By Stephen Dawkins
Chilton Countians enjoy their food. Whether it be barbecue, country style vegetables, fresh fruit or even Mexican cuisine, there’s no shortage of eateries available.
But is there a dish that Chilton County can call its own, that would set it apart from any other Southern community?
Turns out there just might be. Several local purveyors of what is known as a “hot hamburger” say the delicacy is unique to Chilton County.
Originally from the Birmingham area, Traci Smith had never ventured to Chilton County for a meal until she and husband Craig visited Hickory Chip, a restaurant they now own and manage.
“The first time I ever went out in Clanton, I looked at the menu and said, ‘What is a hot hamburger, as opposed to a cold hamburger?’” Traci Smith said.
Smith is now grateful for the dish, and for locals’ affinity for it, because it’s one of Hickory Chip’s best sellers.
A hot hamburger consists of two ground beef patties, each laid on top of either half of a bun. Then, cheese, brown gravy and onions are put over the top.
That’s a “whole” hot hamburger. “Half a hot” would be one patty and half a bun, still with all the fixings on top. The end result is something similar to a hamburger steak but just different enough to be Chilton County’s creation.
Dave Monceaux, proprietor at Kountry Kitchen, one of the best-known locations for a hot hamburger, said customers have asked for jalapenos, mushrooms, raw onions instead of grilled onions, and just about anything else you could think of.
“Anything you can imagine to be put on top, they’ve probably asked for it,” said Monceaux, who added that Kountry Kitchen’s uses fresh meat each day and mixes in a special seasoning. The hamburger meat is grilled on a flat top and open-flame gas grill.
Monceaux, originally from Louisiana, said he’s been coming to Chilton County for 22 years to visit relatives. He has owned Kountry Kitchen since February and has seen many visitors or newcomers to the area try the hot hamburger out of curiosity.
“I’ve never heard anybody disappointed,” he said. “Sometimes they think we mean pepper hot. A lot of people from the city will say it’s kind of like an open-face roast beef sandwich. They always love them, and they come back.
“I’m still amazed at the popularity and how many we sell.”
But who came up with the idea for the hot hamburger? While even local connoisseurs were unsure of the dish’s origin, Terry “T-Bone” Minor at Highway 145 Cafe said he’s heard that hot hamburgers used to be served at C.I. Porter’s truck stop that was located at Interstate 65 Exit 219 in Jemison for many years. The stop offered everything truckers would need: parking, a repair shop and a 24-hour kitchen serving up hot hamburgers.
Minor, once a truck driver himself, said he hasn’t seen hot hamburgers anywhere other than Chilton County. Heserves his own version at the business he took over recently from friends Jamie and Brian Culp, who still help. The cafe was long known as Lessie’s.
Minor said Highway 145 Cafe uses fresh, hand-made patties from Angus ground beef.
“The most important thing is not to use a pre-made patty,” he said. “It’s a tradition in the South and really here in Chilton County.”
For those still skeptical about trying the delicacy, Traci Smith at Hickory Chip offers encouragement.
“If you like hamburgers, then you’re pretty much going to like a hot hamburger,” she said. “I think everybody should try a hot hamburger at least one time in their life.”