Memphis: Dyer's Deep-Fried Burger

Mar 20, 2012 10:01 am

These burgers, fried in grease, have history

Dyer's Burger
Photo: Jeff Moore of Garnish Food Photography
This burger was cooked in ancient grease. This is not a bad thing at all.
 

We’re all about eating healthier whenever possible. This is not one of those stories. Dyer’s Burger in Memphis, TN has become famous for deep-frying their patties—and driving up health care costs—for decades.

Now this burger is not a product of the carnival midway fad—deep-frying everything from Twinkies to pats of butter. Nor is it a cheeky over-the-top publicity stunt like the Heart Attack Grill where sexy waitresses dressed as nurses take diners’ orders for Quadruple Bypass Burgers. (And ironically where some of those same diners occasionally actually suffer infarcts.) No, the Dyer’s Burger is history on a bun served in Memphis’s oldest restaurant.

When Elmer Dyer moved to Memphis from northern Mississippi in 1912, opening a diner in a tiny shack at the corner of Poplar and Cleveland, he filled his deep iron skillets with the grease of the many burgers he cooked. Reasoning that the cooking oil only tasted better after use, Elmer didn’t discard it at the end of the day. Instead, he strained it into a different skillet and cranked up the gas again. Frugal and flavorful!

Since then, Dyers has claimed to have never replaced the grease in their skillets where they serve up over 500 burgers a day. Certainly they do discard some of the excess as they process, and season the grease every night, or eventually they would be swimming in the stuff. But they claim that each skilletful contains at least some molecules of Elmer’s original batch.

The process is as simple as it is decadent. Balls of hamburger meat are smashed flat and thin against the kitchen counters and then dropped into the huge oleaginous frying pans. Like a donut, the patties sink to the bottom while they cook up crispy and brown until they eventually rise to the top to be lovingly ladled onto a bun to absorb just a little bit more of the seasoned oil. Even the cheese gets a brief dip in the grease to soften and flavor it. Burgers are topped with mustard, onion and a pickle. If you’re looking for lettuce or tomato, the servers at Dyer’s will probably point you toward the salad bar. In a different restaurant.

The legendary grease at Dyer’s is so revered that when they moved locations years ago to the current venue on touristy Beale Street, the oil was transported in an armored car with great pomp and ceremony, like the torch traveling from Olympia to the opening ceremonies.  

The shirts worn by the servers at Dyer’s ask, “Have you had your Vitamin G yet today?” The “G” is of course for grease. Next time you find yourself in Memphis, drop by for your USRDA. Remember to get lots of napkins.


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