Western Burgers

Western BurgersWestern Burgers are a high school cafeteria legend in my hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. They are a simple and beautiful bit of comfort, consisting of hamburger meat, onion, and seasonings fully wrapped up in a hot, buttery bun. God bless the lunch lady (or man…they always seemed to be ladies back then), I say. Can you believe they actually made yeast breads like this in our schools at one point? THE “LUNCH LADY” was a title of honor, and in my earliest memories she served sheet cakes and turkey with rice and gravy. She knew everyone by name. But here is the sad truth. I don’t think I ever had one of THE Western Burgers in my high school. By the time I switched from my tiny, little Catholic school to the big, giant Wichita Falls High School (lovingly known as “Old High”), vending machines had come into vogue in schools. And while many of my new friends still ate in the cafeteria, I have to admit that I found the bustling scene a bit intimidating as the new kid. So my best pal and cousin, Joey, and I sat in one of the courtyards and typically ate a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles for lunch washed down with a Diet Dr Pepper. Egads. Think of all that I missed.

But, the legend of the Western Burger lives on in the hearts and minds of like-minded food folk from my neck of the woods. The actual school version doesn’t happen anymore because apparently it doesn’t meet the health requirements of a school lunch food. Apparently they are not quite so legendary when made in a whole wheat roll. Well, no kidding. However, due to the continued adoration of this would-be inductee to the Lunch Lady Recipe Hall of Fame…I made that up, but we should probably have a Lunch Lady Recipe Hall of Fame…the Wichita Falls School District now has an annual Western Burger Feed as a fundraiser for local charities. I cannot even begin to come up with a decent excuse for not having made the road trip for this. But I always miss it and then read about it in the paper and smack myself on the head.

Western Burger DoughThere is a recipe for Western Burgers in the WFISD Food Service Cookbook, but I don’t have that yet…so I had to invent one of my own. My kids are bananas about it and my daughter has declared that every Tuesday should henceforth be Western Burger Tuesday!! And, you know what…I like the idea.

My version is low on the seasoning. Many put mustard in the mixture. We prefer to bake them up simple, and then dip them in ketchup or whatever suits our individual fancies. This is not like a grocery store bun…this is more like a tender hot dinner roll…almost kolache-esque in texture. If you are at all like me, it will make you happy in a deep, long-forgotten, bell-ringing, feet-shuffling, bad-perm, place in your heart. I hope it doesn’t give you flash-backs about forgetting your locker combination. It should only give you flash-backs about a simpler time, when the cafeteria lady was an industrial kitchen queen and you could still drink chocolate milk without the health food police frowning at you.

Western Burgers BeefI’m all for healthy cafeteria food for kids, by the way. I’m completely and totally on board. But I miss this part of our collective background. The lunch lady is pure Americana.

So, if you can track down a real, “old-school” cafeteria lady, go out and give her a hug. Give her a big hair net and apron hug.

Summary of the process: Make the dough, let it rise, brown and season the meat, deflate the dough and knead it, roll it out, cut it into squares, place meat on a square, cover with dough, pinch edges, fold them under, bake, PIG OUT. Did I just say pig out? Yes, I did. Bon appétit just doesn’t seem to convey the right mood here.

Western Burgers Dough

Western Burgers
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Recipe type: Entree
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8
The cafeteria favorite of many a north Texan!
Ingredients
Dough
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • ¾ cup whole milk, room temperature
  • ½ ounce active dry yeast (2 packets)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 500 grams all-purpose flour (about 4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (reserve 2 tablespoons for brushing at the end)
Filling
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • ⅓ cup chopped onion
  • 2 to 3 ounces grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the warm water and let it sit for five minutes. It should become frothy on top if the yeast is active (if not, check the date on the packets). In a large bowl, combine the flour, remaining sugar and salt. Add the water mixture, the milk, and the melted butter and stir to thoroughly combine. It will be somewhat lumpy and sticky. Place a damp towel over the bowl and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in volume.
  2. Meanwhile, brown the meat and the onion in a skillet. Remove it from the heat and drain the excess drippings from the meat. Allow the meat to cool to room temperature. Add the cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. This will be the final flavor of the filling so taste it and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  3. When the dough has risen, remove it to a well floured surface and knead it until it is no longer sticky, adding flour as is necessary. The goal is to have a ball of dough that is not sticky and that will rebound when you press on it with your finger, so keep adding a pinch of flour here and there, and kneading, until you achieve this. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into the shape of a square of about 16” by 16”. Cut the rectangle into 16 square pieces of dough by cutting it into 4 columns, and then cutting each column into 4 equal pieces. Each square should be roughly about 4” by 4”. Roll each piece until it is slightly larger.
  4. Place an equal scoop of the meat mixture on 8 of the squares. Form the meat into a fat patty with your hands before placing it on the dough. Cover each with another square of dough and pinch it around the edges to fully seal the pillow that you create. Tuck the edges underneath the pillow and gently pinch the seam into the bottom of the pillow a bit. Place each burger onto a lightly buttered cookie sheet, separated by 2”. Set aside and allow the dough to rise again for 20 minutes, until the burgers are puffy and enlarged.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the burgers have finished rising again, place them in the oven and bake until they are golden, about 30 minutes. Brush the tops with a little melted butter and serve hot with mustard and ketchup on the side.

Western Burger Filling

NOTE: Working with the dough squares is messy business. If you want to preserve a perfect exterior you will want a towel handy to wipe your hands between each burger. Also, I use King Arthur All Purpose Flour for this. Different flours behave differently. A later batch with a different flour required substantially more flour during kneading. And, finally…(in a slap your forehead moment for me)…you can also make these smaller by rolling out each square to a little larger size, placing less meat in the middle and closing up the one piece of dough like a pouch. Bake seal side down for slightly less time.

Western Burger Second Rise

 

Comments

  1. Sara Corley says

    What a great article Kelly. Thank you for sharing this beloved recipe from our past. I can not wait to make it for the family.

  2. maria says

    Hi, my hubby is always telling me about these wonderful burgers. I decided to look them up and stumbled in to this recipe I think I’m going to surprise him for his B-day make him all his favorite dishes. He is from Wichita Falls so I bet he will love these. Thank you so much!

  3. Kelly says

    Alyssa, thanks for the heads up on the Old High dinner. I so wish I could go. Feeling a bit sorry for myself. One of these years, I’m coming!!

  4. Kelly says

    Sure thing, friend. Wish I could make it to the feed. Let me know how the recipe works out for you if you try it.

  5. Rafael says

    Facebook friends have been posting about Old High selling Western Burgers this week and my recipe search landed me here…I love these burgers!! Thanks for the recipe hometown girl! ;)

  6. M.L.W. says

    western burgers are my favorite cafeteria food memory,I grew upon Bowie Tx. south of Wichita Falls and we fortunate enough to have been served these delicious creations. I still make these for my children at home since they do not have the privilege of getting to eat homemade recipe cooked foods in their cafeteria.

  7. Deanna Lightner says

    I’m from Henderson Texas and the western burger was an all time favroite here also!!!!

  8. Tiffanie Nicole says

    Wow I’m from Wichita Falls too and I don’t even know about these my ol’man wants me to make em so I looked up how to make em and seems like everyone’s frm wichita this must be where they originated

  9. Carol says

    I’m so EXCITED !!!!!! To see this recipe !!! I grew up in Wichita Falls as well and in our school at Lamar this was my all time favorite !!!!! Thank you so much for sharing !!!!

  10. Kelly says

    rl…hello fellow coyote! Glad you stopped by. I wish I had eaten one of the originals, too.

  11. rl says

    I’m from Wichita Falls and went to Old High! I loved when they had the western burgers for lunch!!

  12. Kelly says

    Congratulations, Brittany. My sense is that they would freeze great if you popped them in the freezer right after you form them. You would probably need to cover them and freeze them on a tray and later transfer them to a bag when they aren’t as gooey and fragile. But, I haven’t tried…so I’m not sure. Please report back if you try it. I’d love to have a stockpile of these in the freezer.

  13. Brittany says

    Oh, also.. do you think these would freeze well? I’ve got a baby on the way and am going to have a “cooking day” with my bestie so that I will have foods with less hassle once baby is here, and I’d love to add these to the menu!

  14. Brittany says

    OMG! I am also from WF and I didn’t even know about the Western Burger feed until I read your blog. Now I’m smacking myself in the head! Thank you for keeping the tradition of good food alive, though. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  15. susan marie says

    Aaw, Kelly, you always know how to warm this retired lunch lady’s heart! My wrists and fingers are arthritic from the countless batches of roll dough I kneaded and rolled out, but the memories are worth it! Gone now are the days when we made (from scratch) cakes, cookies and cobblers. With emphasis on healthier menus and cost-cutting, the kids mostly get fruit now for dessert. I must say I’ve never had a western burger, but I think I need to try this, and get my hands in some bread dough again!

  16. Amy Bush says

    Oh Kelly, what memories! I smiled as I read the western burger post while images of Adam Sandler signing “The Lunch Lady Song,” with Chris Farley playing the lunch lady danced in my head! I love memory filled recipes, and I might have to break down and stroll down memory lane while eating a western burger with lots if mustard!

  17. Adrienne says

    K, you make me laugh with your posts. And you make me really miss yeast rolls made with soft white flour. Yum.

  18. Sharon Peek says

    Your western burger sounds wonderful. I will make it soon. My family begs me to make what our family knows as Bierocks, or Cabbage rolls. It is a homemade dough filled with ground beef & cabbage and has beer in it as well as other spices and onions. Your recipe reminds me of how good filled homemade dough can be when enhanced with hearty fillings.
    Thanks for the new recipe I am sure my family will love.

  19. Camille Strate says

    I grew up in New England and have never heard of such a thing! But, DANG! it sure sounds tasty! I did have the great pleasure of going to college in North Carolina, where I was introduced to a whole new kind of eating. FABULOUS! I am absolutely positively going to make these. I drool now as I type…..
    Thanks!

  20. Dalnapen says

    Mom made a version of this on some Sunday nights growing up–and we’re not even from the south. Très bien!

  21. Tari says

    Oh, I want one of these! Okay, I probably really want three of them…

    My step-gran was a Lunch Lady Extraordinare! Her homemade chicken noodle soup at the school soup/salad bar likely cured 10,000 colds over the years. Good stuff.

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