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» Pimento Cheeseburgers, Y’all!
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Pimento Cheeseburgers, Y’all!

By • Nov 21st, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Alongside grits, sweet tea, and fried green tomatoes, there are few foods more uniquely Southern than pimento cheese.  For the Yankees or otherwise uninitiated, it’s a basic cheese spread: cheddar cheese (usually extra-sharp), mayonnaise, and pimentos (or pimientos), which are really just chopped-up red cherry peppers.  It’s mixed together into a smooth spread or sometimes a chunky paste.  And if you’ve ever been to a function of any note in the South, you’ve seen it crammed inside a celery stalk or oozing out of dainty little finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

(Photo Credits: Logan Sullivan, Ellen Silverman)

It was an acquired taste for me.  Blame those godawful pimento-loaf sandwiches that started lurking in my sack lunches from about third grade on.  It didn’t matter what sugary-sweet delicacy might also be in that brown bag, nothing could salvage a midday meal from a pair of Wonder Bread bookends with this peeking out from in between:

I distinctly remember stripping my baggie’s twist tie down to the wire inside and using it to dig out the colored shards of nastiness, wasting most of lunchtime in a culinary excavation project that would have made MacGyver proud.

But I’m all grown up now (mostly) and living in the Deep South, which means I’m exposed to massive amounts of pimento cheese from time to time.  Over the years, I’ve decided it’s pretty fricking tasty. And, as I found out not too long ago, a damn good cheeseburger topping.

Pimento cheeseburgers are a regional specialty of Columbia, South Carolina, with every local burger joint worth its spatula offering one.  But Columbia is 3 hours away. So I went all DIY on it on a recent Sunday afternoon.

There are oodles of recipes for pimento cheese out there.  Almost all are very straightforward, with the occasional “secret ingredient” thrown in “‘cos that’s the way my mama did it.”  Everyone with an opinion agrees that store-bought pimento cheese-in-a-jar is basically the devil’s work and to be avoided at any cost.  It’s certainly easy enough to make your own.

The recipe I experimented with used some cream cheese to make it more solid and less liquid… but shredded cheddar, a splash of mayo, and a jar of drained pimentos was all it took.  Mix it together (they say you can’t possibly over-mix it; some even suggest putting the ingredients in a ziptop bag and squeezing it into submission) and spread it on a fresh-off-the-grill burger.

I added some Benton’s bacon for a smoky touch and dove in.  Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, but I do declare that this cheeseburger was finer than frog hair! (That’s Southern for, “It was extremely tasty.”)  Now, I think my pimento cheese was too solid and not quite liquid enough as it turned out; I might try a version without the cream cheese next time, as I had hoped for more melting and oozing. I could have shredded the cheddar more finely and given the pimentos a quick chop to further incorporate the slightly-spicy studs into the mix.  But all in all, this was a definite and immediate “add” to my regular burger playlist.

Even if you’re north of the Mason-Dixon Line, give ‘em a whirl and let us know what you think.

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