Beef and open flames is a delicate mix. I’m thankful Ron Shultz knows his craft well enough to mold a bad boy piece of meat into a work of art.
When I happened upon Ron and his Goshen Kiwanians Thursday, July 24, he was gently maneuvering steakburgers on the large grill at their Elkhart County 4-H Fair restaurant. Ron immediately recognized my interest. My comatose stare was a dead giveaway.
But I didn’t want just any burger. This editor-turned-predator eyed an encounter with the mighty “One Pounder.”
Ron turned and asked me, ”Which one do you want?“
"I’ll take that big one right there,” I responded, pointing to one of two monstrous slabs of meat being kissed by flames.
Ron carefully surveyed the burger, then looked left toward the checkout counter. The line wasn’t very long at 2:45 in the afternoon.
"It’s not ready yet, but by the time you get up there to pay, it’ll be ready,“ he said without as much as a blink of an eye. Like I said, this man knows his stuff.
At $14, including a side of crinkle fries, it seemed a bit over-priced, but it ended up being worth every dime. Moments later, when this giant sandwich with its cartoon-sized bun was placed on my tray, it was game on.
I received a couple of funny looks as I headed to the condiment counter. Most patrons were eating ”normal“ 1/3-pound burgers. The burger in my hands, though, should have come with a parking pass.
Found some diced onions and was looking for additional decoration when a kind Kiwanian leaned over and said, ”You need to try this.“ In a metal pot next to the pickles rested onions — onions sauteed in Dr. Pepper and Sprite, the man said.
Whoever thinks of these things should be crowned king or queen of the world, not just the fair. It took two heaping spoonfuls of onions to properly smother the burger. Then I needed eight — yes, eight — pumps on the ketchup dispenser to get maximum coverage.
I found a table at the restaurant’s edge so I could people-watch when I noted a woman and teenage boy giving me and my burger smiles and wide-eyed looks. They sat at table across from mine.
Before I could sink my teeth into lunch, I did what every red-blooded American does these days — I snapped a photo with my iPhone and posted it to Instagram and Facebook. I’ve learned through colleague Marshall King and the Flavor 574 Eat Team that the key ingredient to any good meal is documentation.
I then asked the nice Kiwanian woman at the counter, Lisa Yoder, who had a rare moment of free time, to snap a frame as I took my first bite. She graciously agreed.
Hoisting this burger was equivalent to gripping a basketball for a free throw — you had to get your hands just right. I settled in and worked my way through this beast, enjoying a few fries along the way. In fact, I almost forgot the fries were there.
Took my time to enjoy this perfectly cooked piece of beef, but I had places to be so I had to keep up a good pace. Ron wandered from his grill post, came over to me and asked if the burger was cooked right. It was half-gone, and I showed him the inside of the burger.
"That looks pretty good,” he said.
Within 10-12 minutes, that bad boy burger was a goner. Nothing left on the plate but a drop of ketchup and two onion pieces. A proud moment.
Amy Zimmer of Granger, the woman seated nearby, turned my way moments later and said, ”Oh, my. You ate that whole thing.“ It’s a fair. People can say those kinds of things in public.
I nodded and then looked at David Hutchinson, 15, of Elkhart, who was with Amy. ”You didn’t think I could eat that, did you?“ I asked him.
He shook his head and said, ”Nope.“
Later Thursday, when I read my Facebook feedback, I found a set of comments from Bob Miller, Fairfield High School’s football coach, who just happens to breed steers barely a mile from the 4-H fairgrounds. Bob loves beef — braised, boiled or barbecued, it doesn’t matter. Even his Facebook profile picture is a panel which reads ”Meat Fire Good.“
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
”I'm a little jealous,“ he wrote. ”In all my years going to the fair I have never attempted the pounder. Much respect my friend.“
I shared with Bob how I had hoped I’d see him on the grounds. Next year, perhaps.
”We didn't go down today. Had a chainsaw in my hand most of the day. Saw you tackled the 1 pounder. Well done, well done.“
Actually, Bob, it was medium, leaning toward medium well. But thank you. And thank you, Ron Shultz.