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Oso Grill crowned fair’s burger champ – again

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Brian Cleckler, left, owner of the Oso Grill in Capitan holds the first place award for the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge at the New Mexico State Fair on Monday. It is the second year in a row that he won the award, and the third year in a row that he won the People’s Choice Award. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Smokey Bear is not the only thing the village of Capitan is known for.

It is now famous as the home of the Oso Grill, which on Monday became the winner for the second year in a row of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge at the New Mexico State Fair. It also won the People’s Choice Award for the third year in a row.

“It’s amazing; we’re thrilled,” Oso Grill owner Brian Cleckler said. “We did nothing different this year. This is the way we make our burgers every day.”

The Oso Grill burger is made from 80% lean ground chuck patties that are formed 24 hours in advance to allow the seasoning to settle into the beef, Cleckler said. “Then we cook it on a flat grill so it cooks in its own fats.” Added to the burger are two slices of American cheese, a house chipotle dressing, green chile and, on top, Hatch green chile slices that are battered and deep-fried. All are placed in a specific order so that juices flow into the burger without getting the bun soggy.

The runner-up was the High Point Grill in Albuquerque, and owner-chef Michael White.

“We participated two years ago and didn’t win anything but had a good showing,” White said. “I think the reason we got recognized today is because of our heat level. I think we had the hottest chile out here.”

The High Point’s burger features Americanized wagyu beef with a red chile crust of Chimayó red chile, Bueno triple-hot green chile that’s double roasted, and sharp cheddar cheese.

The highly competitive Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge is judged by a panel that receives each burger sample as a number and then scores the entries.

The People’s Choice Award is judged by about 200 State Fair visitors who randomly received a ballot that allowed them to taste samples of all the competing restaurants’ entries and then select their favorite.

Ten restaurants participated this year. The others are the Dairy Bar of Red River; Fuddruckers, Albuquerque; Sparky’s, Hatch; Isleta Resort & Casino, Albuquerque; Village Café, Los Lunas; Grassburger, Albuquerque; Oak Street Café, Albuquerque; and Laguna Burger, Albuquerque.

This year’s judges were Howie Kaibel, community manager for Yelp in Albuquerque; State Fair Commissioner Tom Spindle; Channel 13 meteorologist Mark Ronchetti; Rocky Durham, chef ambassador for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture; Marie Yniguez, owner of Slow Roasted Bocadillos in Albuquerque; Renee Fox, owner of Arable and Loyal Hound in Santa Fe; Fernando Ruiz, executive chef of Chama Land and Cattle Company; and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Joking about why he was qualified to judge the competition, Keller said, “I was born and raised here; I am a closet food aficionado; I’ve been on sandwich tours and done rankings before, and; most importantly, I was elected to do what matters – and people believe that green chile cheeseburgers matter.”

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The Oso Grill in Capitan also claimed the People’s Choice Award for the third year in a row in the State Fair’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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