How to win your office cook-out

Martin’s Potato Rolls, fresh beef, and the rise and fall of Chase Shack

Chase Gallagher
Aug 21, 2017 · 5 min read
I’d like to think my testing caused Shake Shack to announce their impending Seattle opening.

Each year in our office, a few brave people sign up to enter the BBQ cook off competition. I was merely a eating participant last year, and when the call was made for chefs, I dove right in.

I had recently purchased the Shake Shack cookbook, and felt extremely ambitious, so I decided to make 150 sliders for the cook out.

PREFACE:

  • I’ve never catered anything before.

So I started testing.

I’d never ground meat before, so I needed a meat grinder.

First step was getting the right kind of beef. I went with a 80% chuck, 20% short rib blend. I had to cajole the butcher to get me my 20% (since I was only doing a small test batch. I got the veggies, and the closest thing to a Martin’s Potato Roll I could find.

The results? Pretty great.

Grind time, grill time.

I was thoroughly impressed by myself. I made their home version Shack sauce, toasted my grocery store potato buns, grilled to perfection, and it was delicious.

But I knew that wouldn’t be enough to win the competition, which has a KNOWN AND VIABLE contingent of vegetarians in attendance.

So while watching the awful Independence Day sequel on the 4th of July, I prepared the Shroom burger.

Roasted portobello mushrooms, stuffed with munster and cheddar cheese.
Breaded with panko and deep fried, in my tiny apartment kitchen.
The final shroomburger variant.

The tests were a demonstration of success. I knew victory could be mine. But seriously, cooking four burgers at home with no time limit is ok. Cooking 150 to be served at pretty much the same time without ever being a caterer before, seemed daunting.

The test runs left me confident. The conversations left me ready. I got my ingredient list together, mapped out my attack, and was as ready as I possibly could be. I was going to slider-size the burgers, and half the mushroom burgers, and cruise to victory.

But I was still missing a critical ingredient: the buns.

Enter, Martin’s Potato Rolls.

Shake Shack will tell you that the Martin’s Potato Roll from Pennsylvania is essential to the burger. It’s soft, it soaks up the juices, and it just is delicious. It’s the perfect burger bun. Living in Olympia, Wash. however, I am out of the service area for Martin’s. By about 2,000 miles.

Luckily, courageously, and thankfully, the fine people of Martin’s were down for the cook-out challenge.

From Pennsylvania to Olympia: Martin’s Potato Rolls.

Martin’s came through with an airdrop of buns, and I want to thank Julie Martin and Wendy Cowan for their help via the internet to make it happen.

With everything in hand, it was time to get to work, starting with the burgers.

Beef
Grindin’.

Then it was on to buttering and griddling up those buns. I was using slider buns for the slider (duh) and then a whole sized bun for the mushroom burgers, which would get cut in half.

A heap of toasted buns

I didn’t take many photos of the vegetable prep, but it was a big heap as well.

Me behind the grill. Basically did 12 burgers at a time.
My mom was there to help. This is the assembly station, you can see the chaos. Look at the french toast golden brown toasted buns!
We served the burgers up, and yes I made a poster.
I have a fancy Martin’s banner now too. I promise I’m not normally this frightened.

Eventually we served all the burgers we could. Something like 130 sliders and 28 mushroom burgers. Everyone in attendance got a ticket to vote for their favorite dish.

My competition: another burger slider; salmon; smoked pork ribs; smoked pork shoulder tacos; Swedish chicken (I dunno); more traditional barbecue chicken.

The scene of the competition, and many of the well-fed guests.

After the final sliders were eaten, it was time to tally the votes and announce the winner.

Gathering for the results on the front steps.

Yes, that’s right, I won.

I got a silly hat, and handsome prize package:

Actually two silly hats.

And I was the champion. I posed for a champion photo with last year’s champion and the boss:

The gov, 2016 Champion Dave, and 2017 Champion: me!

So I learned some lessons along the way, including that cooking a lot of food is hard. But cooking good burgers without good buns is even harder!

Thank you again to the fine folks at the Martin’s Potato Rolls for coming through and helping a fan out thousands of miles away. Next time I’m anywhere near Pennsylvania I’m going to come through and give them all a big hug.

From my silly poster.
Chase Gallagher

Written by

America’s most beloved reformed political consultant, quizmaster emeritus, and scienceman.