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Event planner Janie Haas makes a living designing elegant and complicated affairs. So imagine her surprise when her grill master husband declared their own party was to be a backyard burger cook-off. You can bet your buns it was a delicious success!

My husband and I love to entertain, especially in the summer. So when Charlie mentioned having some friends over for a patio party I was totally on board.

Being an event planner I delighted in poring over recipes and envisioning my tables, linens, flowers, and other details that set one party apart from another. Ideas danced in my head, that is, until my husband dropped the bomb. He had his thoughts. Charlie, the Grill Master, wanted to host a burger cook-off! Hmm, when did he suddenly become entertainment guru Bobby Flay? But he was so enthusiastic I simply had to embrace the idea. Besides, this was going to be a fun way to entertain in the summer and it was a sure-fire method of getting the guys involved. Boys, after all, really do get into their burgers!

Each guest was asked to bring at least six burgers and a copy of his and her recipes. We supplied all other food and beverages. Our patio tables held an array of easy summer dips and hors d’oeuvres so that our guests could mingle before the competition began.

The grills were fired up and so were our guests! Some were in the kitchen mixing last-minute contents into their patties while others came with their masterpieces pre-made on trays. Each burger got a nametag, which was helpful during the voting.

We supplied all chefs with aprons and utensils. And although I never do this at the upscale parties I plan for my clients, we had made nametags for each of our guests, many of whom didn’t know one another. Because we had been in North Andover for less than five years, it was a great way for our friends to put a name to the faces of people who have all heard about one another through us. My husband “The Grill Master” had proudly thought of the idea, and yet again, it was so corny that people had fun with it. Early on we heard a lot of, “How do you know Janie and Charlie?” By evening’s end people were calling each other by name as they hugged goodbye. Was it the name cards or the fun cocktails? We’ll never know!

Now this is a very gender-biased comment, but I have never seen boys having more fun with their burgers! There they were, all the guys showing off their culinary skills and sharing their signature ingredients while they proudly flipped their masterpieces. This was never meant to be a fraternity event, but strangely, the cooking was taken over by the men. For me, this was not a problem.

Once the burgers were cooked, they were put on warmed buns, cut into quarters, placed on platters with their name cards. Each guest was free to sample any and all of the dozens of creations.

In addition to the burgers we offered copious platters of grilled vegetables, pasta salad, homemade summer potato salad, coleslaw, grilled salmon, and grilled corn on the cob.

After dinner, the voting began. Scorecards were handed out, and although each recipe deserved a blue ribbon, the winner was the Ollie Burger, which our friends Julie and Mark named after their Gordon setter. Ollie, it turns out, is a big bacon fan. They left with a blue ribbon and a bottle of wine.

We wanted to end our evening the way it began, fun and casual. We made several bowls of homemade hot fudge and hot butterscotch sauce to dip our fresh fruit skewers. We complemented this treat with an assortment of homemade ice cream sandwiches using different cookie, ice cream, and sherbet combinations. Those, too, could be dipped into the sauces.

I am a huge fan of themed parties because they are often easier and more fun to plan, but this event had one component that most others don’t: male participation. I have to say my Grill Master was right on the money when it comes to boys and their burgers!

The 2006 Burger Cook-off Winner!

Ollie Burgers

by Julie and Mark Berenberg

Yield: 4 burgers

Add lots of spice and seasoning, and a side of fries, to the classic favorite!


8 slices center-cut or other lean, thick-cut, smoky Bacon

1 lb. ground lean Beef

2 Hot Dogs, beef or pork, diced

2 tbsp. Chili Powder

1 tbsp. Grill Seasoning (recommended: Montreal Seasoning by McCormick)

2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp. plus 1 tbsp. Hot Sauce

2 tbsp. Ketchup

Vegetable Oil, for drizzling

4 slices Deli-Sliced Cheddar Cheese

1 sack (16-18 oz.) crispy style Frozen Potato Fries

2 tbsp. Butter

3 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp. Chives

1 tsp. salt

½ cup Chili Sauce

4 Kaiser Rolls, split

¼ head Iceberg Lettuce, shredded

¼ cup chopped Cilantro Leaves

½ Lime, juiced


1. Preheat broiler to high.

2. Place bacon on slotted broiler pan. Cook bacon 10 inches from the heat and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side until crisp. Next, preheat oven to bake setting for temperature recommended on fries packaging.

3. While bacon cooks, make the burgers. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Mix beef with diced dogs, chili powder, grill seasoning, Worcestershire, 1 tsp. hot sauce and ketchup. Form 4 large patties. Pour a drizzle of oil on the skillet and add the patties. Cook burgers 6 minutes on each side, then top with 2 slices bacon and 1 slice cheddar cheese, each. Turn heat off, cover with loose foil tent and let cheese melt,

1-2 minutes.

4. While the burgers cook, add fries to oven and cook until extra-crisp. Remove from oven. Place butter, 1 tbsp. hot sauce and garlic in a small dish and microwave on high 20 seconds. Transfer fries to a large bowl. Toss fries with garlic-hot sauce butter and chives and season with salt, to taste.

5. Slather chili sauce on the tops of the split Kaiser rolls. Place bacon chili-cheese burgers on bun bottoms and top each burger with lettuce, cilantro, and lime juice. Set bun tops in place. Pile fries alongside and serve.

French Twist Burgers

by Emma Roberts of Capers Catering, Stoneham

Yield: 16 small burgers

You will love the “French twist” of these unique mini burgers!


2 lbs. lean ground Sirloin

¼ cup crumbled Blue Cheese

2 tbsp. Dijon Mustard

2 tbsp. Ketchup

1 Scallion, minced

1 Garlic Clove, minced

1 tsp. Salt

½ tsp. Ground Pepper

1 package Martin’s Mini Potato Buns

2 tbsp. Butter


1. In a small bowl, combine the first seven ingredients (sirloin, blue cheese, mustard, ketchup, scallion, garlic, and salt) and mix well. Form into 16 baby burgers. These can be made in the morning and stored in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

2. Preheat grill.

3. Melt butter and brush the inside of each bun with butter. Grill until toasted.

4. Grill burgers on medium/high heat for 3 minutes per side, and let rest. Serve warm with toasted buns, and let your guests top them.

Burton‘s Grill Burgers

Denise Baron, Culinary Director

North Andover

Yield: 7 burgers

When Burton’s Grill heard that we were asking for recipes, they jumped at the chance to include their own, unique tuna burgers!


2 lb. 12 oz. Tuna, ground that day with attachment to Kitchen Aid Mixer

2 tbsp. Soy Sauce

2 tbsp. Pineapple Juice

1 tbsp. Dijon Mustard

¼ tsp. Ginger

6 tbsp. Red Onion, minced


1. Mix the soy sauce, Dijon, pineapple, and ginger together.

2. Fold in the ground tuna and onion.

3. Patty tuna burgers to 6 oz, store between patty paper.

4. Wrap, label, and date

Note: Tuna should not have any discoloring. Only red, fresh tuna should be used.