George Motz has won critical acclaim for his documentary film, Hamburger America, about some of the best burgers in America and the people behind them. Of the ten burgers featured, two are from Connecticut: Louis Lunch and Ted's Restaurant, home of the steamed hamburger.
There are probably fewer than 20 diners in the Meriden-Wallingford area of Connecticut that steam rather than grill the burgers. The steaming of 5 ounces of meat takes about four minutes in an approximately one cubic foot metal steamer that sits on the grill and can hold up to a dozen patties at a time. They are topped with New York or Wisconsin cheddar which is steamed in its own container and added at serving time. The bun (always a Kaiser or hard roll - never a hamburger bun) is not steamed.
The first steamed cheeseburgers were sold 55-60 years ago at Jack's Lunch in Middletown, CT (no longer operating). Paul Duberek, the father of the current owner of Ted's in Meriden, now the center of the steamed cheeseburger world learned how to make them at the Broad St. Diner in Meriden and then sold the sandwiches at industrial and construction sites from a cart with a sandwich steamer on it. According to Ted Duberek, "It just caught on with the factory workers." The steamed cheeseburger has not lost its blue-collar association.
I do have to admit that the steamed burgers tend to have the color of dirty, gray gym socks, but the taste is just amazing. And because they are cooked with steam, the burger doesn't have any of the grease or fats that result from frying.
In addition to the 20 or so restaurants offering this version of the cheeseburger, some area residents have bought the steamer, a patented device known as the Burg'R Tend'R. Dale Greenbacker of Meriden holds the patent. Robert G. Gattilia, who took over Daleco Inc. in Meriden from Greenbacker in the late 1980s and makes the steamer cabinets in his basement in Wallingford (my hometown).
To duplicate these scrumptious sandwiches at home, you can purchase the Burg'r Tend'r at Ted's or by contacting Robert Gattilia at 203-269-7333. (approximately $250) You can also use an electric rice steamer such as the Oster 5712 10-Cup Rice Cooker which has two racks and comes with a small pan that you can use for the cheese. ($30 to $50)
You'll need Kaiser rolls (or Italian hard rolls), sliced onions, ground beef and New York or Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese. Simply steam the beef as well as a huge mass of the cheese. While that's cooking, saute your onions. Now, put the whole mess together and enjoy!