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The Perfect Burger

by Jasper James McGreavy 2 months ago in fact or fiction
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Every family has a secret recipe...

For me, summer will always be about my uncle's burgers, none more so than the one he gave me on my 12th birthday. He had this secret recipe he refused to share with anyone and only brought out once a year for the 4th of July weekend. He always threw a huge BBQ at his house and the whole family would come together, traveling from up and down the country. Even distant relatives came all the way from overseas; people I would have never known I was related to. Seeing each other was nice but really, we were all there for the food, and his burgers more than anything. He always made a huge batch, enough to feed the whole family, but still, people would fight over them trying to get just one more. He always made sure I got one though and this year, on my 12th birthday, my uncle made a special one just for me.

He said it was his usual recipe but "with better meat" and the moment I bit into that special birthday burger, my life changed. I had never tasted anything like it. I had been eating my uncle's burgers for years, but this one was different. I couldn't place my finger on why. I didn't find out what made that burger so special for exactly six years, until on my 18th birthday when I saw my uncle for the last time.

Lung cancer. Horrible way to go.

My mother said I didn't have to go, it was my birthday and she didn't want me to see him like that on what was supposed to be my "special day". Nobody had been to visit him for so long and I hated the thought of him alone in that house. I had heard the whispers of how hard it was for them all to look at him, so one by one they just stopped going and left him alone. So, I insisted. Demanded. It was my birthday and I said we were going. We drove for over an hour to his house. I remember that day with absolute clarity. Better than any other day of my life.

The once-proud garden he threw 4th of July weekend BBQs in had fallen to ruin. Bushes sat overgrown, the grass dead and covered in weeds. Even his prize grill had been left out and become rusty. It was as if the garden was an extension of him and was suffering the same slow death from cancer as he was.

Ths inside of the house hadn't fared much better. It wasn't dirty or broken, but empty and soulless. Every other time I had been here, the rooms had been overflowing with distant cousins and people I couldn't even guess how I was related to. The living room where we'd pile in to watch Baseball or the kitchen where the older family members would drink cocktails. I hadn't been allowed in there. It occurred to me as my mother and I walked through the ghostly empty house that I now never would.

We entered his bedroom. The vision of how he looked at that moment seared itself into my memory. For the whole time I had known him, my uncle had been this huge, larger-than-life man. The center of attention in any room he stepped into. He had this mammoth, contagious smile and a belly laugh that seemed to shake very ground around him. But when I saw him in that bed, he was none of those things. I could barely see him amongst the sheets, his body seemed to have melted away since I was last here. Now he was smaller than me and barely seemed able to lift an arm. He still wore a smile, but it wasn't like the one he had before. Like his house and his garden, it was empty and dead.

Yet he was still my uncle and I loved him. My mother had feared the sight of him like this would have scarred me for life; terrified or disgusted me, send me running out of the room. She thought it would replace every good memory I had of him and soil my happy past. It did none of these things (although she has told me in one of our few recent exchanges she blames this for the way I turned out). Despite the man before me holding no visual similarity to the uncle I knew, I still only saw the same man who had served me burgers straight from the grill. Where the rest of my family only saw the cancer, I continued to see the man. I think maybe that is why he told me what he did next.

He told me his recipe.

Not just the normal one he used for all the burgers but the special one he gave me for my birthday one year. The type of burger he usually saves for himself. The type of burger made from human meat. You would have thought such a revelation would have disgusted me, yet I felt none. Clarity is closer to what I experienced. That burger had been on my mind every day for the last six years. This information was like the fog had lifted, the clouds had cleared, the stars had aligned. It made sense.

He whispered the recipe in my ear so my mother couldn't hear. He didn't have it written down but like the rest of that day, I remembered it perfectly, even all these years later. I think he knew I would.

He told me rules, too. Three of them that I must follow no matter what;

1) Do not share the recipe with anyone. This is special because it is ours. Only on my deathbed can I pass it on, as he did to me, and only to someone special.

2) I was not to use the 'special ingredient' until I had perfected making the burger without it. Doing so would be a waste of high-quality meat. Cooking is more than just following a recipe and I would need practice.

3) The burgers I make, no matter if I use the secret ingredient or not, we're only to be shared by family and the closest of friends. They're not for sale, they're not for the general public, they're for us and us alone.

These rules had been passed onto him (although I never knew from who my uncle learned them) and now they were passed onto me. These rules allowed this to continue and, without them, the legacy could be lost forever.

He passed away a few days later.

I started cooking right away. I practiced every day, making his burgers from beef, turkey, lamb... everything except human. It quickly started to drive my mother crazy. She yelled at me a few times with tears in her eyes. I can't really blame her; I dominated the kitchen and threw everything I had into my practice (I'll admit now, I may have gotten a bit carried away). It must have looked pretty unhinged to her. She thought I was doing it out of grief and no matter how many times I explained to her how important it was I perfect my technique, she wouldn't listen. By the time I left for college in October, I think she was happy to see me go.

I moved into shared accommodation with four other people. They reacted a lot better to my obsessive burger making. Students are naturally bad cooks, so they were all too eager to gobble up whatever I made. They would come home from nights out on the town, drunk or high or often both, and acted like what I served them was a gift from the gods themselves. I know serving them was against my uncle's rules - they were basically still strangers at this point - but I couldn't eat everything I made myself and I would have hated to see it all go to waste. Besides, my burgers still weren't as good as my uncle's. I was getting there but still had a long way to go, so technically I wasn't breaking the rules by serving imperfect versions of my to my roommates. Word spread fast; friends of friends and friends of friends of friends started coming by. Soon I was serving the whole campus. I started charging as a way to cover the costs of ingredients so I could keep practicing. Again, I know this broke my uncle's rules but I had a good reason, so I made an exception.

I was approached by the food and drink society. They wanted me to join. At first, I rejected the idea, I was not a foodie, I just loved my uncle's burgers. I couldn't explain to people why they were so important, so everyone just assumed I was super into food. The society rep told me they have a great kitchen workspace and can help members cover the cost of ingredients, plus it looks great on a resume. I joined, thinking I could back out later if I didn't like it. When I saw the kitchen for the first time, I realized what I had been missing. I had the right recipe, I had the right ingredients, I even had the right technique but the tools I was working with were inferior. I called my mum that night and asked her if anyone still had my uncle's cookware, but she said it had all been sold off or thrown away. I was furious, he would have wanted me to have it all. It was my right as his legacy. I wanted to yell at her but managed to hold it in. I hung up instead. That was the first time we had talked in months.

Using the society's kitchen was huge. It totally changed how my burgers were coming out and I was one step closer to my uncle's standard. I kept selling what I made to the student body but now that the society was covering my ingredient bill, I used what I earned to buy better and better cookware. I went through several pans, bowls, spoons, mincers... For every single thing I used, I must have tried 100 versions until I settled on the perfect tools for the job. I got them monogrammed.

I also made sure I had the perfect hunting knife, for when the time came.

By the time I graduated I had grown confident enough in myself and my tools that I decided I was ready to move on to the real thing, although I had to wait for the perfect time to present itself. All of this would have been a waste if got caught on my first kill. One night, such an opportunity presented itself.

I was out late one night after drinking with friends and cut through an ally to get home when I saw him huddled up against a dumpster for warmth. A homeless man, alone and unwanted by the world. Nobody would miss him if he vanished. We were only a block from my house, I lived alone and there was nobody around. I offered him a bed and a warm meal and he accepted. I gave him it, too. I feel that's important. I made sure his last moments were better than his last few years probably were. I let him get cleaned up and cooked him up some stew then let him use my bed. I slit his throat as he slept. I took what I could use for cooking and dumped the rest in the river. I made my first human burger the following night but it tasted wrong. It wasn't the same. I tried cooking with what I had of him a few times, but it never came out right.

I had stayed in contact with my friends from the society. There were some pretty great cooks there. Nothing they made came close to that perfect birthday burger of course, but it was certainly better than most of the food you'd get. One of the things I liked most was everyone respected each other's secrets; we swapped tips, but never recipes. I don't know how they made their signature dishes and they never knew how I made mine. Thanks to their guidance, I branched out a bit. I adapted my uncle's recipe to make tacos and bolognese. I could make any mince-based dish work after a little practice and tweaking. With each new recipe I formulated, I wondered how it would taste with human.

Our circle grew over time. A lot of us started going to conventions where we sold our food to larger crowds and met with other foodies. Every time, it felt like the buzz centered on my burgers. They sold better than anything else. Everyone wanted one. I was starting to know how my uncle must have felt at his BBQs, with the whole extended family tripping over each other to get his food, but the knowledge I had messed up my one attempt at the human burger haunted me. It wasn't until I was chatting with a fellow burger maker that it hit me.

"These are great. Where do you source your meat from? You can really taste the quality."

I felt like a fool! It was so obvious; I hadn't used quality meat. I asked around the convention, talked to everyone I could and asked them for advice on sourcing the best meat. They all told me the same things. Well-fed and free-range livestock. The better the livestock eats, the better it tastes. But the thing they said that inspired me most was three simple words; "know your meat". Those words echoed around my head that day as I walked the convention floor. I looked at all the great food my fellow foodies were serving and a smile crept across my face.

"Know your meat." Oh, I knew plenty of meat alright.

I started to get to know the other foodies better. I found out who lived alone, who had another job, what areas they lived in. All the information I needed to know who I could make disappear. It wasn't long until I'd found my first target. I lured him out to my place one night with promises of showing him my 'secret recipe', with the insistence he couldn't tell anyone he was coming. I hit him over the head with a frying pan while he was eating - not hard enough to kill him, just enough to disorient him and stop him from fighting back. I stuffed a gag in his mouth, stripped him and bound his wrists and ankles before he could come to his senses. I couldn't hear what he was saying through the gag but I think he begged for his life. I carried him to my bathtub and slit his throat so he bled out. It was much cleaner than when I had killed the homeless man, I wish I hadn't done it in my bed last time. I harvested what I could use and chopped up what I couldn't as small as possible. I put the into bin bags in small amounts and froze them. Later, I disposed of it through my contact at butchers, mixed in with animal carcasses, hiding a small amount in each one. They had no idea what I was doing. I'm not sure how my uncle got rid of his bodies, he didn't have time to tell me, but I was proud of the solution I came up with. I still am.

Unlike with the homeless man, I couldn't wait until the following night. I prepared him right away. It was three in the morning by the time I had a burger in front of me and I was exhausted but the moment I bit into that burger, it was all worth it. He was divine. It was like I was 12 years old again back in my uncle's garden. I had done it. I had finally made the perfect burger.

And I couldn't stop now.

I was caught in the end, as I'm sure you know.

I was careful, at first. I only chose select victims, those who wouldn't be missed or whose disappearance could be explained away. I was eating human meat burgers as often as possible, each one tasted slightly different, each person bringing their own unique flavor. I found myself wondering how every new person I met would taste and for many of them, I couldn't resist finding out. I couldn't keep up supply for my own demand while being careful, there just weren't enough perfect victims around, so I started settling for the imperfect ones.

I don't know what first tipped them off, it could have been any number of things, but once the police were aware something was happening, the floodgates opened. They found bodies - a lot of bodies - (or what was left of them, anyway). They even found the homeless guy I ditched in the river. They managed to ID enough to see a pattern. Once I was on their radar, it was over. If I had stopped when I first heard reports of what they had found, maybe I would have gotten away with it but by that point, I was in too deep. I had to keep killing. I had to keep eating.

I was mid-kill when they came for me. I'd found a perfect victim, a new foodie in the convention scene. Single, from out of town, no family ties. Turns out they were bait. I should have seen it. In retrospect, they were too perfect, but at the time I was blinded by my craving and they just looked so delicious.

Armed units burst through the door just as I was about to hit my prey. My arrest is the only part of this whole story I don't remember very clearly; everything after the door opened is a blur and full of holes. I know they tased me and I remember being bothered that I wouldn't get to eat my latest victim more than anything else. Other than that, I draw a blank. I so longed to know how they tasted. Even now, years later, knowing I will never get to taste them keeps me up at night.

I'm on death row now and my time is running out. The case against me was pretty rock solid. This will be my final post to this food blog. I have requested man as my last meal, but I do not think I will get it. When my family found out what I had done, they wanted nothing to do with me so unlike my uncle I have nobody to share my secret with, so here it is. My recipe for the perfect burger in full;

(Makes 4 patties);

  • 500g mince
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 9 spring onions, finely chopped

Fry the spring onion in an oiled preheated pan until it begins to brown. Set aside.

Mix the mince, herbs, spices, and egg together in a bowl and add the onions. Mix well. Form into individual patties using your hands.

Cook on a preheated barbecue or griddle pan for 5-6 minutes on each side. Serve in a bun with your choice of condiments.

fact or fiction

About the author

Jasper James McGreavy

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