'Burger Land': George Motz pursues the perfect hamburger

george-motz-burger-land-travel-325.jpg
The more common phrase may be "American as apple pie," but the hamburger elicits much the same swell of patriotic pride in the heart of American diners.

Coincidentally, Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena, Calif., offers those two items on its menu -- with a few more things -- and it's featured in the premiere episode of the Travel Channel series "Burger Land" on Monday, April 15.

George Motz -- who gained burger fame with his 2005 documentary "Hamburger America" -- names the double cheeseburger and the butterscotch pie as his favorites at the diner, which opened in 1963.

From the Los Angeles area, the show heads to Miami and then off across America. Fans are going to see a lot of different ways to make a burger, but one thing's for sure: The patties won't be made of turkey, salmon, tuna or vegetables.

"Anything that's shaped and formed into what looks like a beef patty," Motz tells Zap2it, "to me, is disingenuous. You're fooling yourself. I'd rather go eat a head of lettuce than eat a burger made of a fake soy patty.

"A hamburger can be described as chopped meat" -- Motz prefers ground chuck steak, with 20 percent fat, and American cheese if it's a cheeseburger -- "that is cooked somehow and served on bread. That's a hamburger."

While some fast-food joints and restaurants tout their flame-broiled burgers, that isn't Motz's preferred cooking method.

"One of the hardest things to do," he says, "and everybody thinks it's the easiest way to cook a burger, is to take it outside and cook it on a grill. That is the most difficult and probably the most unrewarding.

"The easiest way to make a burger is on a flattop grill or a skillet. You can't go wrong if you cook them on a flattop on the stove. One of the best ways is to put a cast-iron skillet on your outdoor flame and cook it that way. You have complete control. It's all about temperature control.

"I just default to my favorite, which is the smashed patty on a flattop."

Additional locations for where Motz seeks slices of burger heaven include Connecticut (where burgers can be steamed), Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York (where, Motz says, any sort of burger can be found), North Carolina (where coleslaw and chili may come piled on top), Texas and Wisconsin.

"In terms of the popularity of the hamburger," Motz says, "it's without a doubt the last American food invention of the last 100 years."

• Motz has his own burger specialty, the "Smashed Motz Burger." It involves 80/20 ground chuck (cooked in a cast-iron skillet), squishy white buns (mass-market ones from the grocery store are just fine), and very thin-sliced Vidalia onions. You can saute the onions to put on top of the burger, or you can smash raw, thin-sliced onion into the meat patty at the beginning of the process.
Photo/Video credit: Travel Channel