Burger battle blitz

The winner of the 2018 Burger Battle: Pangaea Bier Cafe’s all-american bacon cheeseburger.

The winner of the 2018 Burger Battle: Pangaea Bier Cafe’s all-american bacon cheeseburger.

Photo by Stephanie Stiavetti

Last Thursday, 15 of the region’s best chefs competed in the sold-out 2018 Sacramento Burger Battle. Downtown’s Cesar Chavez Plaza hosted this year’s melee of beef, beer, chefs and burger-lovers, permeating a square mile with the smoky aroma of flame-kissed grilled beef. Each year, a $70 standard ticket grants attendees a voting token, a branded beer glass, an unlimited number of burger tastings and as many beverages as they can pour down their gullets. It’s a burger connoisseur’s dream.

Local chefs take this competition seriously, and anyone paying attention will notice a palpable passion emanating from the grill stations, where cooks furiously fling patties, buns and toppings to create hundreds of burgers. Pay close attention and you’ll hear cooks compare notes and exchange good-natured jabs.

“Woah! These caraway seeds are super bomb.”

“Yeah, the grind on this beef is all artisanal and shit.”

“Wake up and get your game face on, dude! Step it up!”

Make no mistake—the Sac Burger Battle isn’t just a gigantic festival of meaty debauchery. All proceeds from the event benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, a cause close to organizer Rodney Blackwell’s heart. For Blackwell, the event is far more personal than just bringing people together over beef; in the past seven years, he’s raised over $200,000 for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis research.

“My oldest daughter has Crohn’s,” Blackwell says. “In a moment of feeling helpless as a parent, and without an advanced science degree to help search for a cure, I thought: ’Why not bring the amazing vibe I experienced at the Denver Burger Battle to Sacramento?’”

What’s at stake for chefs is the respect that goes along with winning one of the two Burger Battle championship belts. There’s the Judge’s Choice award, selected by a panel of local food glitterati such as Billy Ngo of Kru and Janelle Bitker of Eater (formerly an editor at SN&R), and the People’s Choice, chosen by attendees as each slides their voting token into a box at the table of their favorite burger. Eruptions of applause break out whenever there’s a token drop. The excitement is infectious.

“I love that the chefs take it so seriously,” Blackwell says. “The restaurants and chefs that compete invest a lot of time and money. They’re eager to showcase what they can do. Every attendee is a potential customer and for many, it’s their first time trying a restaurant’s food. It’s a great chance to make a fun first impression.”

Empress Tavern and Dawson’s Steakhouse took home titles in 2017, and prior to that, Pangaea Bier Cafe snagged a belt in 2016 and 2015. This year, Pangaea’s entry—an all-American-style bacon-cheeseburger (pictured) with no gimmicks besides incredible ingredients and rock-solid technique—wowed judges and attendees alike, earning the craft pub both belts. It’s the first time in the event’s history that one restaurant has swept the entire battle. With four belts on Pangaea’s awards shelf, competition will be even more fierce as chefs try to topple the multi-crowned burger champion in 2019. Wake up and get your game-face on, dudes.