Fuddruckers is tops in Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge

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Felicia Frost of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture presents a burger to the panel of four judges. From left, Bill Lee, New Mexico State Fair commissioner; Tim Harris, owner of local restaurant Tim's Place; Dave DeWitt, food book author and producer of the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show; and Chad Smith, CEO of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Joey Wimmer, area director of the Fuddruckers restaurants, saw it as an omen.

“They assigned us a preparation time of 5:05 p.m.,” he said, pointing out that the numbers are also the area code for much of New Mexico. “We were a shoo-in to win.”

And they did.

Fuddruckers’ was the very last burger sampled by the panel of four judges and was named as having the best green chile cheeseburger at this year’s New Mexico State Fair Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge, knocking off reigning champion Sadie’s.

The Church Street Grill in Carlsbad came in second; Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe, third; and Rockin’ BZ Burgers in Alamogordo – winner of the 2012 competition – was fourth.

This was the first year that the Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge incorporated a Peoples’ Choice award, which was based on public balloting after taste samples were passed out. That award went to the Bisti Grille in Thoreau.

According to Wimmer, the burger prepared for the State Fair judges is the Fudd 66 burger, “which is the most popular burger served in the restaurants.” It is made from freshly ground beef with a 24-percent fat content and cooked on a flat-top grill. “The higher fat content makes the burger more flavorful, and the flat-top grill sears and locks in the natural juices of the meat,” he said.

The burger is topped with roasted Hatch green chiles, melted American cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. It’s placed on a white flour bun that is baked daily at Fuddruckers.

“It’s simple and it’s meant to be simple so it can speak for itself,” Wimmer said.

Each of the participating 11 restaurants was assigned a number so the judges did not know whose burger they were sampling. Each burger was brought in fresh off the grill and presented to the judges for scoring before the next restaurant’s burger was brought in. The judges scored on a 1-10 scale in four separate categories: Balance struck among the meat, bun, chile and other toppings; the distinct flavor and heat of the green chile; if the presentation was visually appealing without being “over the top”; and the skill with which the meat was cooked.

The only hard and fast rule for the restaurants, some of which prepared elaborate offerings, was that the green chile must be from New Mexico.

It doesn’t get much more elaborate than the Ancient Way Cafe in El Morro. It prepared a patty of grass-fed New Mexico beef topped with smoked green chile that was stuffed in a roasted green chile with pico de gallo. Then pepper jack, sharp cheddar and New Mexico quesa fresco cheeses were melted on top. The burger was garnished with red onions, cilantro and tomato, and served in a homemade bun in which Navajo fry bread and a tortilla were fried and bonded together.

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New Mexico State Fair Queen Staci Trehern presents the first place Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge Award to Fuddruckers staff. From left, general manager Matt Gutierrez; marketing director Tamara Fitzgerald Ludwig; Trehern, area manager Joey Wimmer, and grill master David Argueta. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

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