, cement fire rings, and all of the food would be unpacked from the coolers.

We didn't make quarter-pounders. We were hungry, sun-baked, surf-drenched teenagers, so we made, at least, half-pounders with cheese and everything else we could wedge between two buns.

Just as I've always maintained a hot dog doesn't taste quite right without an automobile race going on in front of it, a char-grilled hamburger doesn't possess that finishing ingredient if it's missing a little sand and the roar of breaking waves in the background.

Freelance columnist Gary McDaniel can be reached via e-mail at needitor@

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