“Hot take: ‘a piece of deliberately provocative commentary that is based almost entirely on shallow moralizing’” –Simon Maloy
When I was in high school in the mid-nineties, I had a classmate who brazenly and arrogantly declared that the song “Layla” was, like, so overrated. He obviously found his claim edgy and enlightened as “Layla” endures as one of the best critical and commercial successes in rock song history. It seemed like he thought everyone would immediately recognize he was better than us and commence swooning over his astounding intellect and incendiary musical taste, and promptly think he was hot shit for bucking conventional wisdom in such a defiant manner.
Narrator’s voice: no one thought he was hot shit.
All this to say, hot takes predate the internet. And before, during, and after the internet, they shall remain one of my biggest pet peeves. Having an unpopular opinion or bucking conventional wisdom doesn’t bother me. We all do from time to time. But it’s the hubris that grates me, the feeling that one has somehow divined some sort of Revealed Truth and may now demean others with impunity simply because they think the Beatles suck, or they have no interest in Game of Thrones, or they hate shopping at Target. No one is a lesser person because they enjoy something trendy or classic or popular. What is this human impulse? Why do some need to assert their supposed moral superiority over things so arbitrary? Why do some members of our species literally enjoy trying to make others feel stupid because they like Mozart, or Italian food? I don’t know. All I do know is that I always want to slug people who do that. I don’t care that my former classmate doesn’t enjoy perhaps the greatest rock song of all time. I do care that he sought to demean me and others for our excitement over it, and that he thought this was an acceptable way to emotionally enrich himself.
I felt the need to clarify my stance on hot takes so you know for certain that I am not coming from a place of smug, misplaced moral superiority or conceit when I declare the following:
I don’t like Shake Shack.
Wait, wait, wait, before you click away in disgust, let me at least tell you about The Lettuce Incident!
The first time Mr. Wallace and I dined at Shake Shack, back in its earliest days when it was still novel and buzzworthy, we ordered the classic cheeseburgers, and… my lettuce was wet. The employees hadn’t properly dried it, droplets of water hung on and dripped onto the cardboard container and sogged out my bun. GROSS! I vowed to keep an open mind, chalking the incident up to a fluke. The second time we ate at a different Shake Shack location, and I swear on all things holy, the same lettuce incident happened to me again!
I swore off the franchise. But, Mr. Wallace does enjoy the place and did not ever get dripping wet lettuce, so in the name of The Things We Do For Love, I have continued to occasionally frequent the place. But the lesson has been learned, and I always order the SmokeShack burger now, because: no lettuce.
Fast forward to Summer 2017, when Shake Shack published their cookbook. It’s a well-written recounting of the restaurant’s history that includes all their recipes, from the classics to the regionally specific. We bought the book immediately as it is the perfect compromise for us. He gets to enjoy the food, I get to ensure properly dry lettuce. So what does my inner contrarian make first? Yep. The SmokeShack burger. With no lettuce.
I stand by it. More importantly, I found the homemade version delicious, and I think you will too. To accompany the burgers, I eschewed the frozen crinkle-cut fries Shake Shack has (somehow) lionized, and instead made French fries in the now-famous style of Joel Robuchon. Which I’m not blogging as they are ALL over the internet by now, but I will join the legions in singing their praises and recommend you try them as well (assuming you haven’t already).
Copycat SmokeShack Burgers
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbs Dijon mustard
- ¾ tsp ketchup
- ¼ tsp kosher dill pickle brine/juice
- Pinch of cayenne
- Dash of kosher salt
- 4 hamburger potato buns
- 4 tbs unsalted butter, melted
- 8 tbs diced pickled hot cherry peppers
- 1 pound ground beef, evenly divided into 4 pucks
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 4 slices American cheese
- 8 slices bacon, cooked and each broken in half
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away.
- Heat a cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat. It’s imperative you use a smooth surface, so no grill pans here. Split the buns open and brush all the insides with the melted butter. Place the buns buttered side down on the griddle and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the buns to a plate or platter and spoon the Shack Sauce onto the top buns. Sprinkle 2 tbs of hot cherry peppers onto each of the top buns and gently press to adhere them a bit to the sauce.
- Turn the griddle heat up to medium-high and let it get really, screaming hot. Season one side of each beef puck with salt and pepper. Place the pucks seasoned side down onto the hot griddle. Take a small pot in your nondominant hand. Put an oven mitt on your dominant hand. Make a fist with your mitted hand and put it down into the pot, which is facing upright. Place the bottom of the pot onto the beef puck and use your mitted, dominant hand to push down to flatten the burger. Use some elbow grease and don’t worry that you’re ruining anything. Press down hard and really flatten that sucker. Once you’ve smashed your burgers, season the top with more salt and pepper. Cook the burgers about 2 ½ minutes, until the edges beneath are brown and the juices on the surface are bubbling hot. Carefully flip the burgers and cook one minute longer for medium. As soon as you flip the burgers, place a slice of cheese on each. When done, transfer the burger to the bottom buns and top with 4 halves of the broken bacon. Top with the top buns and serve immediately.