Cook’s Corner

Persistent professor tracked down A&W barbecue recipe


Sleuth’s Corner

Q. I always read in your column about people who find something they like at a potluck, and then they can’t get the recipe. I always thought that was hooey, but then my own niece told me at a Labor Day reunion that she couldn’t give me the recipe for her biscuits because the recipe was her secret invention. All I can tell you is they tasted like old-fashioned pimiento cheese. There’s got to be someone with a similar recipe to share.

Rebecca , Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Main Dish

1950s A&W Root Beer Stand Barbecue

8 pounds ground beef

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup Open Pit Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper

2  1/2 cups finely chopped onions

Brown and drain hamburger. Make an open space in middle of pan and add other ingredients except onions. Stir good and often. When it begins to simmer, add onions. Simmer until onions are translucent and done. Serve on buns. Makes 32 servings. Leftovers can be frozen.

Per serving: 218 calories (48 percent from fat), 11 g fat (4.6 g saturated, 4.9 g monounsaturated), 74 mg cholesterol, 23 g protein, 4.5 g carbohydrates, 0.3g fiber, 628 mg sodium.

Main dish

Al Golden’s University of Miami Chicken Chili

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 cups chopped yellow onions

2 tablespoons cup minced garlic

2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 yellow, cored, seeded and chopped

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste

4 large tomatoes

2 to 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Cook the onions until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the bell peppers, beans, chili powder, pepper flakes, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute.

In a food processor, crush the tomatoes in batches (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add the tomatoes to the saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub chicken breasts with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Cut into 3/4-inch chunks. Add the chicken to the chili and simmer, uncovered, another 20 minutes. Serve with crackers or cornbread. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 254 calories (22 percent from fat), 6.3 g fat (1.1 g saturated, 3.2 g monounsaturated), 60 mg cholesterol, 26 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 5.3 g fiber, 121 mg sodium.

It seems a lot of us have fond memories of not only the frosty cold glass mugs of root beer at A&W Root Beer stands, but of the food as well.

B. Chamberlain asked whether anyone know how to make the barbecue as served at the stand on Madison Street in Eau Claire, Wis., back in the 1960s. She called the sandwich “the best-tasting anywhere.”

Wonder of wonders, the recipe has been found! And it turns out, it’s not what we’d traditionally call barbecue, but is closer to a Sloppy Joe or “loose meat” sandwich.

“As a teenager, I washed glasses at that wonderful root beer stand owned by Byron Lord,” writes David J. Johnson, social-work professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

“It was a family enterprise with his wife, daughter Rita, his sister-in-law Eva Dahl and his mother-in-law. Eva was a concert violinist who often played beautiful music for us and the customers parked in the lot.

“The loose-meat hamburger recipe was a family secret, and mothers in the neighborhood tried to duplicate it without success. Many years later some friends and I had driven to the Norske Nook in Osseo, Wis., for lunch and their wonderful pie. We got into a conversation with a farmer there who asked if we knew his relatives by the name of Lord that lived in Eau Claire.

“Of course I was delighted to meet this man and asked him about the secret hamburger recipe. He said that Rita Lord was married and lived in Northfield, Minn. I gave him my address, and he promised to mail me Rita’s address. He did just that, and I wrote Rita with some remembrances of our days at the old root beer stand. I also inquired about the recipe for the A&W burgers, and she promptly sent it to me with kind words of those days so long ago.

“Here is the secret 1950s recipe from the A&W root beer stand that has been closed for so many years. The original burgers were served on Tender Crust Bakery buns which did not detract from the flavor of the burgers.”

Here are more reader reminiscences:

• “I could have written the same letter B. Chamberlain wrote about the A&W barbecue sandwich,” says George Young of Miami. “In the ’60s I had a job that took me to Homestead every Thursday. I always stopped at the A&W on U.S. 1 in Homestead across from the Chevy dealer. I always had the barbecue sandwich with fries and a root beer. They were very good. I’d love to have on right now. I knew the owner, Orville Krenkie.”

• “Having grown up in Beloit, Wis., all my family loved the A&W barbecue,” wrote Cheri. “Somewhere along the way we all came up with the following recipe that comes close to theirs: Brown 1 pound ground beef with 2/3 cup small diced onions. Break up meat to a crumble. Drain off grease. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper, 1/4 cup water, 1 can chicken gumbo soup (Campbells), 1 tablespoon ketchup and 1 tablespoon prepared mustard. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.”

• “I will be forever grateful if someone comes up with the real recipe,” said Mary Cole of Homestead. “My husband and I met at the A&W, where I had a summer job and he was a constant customer, always for a root beer and a barbecue. I’d love to surprise him one day with it. I’ve even got a pair of the old glass mugs to put in the freezer for the root beer!”

Cookbook Corner

ESPN’s college football analyst Todd Blackledge has spent years seeking out unique eating spots while on the road for his “Taste of the Town” segments. Now he’s written a book, Taste of the Town: A Guided Tour of College Football’s Best Places to Eat (Center Street, $20), highlighting his favorite spots, interspersed with restaurant recipes and game-day specialties contributed by coaches and their wives.

For the University of Miami, Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach gets the nod, and he provides the recipe here for chicken chili from Hurricane’s head coach Al Golden (as prepared by Kelly Golden). It’s a fun book with recipes that aren’t fussy and a little football lore thrown in.

Other schools in the book include the University of Florida, Florida State, Boston College, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama and the University of Wisconsin.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.

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