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Food and Drink Features

Let them eat onion burgers

Thousands flock to El Reno each year to enjoy the city’s most iconic food.

Devon Green April 30th, 2014

El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day

10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday

Main Street, downtown El Reno



Jeremiah Roberts at Johnnie's Grill
Photo by Shannon Cornman

Creating the world’s largest fried onion burger took some ingenuity and a pioneering spirit. It required creativity and hard work, but in the end, 8,000 people watched the first 8 1/2-foot-wide burger lifted off of an oversized grill in 1989.

El Reno’s Fried Onion Burger Day is now in its 25th year, and it has come a long way. The organizers have the hard part down to a science with a custom grill and a convection oven — which measures 12 feet by 12 feet — built especially for the festival.

“We didn’t even have an oven (for the 350-pound bun); that came later,” said Debbie Harrison, program director of the El Reno Main Street Program.

The El Reno Main Street Program plans promotional events — like the Christmas parade during the holiday season — in downtown El Reno throughout the year. But it all started with the burger day to foster a sense of community and celebrate El Reno’s most iconic food. Onion burgers have been a part of El Reno’s food culture since the early 1900s, when beef was scarce and expensive. Adding onions to a meager hamburger patty was a way to boost flavor and bulk.

This year, more than 25,000 people are expected to visit El Reno to watch the creation of the world’s largest onion burger. It will be made with 350 pounds of beef and 150 pounds of onions. The 350-pound bun consists of, among other things, 60 eggs and 15 gallons of water. It will be baked the day before in a huge, custom-made convection oven.

Citizens of El Reno are encouraged to chip in to help make the burger. On Friday morning, there will be a volunteer onion-peeling party hosted at Gilmore’s Pub & Barefoot Bar, 112 S. Choctaw Ave., and a meat-rolling party at The Centre Theatre, 110 S. Bickford Ave. The 350 pounds of meat are courtesy of OKC West Livestock Market Inc., Alfadale Stock Farms, Oklahoma Beef Council and Larry’s Meat Inc. Local grocer Beachler’s IGA will donate the onions.

During the first Burger Day, hungry participants bought more than 1,300 onion burgers. Over 25 years, attendance has swelled to 25,000 people from as far away as Australia who come to celebrate a food created out of necessity and a tradition maintained as a point of city pride.

There will be live music from the El Reno Jazz Band, Small Town Sound, Suckerpunch Suzie, Shiloh Station and the Mike McClure Band.

A variety of food vendors will be there for the hungry masses, including food truck El Reno Original Onion Fried Burgers, parked at the El Reno Tribune. Other food choices include funnel cakes, turkey legs and caramel apples, all sponsored by various local organizations.

Local favorites Sid’s Diner, Johnnie’s Grill and Robert’s Grill will be open and serving onion burgers. There will also be a burger-eating contest from 10 a.m. to noon in the big burger area downtown.

And, of course, the focus of the event, the big burger, will come off the grill at 1 p.m.

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