Food & Swine

Build A Better Burger


This weekend I was privileged to compete in the “Build A Better Burger” National Burger Cook-off at the Sutter Home Winery (part of the Trinchero Family Estates) in St. Helena, California.  I was an Alternative Burger finalist with my “Sour Apple Pork Burger”, which is a pork burger, glazed with an apple butter mixture, topped with cheddar cheese, cayenne candied bacon, tart cinnamon apples and onion haystacks on a soft potato roll.


This competition was nothing short of an absolute masterpiece.  My husband and I had a fabulous time, I got to meet so many people from around the U.S. that have similar interests in food competitions as I do and soaked up the wonderful California sunshine.  From top to bottom, each person involved with this event was laser focused in absolutely taking such care to see that each guest was cared for and tended to constantly.  We were purely spoiled.  We had timers to help us with the details of our stations, running for extra tools if we needed or letting us know the time to the minute whenever we asked.  Michele, the event director, (besides doing everything else imaginable for the day) came by as the time dwindled to assist us in taking our plate of burgers to the judges table.


I’ll give you some details of the big day.  There are so many that I may break them up into other posts.  They had a lovely professional photographer that will be sending lots of pictures so I’ll post again and show you some of those.


The day of the event I felt a fair amount of nerves leading up to the actual time that I got to go into the ‘preparation zone’ as I called it.  My time for prep was from 11:10 a.m. – 12:40 p.m.  In the few minutes before, I used the porta-potty (I know TMI but I didn’t want to have to go, ya know?!) and I LOCKED MYSELF IN THERE!  Are you serious?, you may be asking?  Well, yes I am.  They were the fanciest, flushing-est porta potties I’ve ever been in and everything was so silver and shiny, after I flipped the lock to GET OUT I missed the fact that you had to flip a super shiny handle to trip the actual latch on the door.  I freaked a little.  A LITTLE meaning ‘slightly’ kicking the door like Bruce Lee and possibly also uttered (or screamed!) a naughty word.  After about 30 seconds in lockdown this brain-iac figured out the latch and escaped.  Thank you Lord for sparing me the embarrassment.  I’d have never lived that down.

After the porta-potty drama… right before I went in to the ‘zone’.



The actual preparation of my burger went pretty smoothly.  I never had any children at my feet, the dog lapping up the smokin’ hot bacon grease I discarded in the yard etc.  It was smooth and calm.  People came to my ‘tent-kitchen’ and asked questions and I visited a little bit, on and off.  There were a few hiccups but that was to be expected.  Nothing crazy, at all.  The pork product they got for me was amazing.  It was a *Duroc product, from Iowa of all places. (Thank you Chef Jeff Starr for setting that up.) Succulent shoulder, ground beautifully.  The burgers went on the Weber grill flawlessly and stayed moist.  Using my thermapen was all the insurance I needed.  I pulled them at 143 degrees and let them rest. They carried over to 148-150 degrees, which kept the meat moist and the rest of the burger came together quite well.  Walking up to the judges table was a blur but the judging I remember quite handily.   The judges were fantastic, each of them offering the kindest comments.  They all seriously knew their food in different ways and were so knowledgeable when it came to discussing our recipes, as they had them to study for weeks prior to the event.

Where is my dang chef’s knife?


It was getting down to the wire!


Sticking that skewer in just right so the burgers didn’t topple over.


Mr. James McNair, the emcee and lead judge.  And superb southern gentleman.


Kevin from Weber Grills, he had the whole burger down by the time I got back and grabbed the mic!


Talking about raising hogs in Iowa.  (Oh and about my lucky pig dangle-earrings.)



At the conclusion of the event, the winners were chosen.  The “People’s Choice Award” was given out first.  I missed the announcement because I couldn’t quite hear the announcer on the mic and all of the sudden they were putting the medal around my neck.  WHAT?  “People’s Choice” was my goal.  I knew my burger would be approachable for any palate and hoped my Midwest-ness had gone over with the guests.  $2,500 is a nice sum of money of course, I was SO happy!  The rest of the awards went by, Krista winning 2nd Runner Up for her “German Currywurst Burgers” (she’s a horse-gal, yippee!) and the lovely Ellen winning 1st Runner Up for her fabulous “Chicken Dressed as Duck Burgers”.  Finally, I was ready to hug the overall $15,000 winner.  After all, that is a massive amount of money.  I’ve never won anything like that, so naturally ‘they’ were going to be excited! (I never assumed I could win after winning “People’s Choice”). The announcer was quite funny and talked around a bit.  Then, the announcement was made and I heard ” … and her Sour Apple Pork Burger”.  I was floored.





Couldn’t do anything but possibly hug James McNair, a judge and the heart of “Build A Better Burger”.


They plopped a giant check in my arms and the moments after that were a blur.  I’m so thankful to my husband for taking photographs and being there with me.  He is the BEST.

We dined with beef finalist and runner-up Bill and Jenn that evening at “Press” in St. Helena.  It was amazing.

We departed the next day for home and it is back to reality!  I’ll forever be thankful for the friends I made, the experience at the event and to the Trinchero Family, staff and sponsors of the event.

I’ll write more soon, for now I must take my daughter to preschool, get groceries and do laundry. My husband is off to load hogs and has been on the phone non-stop this morning.  Welcome Home!

More pictures from our trip:

The pathway to our beautiful accommodations.


Loving the beautiful vines.


The roses were everywhere and gorgeous!


Plenty of this flowing…


The history, my favorite part.


Here I am with Michael from L.A., he was the Beef Grand Prize Winner!  WOW!


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  • Reply countrylinked May 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Congratulations to you! What an honor! Your pork burger sounds wonderful and I am so happy for you. I was raised on pork and pork burger fresh from the farm. Nothing better in my book. :)
    Laurie – Country Link

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Thank you so much Laurie! It is a tasty little (big) burger! Thanks for the congrats, again. XOXO

  • Reply Beth Ann May 19, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I was so thrilled to see the picture on Facebook with you and your giant check!!! Way to go!!! I am thrilled for you! And for PORK!!! :-)

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Beth Ann, thank you so much! The giant check is unlike anything I’ve ever held. Best part… they spelled my name correctly! They really had it together out in Cali. Thanks for the kind words. XOXO

  • Reply Christine wulf May 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Congratulations!! We knew you would win!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you Christine!

  • Reply Lisa B May 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    This is just SO AWESOME! And what’s a girl gotta do to get invited over to the Clark’s for dinner??!! :) Congrats!!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      You have to schedule a pitching lesson at the right time of day and linger around while I start up the grill! XOXO See you at the ballpark!

  • Reply jillzer8 May 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, you are a true talent as well as a contesting force to be reckoned with!!
    So happy for your win Cristen!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      Jill, you are so sweet and a kind friend. Thanks for the support, you are amazing. Now, start your blog already!

  • Reply Sherri Traviss Pike May 19, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    What a great accomplishment…what is in store for you next? I say your own tv show on Food Network!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      Hahaha I need to hit the gym before ANY T.V. anything… doesn’t it add 20 pounds? I can’t afford that! Ha! Thanks for the support Sherri!

  • Reply Darren Baetsle May 19, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Great Job! Come down to the Keota Fun Days and show off your wonderful work. See you in June

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      That would be fun Darren! Are you manning the grill?

  • Reply Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple May 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I am so proud of you! Congratulations, Cristen – YOU ROCK!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Thank you! It is amazing what a little Iowa charm and some dangle-pig earrings will do for a girl.

  • Reply Mollie @Sprinkles of Life May 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    How awesome?!?! Congrats to you! And that burger sounds DELISH! :)

  • Reply sherry beattie May 19, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Congratulation s what fun to be able to do what you love!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks Sherry! It was so fun to compete in something like this. Now I know the grill a bit better too, total bonus. Thanks for the congrats!

  • Reply lisakeys64 May 19, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Congratulations on this most prestigious win! Your first huge win will always be a memorable one “drink” it all in—don’t turn back into a pumpkin too soon

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      I sure won’t turn into a pumpkin Lisa… hopefully! :) Lots of laundry and dishes to catch up on… is that pumpkin-ish?

  • Reply Kathleen Parker May 20, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Congratulations Cristin! A fantastic story, and your husband took great pictures! So proud of you and your “midwesterness”!!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      Thanks Kathleen, he did take great pictures. My new lens turned out to be a nemesis of mine but a friend of his. Thanks for the kind words. XOXO

  • Reply brook lust May 20, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Congrats!!Way to go!! So happy for you!!Beautiful pictures!!

  • Reply Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids May 20, 2014 at 3:43 am

    Congratulations Cristin! How amazing! So proud of you and for promoting pork on top of it!

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 3:52 am

      Thanks Val! It can only help (promoting pork) right?! :)

  • Reply Mommar6 May 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Congrats. Love that you did this. I dream of being a cooking competition judge! Did it once in college ( long time ago) and had so much fun.

    • Reply Cristen May 20, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      It was such a fun competition! Judging would be fun too! I’m not sure I am cut out for it though, I can’t eat goat cheese and everyone seems to put it in everything! :)

  • Reply Tiff Aaron May 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Congratulations on an amazing win!

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