Months ago, I got an email informing me that the chain Hopdoddy Burger Bar would be doing a Turducken burger from November 8 to 22, a seasonal offering in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Immediately, I circled the 8th on my calendar. My now-disturbed mind spun with so many questions.
First: Without magic, how would they cram Turducken onto a bun?
For the blissfully ignorant, Turducken is a shady Thanksgiving cult favorite meal consisting of a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey. Each bird is deboned. Until going to Hopdoddy for my first experience, I had never seen Turducken in the steaming, defeathered flesh.
The concept itself seems hugely absurd alone, and way too big and ridiculous to fit a bun. On Thanksgivings past, my family has always had at least four pounds of leftover turkey. Historically, Americans waste roughly 30 to 40 percent of their food supply. And yet on the single most most glorious holiday for leftovers, some people say "fuck it, turkey's not enough" and put a bird in a bird in a bird.
Just think about the logistics here. A bird. In a bird. In a bird. Just a chicken alone, boneless and flattened, would still have some dimension, some height, some meat that takes up space.
Factor in the duck. More space is occupied.
Factor in the turkey. How the fuck are we going to fit this abomination on a sandwich?
My second question: how high was the person who first made Turducken?
It seems pretty unlikely that the original idea for Turducken sprang from a sober mind. Turducken is the kind of thing you would only see on a table in a Dr. Seuss book. It approaches the same zone of weirdness as Tomaton, a wearable Japanese robot that feeds you tomatoes while you walk.
Third: does Turducken have historical precursors?
Across the continents and ages, I could only think of one example of anything like Turducken.
We go back to the ritziest banquets of ancient Rome. One of the features of high-end ancient Roman cuisine was surprise. You bring a whole roasted pig to the table. You have your chef cut it open in front of your guests. Oh snap — there's cooked doves or something else hidden inside. This was the stupendously ridiculous Skittle-studded, pie-topped milkshake of Nero's time.
Fourth: How would the Turducken taste?
To answer this question — and all the others — we must face the Turducken.
To the eye, Hopdoddy's Turducken disappoints. The letdown doesn't come from the fresh-baked egg-washed bun (impaled with a toothpick), which looks promising. It's not the green beans, looking fat and tempura-fried and pretty good. It's not the cranberry sauce and gravy, both seeming like they will be gustatory and textural friends with the rest. It's the Turducken, the bird-on-bird-on-bird monstrosity itself.
Turducken is the hideous promise of a bird in a bird in a bird. The disc of cooked flesh in my sandwich came from birds, but was all muddled. The poultry was ground and mixed and shaped into a standard uniform patty looking like a burger. Nothing was inside of anything but a bun.
The result was that the source of Turducken's black magic was cut. Gone was the hedonistic, uncomfortable feelings that the idea of Turducken engenders.
We summon our own black magic.
If you closed your eyes and ate Turducken, you would taste meat from a few birds. In this sandwich, I would be tasting meat from a few birds. Not all that different, right?
With a strange kind of curious anticipation dammed up, with hunger knifing at my stomach, I firmly grab a hold of my Turducken burger. Cranberry sauce slops out onto the wax paper. I am wearing a white T-shirt and think about going in carefully, but Turducken ain't for the timid. I take a Tyrannosaurus bite.
Okay. Okay. Not all that bad.
A few things make the burger an interesting one. By far the strongest element is the green beans, which have a light tempura-like fry on them. They bring a rich crunch. Another strong point is the cranberry sauce. It has a tart edge that cuts the fat of the patty and gravy (a lighter, blander gravy for sure). Depending on what's in a given bite, you may get an intimation of a General Tso's pizzazz from the poultry, fried stuff, and sweetness of those cranberries. Each bite is a little different.
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The bun is nicely toasted. The patty has some flavor, but doesn't quite rock your taste buds the way it could if Hopdoddy's cooks added more fat to the blend. I was thinking that this thing would be exploding with duck fat, as chuck, your typical burger patty blend, detonates with juice and flavor when cooked to perfection.
All in all, the Turducken burger from Hopdoddy is a solid, different kind of burger. I would say it's worth an order for some novelty and to get your stomach and mind juiced for Thanksgiving. The burger isn't quite Turducken, and it doesn't reach the heights of weirdness that Turducken promises.
Maybe that's a good thing.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar. 11055 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-348-2337.
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.