Makin’ Cyber Sausage


So after 2 plus years of flogging the old, cost-for-nothin’ look I selected randomly  way back when The Oink was a scrawny piglet, it’s time for a facelift. Nothing crazy mind you, and all improvements should be for the better. But no plastic surgery is without its scars or mysterious extended hotel stays, and part of the polish job I’m putting on the site requires that I migrate my web hosting off of WordPress. All that means is that I’ll soon be at (and not I’m trying to make everything as seamless as possible, but I’m kind of a moron when it comes to computing. So thanks in advance for your patience. And thanks for making The Oink a long, old project that still feels like it has some new places to explore.

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A 30 minute meal… not on purpose

Habanero clams overhead

I’ve always disliked the notion that there are magical quick fixes. That the kitchen and the time you spend there caring for your ingredients is actually just time spent waiting for the right work-around. Put that crap in a box or a jar or a cookbook, put some famous face on it and call it progress. Call it a shortcut. Call it a life hack, if you need everyone to know you’re too smart for your own good. I’ll keep calling it what it is: bullshit.

And don’t gimme that overly cheery crap about “No one can tell the difference!” I can tell the difference. My two year old can tell the difference. And when I cook, that’s what matters.

Good food requires care and attention to detail.

But that’s not to necessarily say that it requires a ton of time. Which is why I love clams. They’re delicious. They’re relatively cheap. And they cook up into a damn fine meal in no time flat.

Additionally, clams are versatile. They can be scaled back to something simple and light or tuned up to knock you flat on your ass with pork fat, garlic and heat. I almost always end up preferring the latter, but hey, options are nice when selecting your ingredients.

Habanero Clams board 2

This recipe was a case of getting lucky. I had an idea, the usual bits of sausage and wine lying around, some hot peppers and anchovies, and it actually worked pretty damn nicely. In fact, it worked so well that these clams with sausage, wine and habaneros are now in regular rotation for me. They go beautifully with pasta if you just up the tomato a bit and let most of the wine evaporate. Otherwise, a little toasted and buttered sourdough puts you right in business.

This recipe is very open to improvisation, any kind of flavorful sausage will do. And just about any kind of heat will get you there, although the bright fruitiness of the habaneros really does make it. You could probably even use beer instead of wine. Just don’t dump in a tin of soup, a hot dog and a bunch of fuckin’ Hamburger Helper and call it a day, please.

Clams finished

*As an aside, you may notice my photos getting on the better side of mediocre here. A quick thanks to Judy and Clyde for my new 50mm lens, it makes a world of difference. It’s not every mother-in-law that reads the phrase “pig-fucker” in relation to soup and actually decides to contribute to your delinquency.

Clams with Sausage and Hot Peppers
1lb live clams, like littleneck, rinsed well
1/3lb hot Italian sausage
2 chopped anchovies
½ onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1-2 habaneros, sliced thin
Fresh oregano
White wine
½ cup tomato sauce or diced tomatoes

In a large heavy skillet with a lid, brown your sausage thoroughly. Add in your anchovies, onions, garlic and ¾ of the habaneros. Cook till the onions are translucent. Throw in a little oregano, your tomatoes and splash in a little white wine. (I keep frozen tomato sauce on hand, which works really well. Or if you’re making a pasta sauce, just crush a can of San Marzanos and toss them in) Bring to an aggressive simmer, add your clams and cover. Cook, checking after a few minutes to see if the clams have begun to open. When they just begin to open-up, kill the flame and let them sit covered for another minute or so, you just don’t want to overcook them. Sprinkle with a few extra habanero slices. Toss with pasta or eat straight out of the pan with buttered bread. Enjoy, then fantasize about kicking the Pilsbury dough guy in the face.

Posted in Just Good Stuff | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


So it’s the holidays. And as much fun as it may be to act like a snarky assholish curmudgeon, the truth is I love this time of year. I love Christmas. You get to not work. You get to be with family. You get all the good free shit that you’re usually too cheap to buy for yourself. Little kids running around adds a whole other element to it. And in my family, you get to eat. A lot.

Holiday meals for me are grand and dogmatic affairs, strictly controlled, based on “the old ways” and tracing their lineage back to my earliest holiday memories to a modest house in Jerome, Idaho where my grandparents lived. Its main gathering areas were limited to the small kitchen and it’s adjacent table and then the living room that came off of that. For some reason, this was determined to be the perfect space for all of our large family gatherings.

My mother and her sisters would cram anywhere between 17 and 100 family members, friends and holiday orphans into that space, most of whom over the age of 12 were holding lit cigarettes, all of whom regardless of age spoke no softer than a bullhorn, and all of whom no matter blood or creed crowded into that house-shaped clown car in the name of family togetherness.

For clarity, family togetherness meant that if you left your seat to use the bathroom it would most likely be taken when you returned, a scenario that almost caused me to piss my pants on more than one occasion. Family togetherness meant a house with the thermostat already at 80 would routinely jump into the low 90s just due to the thermodynamic forces of Italian body heat. Interestingly, family togetherness also meant that if you opened a door or touched the thermostat, you’d be yelled at for “letting all the heat out.” In fact, “family togetherness” was a notion that with even the briefest of scrutiny might be more accurately called a fire hazard by the official types who pay attention to those things. Getting home and finding a cigarette burn in a favorite sweater was not unheard of.

But for all the cramming, burning, near pant-pissing, shoehorning, and suffocating heat, we really did love it.

There was a security to being crammed 17 to a couch, slowly marinating in each other’s juices as the hazy layers of my grandmother’s Marlboro Light 120s washed over us. She had a habit of keeping a lit smoke in every ashtray as she quietly shuffled through the crowds, filling her cocktail with Old Crow and attending to the ham dish, or shrimp aspic mold, or pistachio bowl, or smoked salmon tray, or salami plate, or canned smoked oyster trough, or whatever item had been placed out for mass consumption that hour.

There was a comfort to being lined up like basement-floor body bags, tucked into sleeping bags and futons and foam mats and blankets all asshole to elbow with all of my cousins. Telling dirty jokes and trying to figure out new ways to work the word fart into more Mad Libs while we waited for Christmas morning.

There was a specific pride to knowing that my grandfather would be cooking Christmas dinner in his boxer shorts, conducting the important business of the family in bellows and booming grunts between trips to the kitchen to burnish his own glass of Crow and stir the sauce.

pork ragu

The sauce.

More than anything, my grandfather’s spaghetti meant that it was a holiday. Thanksgiving and Christmas were welcomed by a giant pot, slowly perking away on the cooktop before presents were even unwapped. He hated the presents—wasteful, overly extravagant, brightly wrapped bits of proof that his own hard work had successfully lifted his family out of the immigrant poverty he had endured all of his own childhood. I suppose the hard work wasn’t supposed to have an end result, rather just continue in perpetuity like it’s own never-ceasing reward.

“You big-headed bastards were born with a silver spoon in your mouths.” Was about all he had to say about it. That is until he thought to remind us of the Christmas he was so poor that he only got an orange for his present. Or until he remembered to encourage us to piss outside in the zero degree Idaho night to reacquaint ourselves with his own unfortunate childhood plumbing situations. Or until finally one of us was instructed to be a good boy or girl and stir the sauce for him… maybe bring another splash of Old Crow as well.

Stirring the sauce was a sign of stature. Basically, it meant that you were trusted to not fuck it up—something that amounted to a compliment in my grandfather’s world. Spending years and years of Thanksgivings and Christmases stirring, smelling, working and tasting that sauce is what made me a cook– graduating from sauce stirrer, to sauce helper, to eventually sauce maker, and now all these years after my grandfather’s death, to  sauce keeper.


There were never yams on my family’s table. Or wiggly jello things. I’ve never eaten a tiny marshmallow at Thanksgiving. I almost punched a kid in third grade when he told me I was weird because we had spaghetti on Christmas. It took marriage for my wife to get me to budge, allowing mashed potatoes to infiltrate the menu. And that’s after I asked her father’s permission to marry her on Thanksgiving day, while standing over a pot of simmering sauce. We have rib roasts, we have turkeys, we have ever expanding and more extravagant antipasto spreads. But the holidays have always been, and will always be about the sauce. I still only make it on special occasions. It’s my only recipe that I hold basically secret—it’s too personal to let someone outside the family know it. Too much a part of my blood. Some things need to remain sacred.

Make some sauce for your family this year. Doesn’t matter if you’re Italian or not, everybody likes food that tastes like love. And on Christmas, sauce tastes like love, and home, and like being a scrawny, smoke soaked sardine lined up on an old couch with all of your favorite people, reaching for the smoked oyster trough and hoping you don’t have to use the bathroom . Which is what the holidays should always taste like.

If you don’t have your own sauce recipe, here’s one you can borrow. It’s not my grandfather’s, but it’s damn good. Merry Christmas.

gnocchi cu

Pork Sugo
2 large onions, diced
Several cloves of garlic
3-5lb pork shoulder, cut into steaks
1 end cut of cured pork: salami, prosciutto or coppa
1 pig’s foot (optional)
3 29oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
Fresh Oregano
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

Heat a dutch oven or large heavy pan. Vigorously season the pork steaks with salt and pepper. Oil the pan and heavily sear the steaks on both sides, working in batches. Add the onion and garlic and sweat it in the rendered pork fat, season with salt and pepper. Pour in the tomatoes. Add the cured pork and the pig’s foot. Add several oregano leaves. Season with more black pepper. Simmer for 4-5 hours on low heat, stirring every time you walk past the pot. When you’re ready to eat, remove the pigs foot and cured pork and discard. Shred the pork steaks into bite sized pieces. Mix the pork back into the tomato sauce, add a good bit more oregano, check and adjust the seasoning. Serve with homemade gnocchi or a heavy macaroni style pasta.

Posted in Italian | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

New page: More fiction, “Listening to a Mosquito Buzz”

I just added another piece of fiction to the page listings above. It’s a story that I actually wrote quite a few years ago but recently dusted off and still enjoyed it. I thought it was worth sharing.

Like nearly all of my fiction, it takes place in Idaho in areas near where I grew up or went to college. In northern Idaho there are university towns full of academia and resort towns full of out of state money nestled right alongside very depressed and struggling logging and mining communities. It results in sort of an unspoken (or loudly spoken if you end up in the wrong small town drinking hole) tension and resentment. That tension was where this character came from.

This story is fiction but it is fairly violent, dark, bigoted, sexual and backward looking– if you expect more from me or are bothered by these things, feel free to click here instead.

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Burger Experimentalism Vol. 3: Ride the Bacon Snake

Bacon Snake 5


I came-to with the sound of a faint chopper hammering the air above me. The bleary soft focus of the sunlight flared in my retinas, resolving in the furrowed brow of my scowling wife.


“We fucking have kids now, Jake. You can’t pull this shit.”

What shit I had pulled I still wasn’t sure of. Where had I been? In the yard? At the smoker? De Nang, at some kind of bizarre hooker mojo dance show? For some reason that one sounded most familiar. I stood and looked at the faces of my children. They looked back, unaware of the broken consciousness hiding behind their father’s eyes. I felt my beard, thank god it was still there. I squinted and turned toward the thickets of the bamboo, the Gregorian beasts were long gone. Probably taking Aleister Crowley with them. Who knows where. That asshole, Morrison, had clearly split. Leaving in his place a giant pile of hot raccoon shit that I only now noticed buzzing right next to my split open head. At least I hoped it was raccoon. I had a brief vision of all of them waiting for me to join them under the house in porcine orgy, but I knew they’d never go subterranean.

Grinder worm rev


My head was a firetrap jungle dance and my mouth was a salted desert, the tongue acting as the prickling cactus. My palms shined greasy, glinting in the too bright sun. My blood felt like an over-brined loin chop. I did a stumbling time warp float from the grass, where I had been, toward the kitchen. I stopped. Clearly, shit had gone down: The meat grinder torn asunder in some kind of purposeful hazard, it’s blade still whirling, spitting out an all too secret code that I myself had coded only hours earlier. A pool of sodden room temperature pig blood. Greasy hand prints all over a discarded bottle of Scotch. Morrison, the prick. I was pretty sure he was the one to blame for all of this. Showing up halfway through the party, right as I was eating, only to spew some shitty poetry and drink all the booze. Figures. Since when were leather pants a good– And then there it was, staring at me. I looked into it’s maw and saw the smiling tiger. Burger? Yeah right, asshole I thought you came to play with the big boys… and for the first time, I felt the full weight of my bloated corpse hanging off my bones. As I said, shit had gone down. When you open your mind, you better make damn sure you don’t peal it all back so hard you break it.

Bacon snake 3


It had all started easily enough. Make a burger that redefines a B.L.T. Tinker with process and heat just enough to make a patty that is entirely bacon, which means mostly pork fat, hold together while still rendering appropriately and tasting delicious. And that first taste, it’s always free isn’t it? Maybe it was the smoke. Maybe it was the nitrates. Maybe it was Charlie. But the burger was mostly gone and I was mostly fucked up.Bacon Snake alt

Retracing my steps, I remember the glinty smile of the hipster butcher duchebag at Whole Foods when he handed me all that bacon. I didn’t want to admit my plans, so instead I mumbled something about an ironic t-shirt line. How many pig tattoos does the world need anyway? Waiting till he had turned his back I bit my knuckle in a Sicilian sign of imminent cursed death assuming it would for somebody half Irish and not at all Sicilian. Then I took a tomato from the heirloom section and walked on down the aisle.

I went to the room where The Wolf lies and kissed her goodnight.

I went to the room where my son sleeps and tucked him in.

And then I walked on down the hall. To the kitchen, where I found the grinder.

I hit it with some smoked slab, began paddling the grind and went outside and lit a fire. It spoke to me. It wanted pork. In lulling red and yellow undulations it spoke of the chieftain, he wore no clothes. He would come to me in the intervening hours and open doors to a truer spirit vision. I checked the half empty IPA, what in the fuck did these wet hops have in them? Heavy Machinery was going to cost me a finger or two before the end of the night… If only I had been so lucky.Bacon waves


Sonofabitch! I squinted and shook my head, re-entering the shambled room I had mentally left maybe minutes or maybe hours earlier. The grinder was still calling to me in its whirring, deadly siren song. Looking down, I confirmed that I still had all fingers, but something told me not to check the toes.

“You in there? I said I’m taking the kids to the Nature Center. You kept spewing bullshit to your daughter about some snake. She thinks there’s a carnival ride there now. You happy? She’s two.”

I waved my tingling arm and they walked out. The parting shot was something about having the shit cleaned up when they got home. I slumped into the chair. Jesus. I’m a grown man, where was I? Where was the snake? There it was. There it was, half-eaten, half-empty. Half-full, really. Kind of coagulated but still… I put it back to my lips. I mean… it’s bacon. Besides, that was an heirloom tomato on there. Those pricks are expensive.

Bacon Snake 6

The Double Smoked BLT Burger (aka, The Bacon Snake)

The key here is high quality bacon. If you cure your own, all the better. In this case I bought some store smoked stuff, which worked just fine. Tomatoes are also a crucial component, so get the best of everything. Surprisingly, when cooked over indirect heat in the smoker, the bacon patty is neither salty nor greasy. But provides the texture of a perfect burger with a long, intense bacon flavor.

1lb slab or very thick cut bacon, cut into chunks
1 very ripe heirloom tomato
Butter lettuce
Homemade mayonnaise
Chewy, toothsome bread like fresh ciabatta

Light your smoker, get a fire going to about 275-300 degrees. Grind the bacon on the largest die of your grinder. Refridgerate it till it gets extremely cold. Using the paddle attachment on a mixer, paddle the ground bacon for 2 full minutes on medium speed. The meat should look hairy at the end of it. Scrape out the bowl and form 2 half pound patties. Pepper them liberally and place them on a cooling rack over a sheet pan—both should be small enough to fit in your smoker. Place the rack with the bacon patties in the smoker and smoke for about 2 hours, until the outsides of the patties are browned and some fat has rendered from the burgers. Slice your tomatoes and build your burger. Smear mayonnaise on both sides of the bun and toast it aggressively. Layer on a little more mayo and add the lettuce, bacon patty and then tomato. Eat. Do not attempt to do anything at all for several hours after.

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Burger Experimentalism Vol 2: The Bahn Mi Burger

Bahn Mi burger CU

Lemme just preface everything by saying I don’t really do Asian food.

Don’t get me wrong. I love eating it. I crave it in ways that stalk my belly like insatiable beasts demanding ramen or gyoza or cha gio or General Tso’s or any number of other things at 1 or 2 in the morning (usually after a beer or two). I search continuously around my neighborhood for gross-good greasy spoon Chinese take-out. I eat the same whitebread version of spicy noodles nearly every day at Whole Foods for lunch. So I like it. A lot. I just don’t really ever make the stuff myself. Even in relatively Asian-challenged South Austin, the options out there are better than what I can put out of my own kitchen.

But this isn’t for lack of familiarity. I actually do have some history with Asian food. My first job at the tender age of 14, was at a place called New China in Boise. Calling it authentic or decent or even non-toxic would be a stretch, but I was happy to have a paycheck. And New China was happy to have cheap labor, they clearly didn’t give a shit that I was 14. Or that my coworkers were 14. Or that everybody smoked in the kitchen—especially the really old Chinese guys parting out chickens while dangling 555 Internationals from their lips until the ash collapsed under it’s own weight, falling directly into the chicken parts/ ashtray below. Or that we drank beer in the alley behind the kitchen (and sometimes in the kitchen during working hours). Or that there was a fairly pronounced roach problem that we used as entertainment while taking breaks from smoking, drinking in the alley or actually (and very occasionally) washing the dishes. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that New China didn’t give a shit about much of anything except keeping the fleshy, tubbish white regulars moving through the buffet line.

All that aside, New China was my very first foray into an entertaining if somewhat misspent youth in restaurant kitchens. I started as a dishwasher and chicken soup strainer, eventually working my way up to manning the round Mongolian Grill thing when the old Chinese guys were busy taking smoke breaks in the kitchen. But my time at New China wasn’t as much an education the rich cultures of the Far East as it was a crash course in the vaguely underground and anti-social world of kitchen life that I still love and miss all these years later.

So yes, I have some history, but what fucking business do I have screwing with food that I like but really don’t understand all that well? It turns out that the Bahn Mi Burger is what business I have, thank you very much. It’s not authentic. It’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be a take on a burger that borrows from the tasty little sandwiches that I love but don’t always have occasion to ferret out. The burger combines a few key things: the patty is a pork and shrimp mixture, the veg is butter lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro and Do Chua (those tasty bright carrot and daikon pickles, I added jalepenos to mine because I felt like it), the condiment is duck liver pate and a homemade Sriracha mayo. The end result is something that tastes distinctly Asian and very much American all at once. It’s a great switcheroo on a backyard classic, which is about as close to fusion as I’ll ever get. And it’s damn, damn tasty.

As a burger it takes a good bit of pre-planning, especially of you pickle the do chua yourself. Which I did. In addition to time, making do chua also takes a good bit of olfactory fortitude, especially if you don’t like the smell of boiled pig ass—which is about as accurately as I can describe the smell of opening a container pickled daikon. I mean my wife literally changed my kid’s diaper when I cracked open the stuff in the other room. It’s that big of a stink. BUT other than the time and smell challenges, the whole thing comes together pretty easily. And damn if it’s not worth it—char flavored delicious patty, bright crisp cucumbers and pickled veg all set off by the fatty unctuousness of duck liver and Sriracha heat. It’s even better if you can score some crusty, pillowy bread to bring it all together.

Bahn Mi Burger 1

Bahn Mi Burgers
3/4lb smallish shrimp (40/50 per lb), cleaned and deveined
3/4lb ground pork
fish sauce
thinly sliced cucumber
butter lettuce
quality French bread or burger buns
black pepper
bacon fat
Sriracha mayo (recipe below)
quick duck livers (recipe below)
do chua (recipe below)

Light a charcoal grill. Place the shrimp and about half the cilantro in a food processor and pulse several times until they are finely chopped, but still fairly chunky. Mix the shrimp with the pork, adding in several grinds of black pepper and a few hits of fish sauce. The patties will be extremely soft and sticky because of the shrimp. Place the mixture in the fridge and grease a plate with some of the bacon fat. Get your hands wet with cold water and form patties out of the chilled mixture, placing them on the greased plate and returning them to the fridge. Clean and thoroughly oil your grill grate with some of the bacon fat. Spread a little more fat on the sides of each patty and grill over medium heat, not turning or messing with the patties for several minutes per side. Toast your bread on the grill and assemble the burgers like so: bottom bun, duck livers, cucumber slices, butter lettuce, meat, do chua, cilantro leaves, siricacha mayo, bun. You can add extra sriracha if you need a little extra heat.

Do Chua

This is a recipe I kind of winged after consulting various on-line resources.

1lb carrots, julienned
1lb daikon, julienned
3 jalapenos, sliced thin
3 tbsp salt
4 tbsp sugar
½ cup rice vinegar
warm water

Combine the salt, sugar, vinegar and water in a bowl, stir to dissolve everything. Add the carrots, daikon, and peppers. If the liquid doesn’t cover all of them, add a little more water. Refrigerate for one week, get ready for the smeller coaster when you open them.

Quick Duck Livers

1 lb duck livers, cleaned of sinew
5 tbsp butter
½ cup brandy
½ cup cream
Salt and pepper

Rinse the duck livers and drain thoroughly. Dry the livers on paper towels and season aggressively with salt and pepper. Heat half the butter in a hot pan. Add the livers just before it begins to brown. Let them sear thoroughly on both sides. Flame the pan with the brandy and cook it off. Add the cream and reduce till most of the liquid is gone. Transfer to a food processor and blend until mostly smooth, adding in the remaining butter and a little extra cream if necessary. Check for seasoning, cool and refrigerate until needed.

Sriracha Mayo

1 egg yolk
2 tbsp rice vinegar
splash of water
solid pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
Sriracha to taste

Whir the egg yolk with the water, vinegar and salt in a food processor. Add a little sriracha. With the processor going, slowly add the oil in a thin stream until well emulsified. Taste and add more sriracha until desired heat level is achieved.

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Burger Experimentalism Vol 1: The Classic

burger classic 1

Light a fire. As you do, wander the yard to the shed, find the fridge in it and open a coldbeer. The coals need time to burn yet. Besides, it’s hot out. A man get’s thirsty.

Stare blankly. Doesn’t matter at what. Stopping thought is good for a brain from time to time.

Fry some bacon. A house that smells like bacon at 4pm is a better house than it was at 3:45.

Use your hand to mix lamb and beef. Feel the cold flesh of the fresh grind between your fingers. Smell its dusky bloodsmell. Squeeze together and create an entirely new beast from the minced bits of two.

burger classic 2

Make a ball of the new beast, make it the size of a tennis ball. Make several more. Make them into patties two fingers thick. Make them uniform and blunt the edges. They will cook better that way.

Salt liberally and remember why it was once used as currency. Rub (also liberally) with bacon fat and wonder why it’s not currently used as currency.

Tomatoes. Find a good one. Hopefully it’s your own. If you have occasion, go to the yard. Pick one. Stare blankly.

If good lettuce enters your vision, pick it as well. If good lettuce enters your vision, you’re a better gardener than me. And you’re probably not standing in Texas August in a draught year.

Check the fire. The coals should be talking by now, speaking of heat and resinous pops and thrown sparks. Place your grate well above the heat and close the lid. Right now the grate is only Texas hot. Let it approach Africa hot.

burger classic 3

Slice some very sharp cheddar. Break a sizable piece of stilton. Fish a quality pickle from its jar. Bite, repeat.

Return to the yard. Lay the beasts down to the flame and let them be. Lid up. Master the rhythm of the grill man’s afternoon. Stare blankly. It’s probably time for another coldbeer. Drink it in.

Today is a day for The Classic. Take comfort in silence. And the well considered detail of a tried and true meat sandwich. Tomorrow will be a day for something new.

Burger classic 4

The Classic

½ lb ground grassfed beef
½ lb ground lamb
Dried onion flakes

High quality pickles
Butter lettuce
Ripe tomatoes
Bacon, cooked, bacon fat reserved
Brioche bun, store bought or homemade, toasted
Yellow mustard
Homemade mayo

Light a charcoal grill. In a bowl mix your meats with the oregano, onion and black pepper. Salt the outsides liberally. And smear with bacon fat. Grill your burgers over heat that will allow you finishing them to medium. Add the cheese and close the grill’s lid to melt. Assemble the burgers with pickles, lettuce, tomato slices and bacon. Add a little yellow mustard and mayo. Enjoy the taste of summer.

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