Cheeseburgers carrying the “lotta” name are served at restaurants across the United States. We rolled through a drive-thru for green-chili burgers at a place called Blake’s Lotaburger in Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico. A diner we visited in north-central Mississippi served up a sandwich it called a Lotta Burger. But neither of those eateries, nor many others in America, make a lotta burger the way shops do in our part of the world.
In the Gaston County area of western North Carolina, where my wife Molly and I both grew up, the Lotta Burger is a submarine-style bun, split in half. Each half’s bottom bun is topped with a burger patty, melted American cheese, homemade finely-chopped slaw and a slice of fresh tomato. Essentially, it’s two burgers made with one sub roll. It’s a delightful sandwich, one that’s often modified to have a half as a cheeseburger and the other half as a ham sandwich or bologna sandwich. Those are often referred to as “Poor Boy” or “Poor Girl” sandwiches. Sometimes they contain other variations with a different meat, specific to a restaurant.
Recently, it occurred to me that this particular style of lotta burger is just a part of the eating culture at small, family-owned community diners in our area. We grew up eating these sandwiches and see them around us every day. But is the style well-known, or even known at all, in other regions of our country and world? You can tell me that by commenting below.
Our State magazine, which covers North Carolina and has earned my respect for how deeply Tar Heel it is, published a 2017 story which said the “Lotta” style of sub bun, slaw, tomato and pickle is unique to the Shake Shop in the town of Cherryville. Despite how much I admire Our State’s reporting, and the Shake Shop’s burgers, that claim about lotta burgers is just plain incorrect. I can name you at least a handful of other local restaurants that serve the sandwich in almost the exact same way.
As I was thinking about the lotta burger style, I upped my appetite for making my own version, by that familiar western North Carolina style, at home. While there are countless restaurants where I love to eat a cheeseburger, I relish a homemade burger nearly as much most of the time. So, this is what I’m calling the North Carolina Lotta Burger. I sometimes call the topping combination “Cherryville Style,” because I associate it with the Shake Shop and Black’s Grill, the latter of which once employed my wife Molly as a cook when she was a teenager.
We hope you enjoy this cheeseburger recipe. Let us know how you tweak it to make it your own unique creation!
North Carolina Lotta Burger
What You Need
1 pound fresh ground beef
salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste
4 sub buns
2 tomatoes, anything but too small
What You Do
1. Make (Or buy if you’d rather, but I’ll tell you that no store-bought slaw will compare to homemade. I often call this old-lady Methodist slaw because it’s somewhat similar to what I grew up eating on hot dogs at suppers on Sunday nights after my church youth group met.) your slaw ahead of time. This is the super-simple slaw recipe we use.
2. Mix your ground beef with your preferred amount of salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce in a large bowl.
3. Divide the whole pound of meat in half. Divide each section in half again. Then divide each section in half again. That will make you eight small sections of beef.
4. Roll the seasoned beef sections into balls, then smash them out into patties. I use a metal hamburger press that was my grandmother’s, but you can use your hands or any other method you prefer.
5. If I’m not grilling, I prefer to cook my burger patties in the oven now, atop a foil-lined baking pan with sides to catch all the grease, which I can easily pour into an empty can later and dispose. I do about 350 to 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. I find that the burgers are much more evenly cooked without being overcooked and juicier than when they’re made in a stovetop pan. (Plus they make a lot less mess by grease popping all over the top of the stove. You can even cover the burgers with another sheet of foil to keep grease from popping as much in the oven.) I started doing this when we started making Oven Burgers, one of our other favorite burger recipes. I’ve never gone back. Plus, I love not having to clean up the frying pan afterward. I just pour the grease, wipe down the baking sheet, and I’m done!
6. Slice your tomatoes into thin pieces. Using a super-sharp serrated knife sure helps cut them easier.
7. Toast your buns slightly. We like to use our toaster oven, but you can pop them in the oven for just a couple minutes. Toast according to how crusty you like your bread. We like it very lightly toasted.
8. Remove your burger patties. Place them back on a fresh sheet of foil and cover each with a full slice of cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes or so to melt the cheese.
9. Top each split bun with two cheeseburger patties side by side, and add a slice of tomato and a spoonful of slaw on each.
10. Serve your Lotta Burgers with tater tots, French fries or even chips if you’d rather go simple and lighter.
Yields 4 Lotta Burgers