I don’t know if it’s the same in, say, the southern reaches of WA, the centre of Tassie, or along the dusty highways of central Australia, but in Queensland, where I grew up, there’s a certain style of burger that’s fuelled thousands of long road trips. Think roadhouses where everyone from big rigs to ‘three kids fighting in the back’ family sedans pull up to refill fuel tanks and bellies; the sort of roadhouse where the burgers are made with fluffy white rolls – the square, tear-apart sort rings a particularly nostalgic bell – and there’s at least one option on the menu sporting beetroot, egg and pineapple.
It’s that last ingredient that’s had us thinking lately. Is pineapple on a burger, we wondered, as divisive as pineapple on pizza?
Shravan Gautam, owner of Brisbane’s Charboy’s Burgers, which has grown from a market stall to a burger stand and this week opens the doors on a full-brown burger eatery, has grilled pineapple slices on two of his most popular burgers: the Queenslander (where it layers up with southern fried chicken, cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato, onion and other fixings, in a brioche bun) and the Goodfella (similar, but with a wagyu beef patty).
So you’d think he’d come down on the “yes” side of the pineapple-on-burger fence. But in fact, “it could be a yes or a no,” he tells us. “I think it all really depends on what the overall taste is like. If the pineapple compliments the dish, or the burger, in this instance, then it definitely belongs in there.
“Grilled pineapple is even better, because that little caramelisation just sweetens it,”says the law student turned business owner, who was born in Fiji and moved to Australia as a teenager. He put pineapple on the menu as a nod to the fruit’s popularity in Queensland: “We're the Sunshine State, and pineapple is huge in Queensland … It's started off a special, first Goodfella came in, and because everyone loved it, I made it permanent, and then I tried it with the chicken, on the Queenslander, and the same thing happened as well. Everyone loved it.”
Bill Granger is another fan of what a slice of grilled pineapple can bring to a burger. The expat chef’s Aussie burger recipe (you can see him make them, alongside gozleme, tacos and his mum’s pavlova, in Bill’s Kitchen: Notting Hill this Thursday, 8.30pm on SBS Food) layers grilled pineapple wedges with a beef patty, beetroot, lettuce, homemade barbecue sauce and an egg.
“It was part of my growing up, pineapple,” he says. It’s morning in London for him, but early evening in Sydney when we chat, and by the time we’re done, I’m feeling rather nostalgic, and hungry. “I remember going on a cruise ship when I was about seven with my parents and them having a toast, an open toast that was like Hawaiian toast with ham, pineapple, and cheese and I thought it was so exotic,” he reminisces, “… and in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was the Golden Circle pineapple on everything.”
On a burger, he says, pineapple helps to balance everything out.
“It's playing a similar role to pickles. Pickles provide that sweet, salty, tangy flavour on a burger that cuts through the roof of the mouth. I think you always need that bit of acid in the burger.”
And cooking the pineapple? “For me it’s like what you do with a pickle. With a cucumber [when you pickle it], you soften it up with the salt and the vinegar. And by cooking the pineapple, you soften the texture,” he says. The fruit adds acidic bite and freshness.
There’s no pineapple on the burger on the menu of Granger’s restaurants – as well as three in Australia and foUr in London, one of them just a short walk from where he lives, there are outposts in Japan, South Korea and Honolulu – but it’s still the sort of thing he cooks at home, and it brings back memories of the burgers, good and bad, he had growing up in Australia. He’s not such a fan of beetroot, but clearly pineapple gets the nod, and so does egg. “To be truly Aussie you’ve gotta have a friend egg on top,” he says in Bill’s Kitchen: Notting Hill, but it’s not just nostalgia. If you keep the yoke soft, “when you bite into it is going to dress the burger and make it incredibly oozy and delicious.”
Pineapple slices aren’t the only way the tropical fruit adds zing to burgers, though: how about a pineapple chutney?
“Does pineapple belong on a burger? To me, a question like that in a world we live in today is like asking ‘should BBQ sauce be an option for a pizza basing’. In my opinion, food shouldn’t have boundaries,” says Hao Vu, co-owner of popular arcade-game inspired Brisbane burger joint Super Combo.
Super Combo’s Sonic Boom burger is named after the favourite food of a character in the game Street Fighter.
“This burger features crispy fried chicken, cheddar cheese sauce, smoky mushroom sauce, maple candied kaiserfleisch bacon, garlic aioli slaw and, most importantly, our home-made pineapple chutney. We feel this burger gives taste buds the perfect 'Super Combo' of sweet, sour and salty with crispy and soft textures. This burger wouldn't be complete without the pineapple. It's an essential ingredient and 100 per cent belongs on our Sonic Boom burger,” Vu tells SBS.
When it comes to what belongs on a burger, “let your taste buds do the talking, and don't limit yourself to what you think should or shouldn’t be acceptable,” he says.
“The burger was created in the 1900s as a simple minced beef patty between two slices of bread. And look how far it’s come today. You can buy a burger in nearly every country on Earth and see an endless and evolving list of ingredients between each bun. It's exciting!”
See Bill Granger cooking his Aussie burger in Bill's Kitchen: Notting Hill, Thursday 10 October 8.30pm on SBS Food channel 33, then on SBS On Demand. And get more burger inspiration in our burger recipe collection.
Made with grated beetroot and hearty brown lentils, this vegetarian burger is so good that you might never want to go back to regular burgers again!
Juicy pineapple and Japanese ingredients come together in this burger, which speaks of Hawaii’s fascinating fusion cuisine.
Nothing beats a burger! This is our take on what you might find in an American diner. Of course, if you want to make it more Aussie, you could add beetroot, pineapple and fried egg…