Bob’s Burgers has a few ongoing gags reminiscent of the Simpsons opening credits chalkboard. Two come during Bob’s Burgers’ opening credits, featuring the sign of the ever-changing neighboring business and the logos on vans that pull in front of the hamburger shop. The third, though, takes place within the episodes themselves. Bob’s Burgers has a chalkboard of its own, swapping out burger pun after burger pun under the guise of the restaurant’s daily specials. Some are directly acknowledged or created during the episodes—such as Bob Belcher’s daughter Louise writing “The Child Molester comes with candy!” on the board during the pilot—while others are caught in passing glances. But what would they taste like if they were actual hamburgers, not just jokes for a television show?
That’s what Cole Bowden set to find out when he created The Bob’s Burgers Experiment—a fan blog dedicated to crafting recipes to fit the clever names thought up by the show’s writers. Luckily, Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and company took the show’s convention beyond simple gag. As the introduction to the book explains, the burger ideas were also meant to reflect Bob’s desire to be adventurous in an otherwise greasy burger shop. To reflect that, the writers have (in most cases) tried to create burger puns that, at the very least, sound edible.
The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes For Joke Burgers is a culmination of all of these things—jokes turned food experiment blog turned real cookbook—with the guidance of real-deal chefs. It offers more than 70 recipes based on the puns from the show, often paired with cartoons featuring the characters interpreting the themes of the burgers. Even better, though, are the pages that offer cartoons deconstructing the burgers. And it’s a nice touch that each recipe heading comes with the season and episode in which the burger special appeared.
A few of the recipes feel a bit too similar, but all in all there is plenty of diversity for a burger book that features as many recipes as this one does. The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book offers a couple of veggie burgers and some options to mix it up with proteins like tuna and lamb, as well as a few interesting sides. It works in different ethnic cuisines with recipes like the Mediterr-ain’t Misbehavin’ Burger, the Parsnips Vous Francais Burger, and the Every Breath You Tikka Masala Burger.
More important is the introductory culinary education The Bob’s Burger Burger Book provides budding home cooks. In addition to showing just how much can be done with the concept of a hamburger, the book is great about explaining the why and how of cooking. Going back to that Tikka Masala recipe, one step assures readers that the fact that the yogurt will curdle is okay and totally safe to eat. The book also explains that “aioli” is really just a word for “fancy mayo”; where to find particular ingredients (thank goodness for a cookbook that recognizes not everyone lives where they can easily find certain specialty items on a whim or has access to a restaurant supplier); and working with the equipment you’re likely to have at home.
The introductory sections are also fantastically helpful to the amateur cook, offering general burger cooking tips that can be applied to the recipes in The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book or elsewhere, as well as a great section on cooking french fries at home. These sections also set the tone for the book’s humor—just what you would expect from the writers of Bob’s Burgers—while never getting in the way of understanding the recipes. The book averages a good joke or two per recipe, enough to feel like a Bob’s Burgers book without making the recipes difficult to read. The balance is spot on.
With the solid sense of humor, great approach to cookbook writing, and a set of recipes that give the cook plenty of options to stay traditional or get adventurous, the only real disappointment is that the book is a bit undersized. While that may sound like a small complaint, it becomes noticeable immediately when one tries to lay it out on a counter to work on a recipe and the pages turn without something to hold them open. Despite that minor annoyance, The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book is what a good media tie-in should be. It makes sense (it’s almost too obvious), it’s handled with a good deal of care, and it’s actually useful—a real recipe for success.
It’s one thing to read a cookbook from cover to cover for a review (actually, kind of a weird thing to do, if we’re being honest), but it’s another to play around with the recipes—to see how easy they are to follow, how difficult making the food actually is, and what the results look and taste like. I made five burgers from the book, trying to mix it up with ingredients, buns, variations, and so forth to get the best read on The Bob’s Burger Burger Book. My experiments follow.
I figured I’d start with the pilot episode and the basic recipe for a bacon cheeseburger. I didn’t modify anything in the recipe and went with some standard S. Rosen’s buns with sesame seeds. While simple—what one would expect of a bacon cheeseburger?—it was a good place to start, and proof positive of the tips offered in the book. A simple seasoning of salt and pepper, pressed center to stop it from plumping, and cooking in a frying pan with just a little butter made for a fantastic bacon cheeseburger.
The only hiccup here came in the form of the french fries. While the fries prepared as described in the opening pages came out perfect—and I ultimately fell back on those—the variation offered for bacon-y fries finished soggy, despite the egg wash and extra oven time. It might have been case of the initial cooking just being a tad too short or not letting them cool enough before the oven phase. I’m not willing to rule out those possibilities. This was the only real flub in my burger experiments.
Step two was upping the ante to something a little more gourmet—the caramelized shallots and manchego topping with a fig jam spread sounded like elements of a charcuterie in hamburger form—while still rooted in traditional burger tastes. While the manchego and fig play off one another well, and this was yet another simple recipe to prepare, I personally found the fig jam a little too sweet an accompaniment to the beef, though my wife enjoyed it quite a bit. I made this one with similar buns, no variation to the recipe.
This might have been my favorite from the first batch of five I tested. The idea is an all-beef burger atop baby spinach, topped with enoki mushrooms and carrots braised in a soy-ginger-sake broth. The book suggested that substituting a tuna burger here might be a good idea, and I wanted to make sure to try at least one non-beef burger for review, so I decided to make it this one.
The mushrooms proved a little difficult to find fresh—neither regular supermarkets nor the Whole Food near me had them—but an Asian specialty shop thankfully carried them, and they were cheap. The tuna also proved a slight problem, in that the book suggests freshly ground tuna from a fishmonger. Not having one nearby, I tried supermarkets, butcher shops, and the like, but of those that carried fresh (not frozen) tuna steaks, none of them offered it ground or were willing to grind it to order.
I debated putting a few fillets through the food processor to see how that worked out—yes, I immediately thought of the “Bass-O-Matic” sketch from Saturday Night Live—but the fillets were already the perfect size, so I simply seasoned them and cooked as is.
It was more grilled tuna sandwich than burger, but so be it. It was delicious. That comes in large part because you cook the topping mixture in the liquid until the latter is basically gone. The sake flavor comes through perfectly in the finished product. Also, if you have never cooked with fresh ginger before, I highly recommend it. The smells when scraping, chopping, and cooking all are fantastic.
Back to the all-beef burger here, but with an interesting twist. The Summer Thyme Burger folds fresh thyme, rosemary, and feta cheese into the burger, but the real centerpiece is a patty of grilled watermelon that rests under the burger. The recipe also features lettuce, crumbled feta cheese on top of the burger, and an optional spread of mayo.
I was hesitant about the idea of watermelon—salted heavily, then grilled until showing char lines—with a burger. While the result actually didn’t taste too bad, it was another case of being a little too sweet for my personal taste, but right up my wife’s alley. The biggest problem I had is that the fresh rosemary and thyme are such dominant flavors—along with the feta and watermelon—I could hardly taste the hamburger. Strange, but definitely worth the try and deserving of its seasonal name. I made these on the suggested kaiser rolls.
I wanted to close strong with something that simply sounded delicious. This one is stuffed with feta cheese and topped with a mixture of sour cream, Dijon mustard, and chopped chives. I did it on brioche buns and served it with four fried pickles for wheels, to reflect the car presentation of the first time a young Bob made a burger at his father’s restaurant in “Father Of The Bob.” Both the burger and the fried pickles were fantastic, though as with the recipe prior, the feta cheese makes it awfully hard to keep the burger patties together. It requires gentle flipping, and even then they might not finish looking perfectly round. Unless you’re stealing recipes for your own restaurant, though, who cares as long as they taste great, right? Many of those sampled did. None were bad. All were relatively easy to create.