Learning the rules of Burger Club

A good burger should taste of real meat not mince. A perfect one should make you want to run naked in a field. Adrian Turpin reveals how people are becoming friends - falling in love - in the quest for the ultimate beef patty

If you have ever looked at a restaurant menu and said, "I feel like something simple. I think I'll just have a burger", then the UK's Burger Club is a bit of an eye-opener.

If you have ever looked at a restaurant menu and said, "I feel like something simple. I think I'll just have a burger", then the UK's Burger Club is a bit of an eye-opener.

The first rule of Burger Club, says the organisation's website, in a parody of the film Fight Club, "is that nobody talks about Burger Club". The second rule of Burger Club is that, in rating a burger, cheese may be taken into account but that extras such as onions and bacon are distracting fripperies and should be ignored. And the third rule? Judges should not be swayed by the quality of any accompanying chips. "Burgers are burgers and fries are fries."

A fourth, strictly unofficial rule, might be that pedantry is allowed and possibly invited. "Has anyone in the UK [internet chat board] ever had a great burger?" asks regular contributor MobyP. "Let's define our terms here - I'm talking about the kind of place where they grind the meat at earliest just before service - where it tastes of MEAT, as opposed to cooked mince. Where the sheer shock of red-blood and rush of iron hitting your bloodstream makes you want to run naked in the fields and rip out the throat of some animal." McDonald's, as you might imagine, is anathema.

The original Burger Club began in New York as part of the foodie website egullet.org, its aim to find the city's best burger. A rather geeky evaluation sheet was created, which invited marks for qualities such as juiciness and value for money (not forgetting to mention "greasiness", "brownness", "doneness" and "molding" - whatever that may be).

But, crucially, burger inspecting did not have to be a lonely occupation: tasting events and restaurant outings were organised. People became friends and fell in love in the quest for the ultimate beef patty. Before long the Burger Club had burst the bounds of New York city and spread across the country. It was only a matter of time before egullet.org's British members launched their own version.

"You could get the impression that we are a bunch of obsessives," says Andy Lynes, a former internal auditor for British Telecom turned food writer, who is also one of egullet's British-based website managers. "I have to confess, it can bring out the trainspotter or the stamp collector in people." To date, Penny Blacks of the burger world have been found at the Eagle Diner off Oxford Street and Hamburger Union on Garrick Street. The latter triumphed despite shocking problems with its buns, which failed another of the club's criteria, "seediness".

It's easy to poke gentle fun at the monomaniac enthusiasm of the UK burger clubbers (although, to be fair, they seem quite capable of laughing at themselves). Perhaps we should take them more seriously, though. Food and the internet have been comfortable bedfellows for years. But in Britain, at least, there has been a tendency for most foodie websites to be a little staid: more Delia Smith than Alain Ducasse.

Traditionally, recipes have predominated, and the target market has been homebodies rather than social butterflies. What haven't been tapped in this country, until now, are the tremendous social possibilities that food offers. While the US has seen a boom in gastronomic websites like the Big Apple's www.foodienyc.com, which mixes online culinary discussion with real-life social events, Brits have been happy to set a table for one and a computer.

It's hardly a surprise that egullet should blaze a trail for internet gastronomes who want to meet in the flesh. Since its launch in August 2001, the website has always been an irrepressibly lively - even argumentative - forum for both hobbyists and professional cooks. Food writers and journalists have come to see egullet as a source of industry news and gossip, while famous chefs posting on the message boards have included Anthony Bourdain and Shaun Hill of the Merchant House in Ludlow.

Evenings out, chewing the fat literally and figuratively, are a natural extension to this. When not hunting burgers, some of egullet's British contingent meet regularly to eat, share views and knock back the odd bottle of wine at some of Britain's smarter restaurants.

This year's "winter feast", for example, saw around 20 of the society's members go to Oliver Peyton's "posh café", Inn the Park, in St James's Park. Part of the pleasure of an event like this seems to be arguing online for days about the menu (which, on reflection, probably beats doing it at the table). Having settled on a starter of smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish, followed by the splendidly medieval-sounding whole roast suckling pig with braised red cabbage, they then spent the next few days dissecting the meal's merits online.

"The pig's cheeks were the real highlight for me," one member wrote. "I toyed with the idea of trying to extract its tongue but felt this might be pushing the boundaries of good manners." Less squeam-inducing follow-ups to the meal included where to buy sprout tops.

This formula of extended online anticipation, followed by formalised gluttony, and lip-smacking post-mortem has been repeated for other restaurants like The Square and Chez Bruce. Of course, in a way, this is only what dining societies have been doing for centuries. But - put this down to the internet perhaps - there is something pleasingly democratic about this set-up.

"My impression is that traditional dining clubs have often been a bit old and stuffy," Lynes says. "With us, it's a social occasion but you know that ultimately people are there for the food rather than to show off. We've got all classes and professions, the theatre, the catering business. There is never any awkwardness because everyone has common ground."

Egullet's meetings might not be to everyone's taste. However friendly their individual members may be, internet communities can be a strange thing, with their in-jokes and arcane internal politics. But they show that, finally, the web is waking up to the fact that an interest in food does not need to be a solitary business.

I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing - sites like www.redepicurus.com, which offers like-minded people a chance to gather for, say, a three course-meal at the Charlotte Street Hotel or dinner at the chef's table at Gordon Ramsay's at Claridge's. It's a sign of the times, perhaps, that one of the most recent additions to Britain's booming online dating scene is www.blindplate.com.uk, in which six or eight singletons meet to cook and eat a three-course meal.

As for egullet.org itself, social success has its own price. "Recently, we've been trying to cut down some of the less relevant chatter on the site. In a funny way, it can become too sociable. For us, what you have to remember is, it's always about the food."

Visit www.egullet.com, www.foodienyc.com, www.redepicurus.com and www.blindplate.com

Suggested Topics
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape