Q: I recently visited a Jack in the Box and they’ve added a burger called the Texas Double Jack. It’s a burger with mustard as the only condiment, much like the Texas Homestyle Burger at McDonald’s. Where did the idea of “Texas-style” burgers originate?
Michael Coppens, Houston
A: The Texanist has spent his entire lifetime—or, at least, a fair portion of it— studying the hamburger. Like many a carnivorous Texas-bred young‘un, he grew up on a regular diet of Dairy Queen and Whataburger. But he also enjoyed burgers at local outlets like the Charcoal Inn, Jody’s Drive Inn, Dottie’s Diner, the Blue Bonnet Café, and the café at the Ponderosa Motor Inn, along with a number of other joints.
After college, the Texanist even spent some time wielding a spatula, flipping burgers for money at a famed spot located on the banks of Lake Austin. It was there, under the tutelage of master burger man C-Boy Parks, a longtime veteran of the legendary Nighthawk Restaurants, famous for their Frisco Burgers, that the Texanist learned to build some mighty tasty burgers, if he does say so himself. He even once invented the “Dave Burger: Highway to Heartburn,” which featured two patties, double cheese, onion, jalapeño, and hickory sauce. Mmm-mmm—the Texanist can taste it (and, in his gut, feel it) now.
Suffice it to say you have come to the right place.
The hamburger is an inherently Texan foodstuff. And the Texanist doesn’t say this just because hamburgers are, at heart, meat sandwiches well suited to the appetites of beef-loving Texans. The Texanist says this because, according to at least one version of the historical record—the one the Texanist prefers—the hamburger was invented in Athens, Texas, by a man named Uncle Fletcher Davis, who served them up to hungry Athenians at his small café on the Henderson County courthouse square in the 1880s. The Texanist will now, without comment, note that other accounts of the hamburger’s invention involve New Haven, Connecticut; Seymour, Wisconsin; and the Village of Hamburg in New York.
It has been reported that the makeup of Uncle Fletch’s burgers included a slice of onion, pickles, mustard … and mayonnaise. Does the fact that the mustardy “Texas-style” burgers you’ve inquired about lack the mayonnaise possessed by the primordial burger somehow make them less Texan? The Texanist doesn’t think so. Why is this? For one, the Texanist has seen an account that has Uncle Fletch mixing his mustard and mayonnaise together into a sort of proto special sauce that was neither solely mustard nor solely mayonnaise—but likely dominated by the mustard, given how much more pungent the yellow stuff is than the off-white stuff. And, also, because mayonnaise-less (and ketchup-less, for that matter) burgers have a hardy pedigree in Texas.
Herd’s Hamburgers, in Jacksboro since 1916, for instance, serves its burgers with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard and has done so for as long as anyone can remember. Before that, current owner Danny Herd tells the Texanist, it just served them with onion, pickle, and mustard, sort of like Uncle Fletch did. And Dirty Martin’s Place, in Austin, has been sending out its tomato-pickle-onion-and-mustard KumBak Hamburger since 1926. And the Whataburger Number 1, a.k.a. the platonic ideal of the fast-food burger, comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and mustard. According to the Whataburger folks the Texanist spoke to, this burger, the original Whataburger, has been the same since it was developed by founder Harmon Dobson in 1950, when the chain’s first outlet was established in Corpus Christi. Dobson, who died in a plane crash in 1970, opted to highlight the mustard because, as he once said, “mustard was a Texas tradition.”
And then there’s Dairy Queen. Although DQ was not founded in Texas, it counts as Texan in the Texanist’s eyes—at least the Texas locations do. The DQ folks inform the Texanist that back when the first Texas DQs opened (the very first was in Austin, in 1947), all the menus were developed by the individual franchisees. Six years later the influential Texas Dairy Queen Operators’ Council launched the Texas Country Foods system, which has been responsible for the likes of the Dude chicken-fried steak sandwich, the Steak Finger Country Basket, and at least two burgers: the Hungr-Buster and the BeltBuster. Both Busters are built with lettuce, tomato, purple onion (a nice touch), yellow mustard, and no other condiment. Dairy Queen was unable to tell the Texanist where, exactly, the inspiration for these mustard-slathered burgers was found.
Which brings us to Jack in the Box and McDonald’s, the two vendors you mention in your letter. The Texanist doesn’t regularly visit Jack in the Box, but he did take the trouble to reach out to them. Alas, they did not take the trouble to reach back. Perhaps the folks at Jack in the Box HQ, which is located in San Diego, California, were spooked by the word “Texas” in his email address. So, alas, the Texanist can’t relay any more information about the Texas Double Jack than you can find on the menu. A nice fella with McDonald’s (headquarters: Chicago) did respond, though, and he told the Texanist that the Texas Homestyle Burger, which was developed by a group of Texas owner/operators and regional McDonald’s staff, first made an appearance in the San Antonio area in 1990, before expanding to other parts of the state. The Texas Homestyle Burger is only available in Texas, he said.
Though they weren’t mentioned in your missive, the Texanist is also nominally familiar with a lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mustard creation that Wendy’s calls the Texas Double Cheeseburger, and the Texas Double Whopper from Burger King, which features the same ingredients but adds jalapeño. So this whole idea of a mustard-positive, mayonnaise- (and ketchup-)less “Texas-style” burger is fairly widespread. Indeed, the etymologist Barry Popik—a onetime Texas resident—points out that informal burger-centric lingo sometimes refers to such burgers as “Texas burgers,” or sometimes “cowboy burgers.” Likewise, a mayonnaise-only burger is sometimes called a “sissy burger,” and a hamburger possessing only ketchup is sometimes called a “Yankee burger.”
As to the question of where, precisely, the idea of the “Texas-style” burger originated, the Texanist’s best guess, after a fair amount of research, is that if Uncle Fletch’s burger was the world’s first burger, then logic tells us that his mustard-enhanced creation was the very first Texas-style burger, too—even though it may have contained a little mayo. Does the Texanist know this for sure? He does not. He can, however, tell you this: the Texas-style burger sure as heck wasn’t created in Connecticut, Wisconsin, or New York. Of this, the Texanist is certain.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.