Taking a cue from pickle-happy high-end chefs, a few fast food chains are reassessing the role of the once-humble dill.
The obligatory pickles slapped on burgers by the nation's leading chains have long been thin, watery afterthoughts. But Wendy's this week announced its planned line of premium burgers, now being tested in Las Vegas, will feature upgraded crinkle-cut pickles. And Whataburger's making pickles a marquee item with its new 5-3-1 burger, topped with five pickles, three onion rings and one sauce.
Pickles have always been a critical condiment at Twisted Root Burger Company, where customers can choose from a smorgasbord of homemade sweet pickles, spicy pickles, sweet and spicy pickles and whatever special variety the kitchen's devised.
"Pickles are no laughing matter," chef-owner Jason Boso says. "A pickle is a lot more than anyone knows."
Without wading too deeply into pickle metaphysics, the most important components of a pickle are salt and acid. Boso says the acid serves to both heighten a burger's flavor and entice the eater to salivate.
"Salivation helps you taste your food," he explains.
All good pickles produce the same effect, no matter their shape or size, Boso says. But he's fond of crinkle-cutting for logistical reasons.
"It helps to keep the pickle from sliding off," Boso says. "It's a gripper."
Perhaps the most debated issue pertaining to pickles and patties is the proper ratio. Did Whataburger get it right when it made five its magic pickle number?
"That's a really good question," Boso says with a sigh. "I like to cover the entire patty and get sourness in every bite. But some people just like two to three pickles. It's to taste, but don't go less than two."
Boso's now working on a pickle marinated in Tang, a spin-off of the suddenly ubiquitous Kool-Aid pickle that's transcended its Mississippi Delta roots.
"We don't know what's going to come out," he says.