How to Become a Burger Scholar
Don't worry: You're not alone. You're wondering what a burger scholar is, too? “It's OK,” says George Motz, the force behind TV series Burger Land and the documentary Hamburger America, and a self-proclaimed burger scholar. “I’m still scratching my head,” he admits.
That’s because Motz fell into the field, he says. His love of hamburgers led him from state to state, chasing the best burger stories in America, which eventually led to the TV show and book Hamburger America. Next, Motz launched Burger GPS, an iPhone app. In 2016, he also authored the cookbook The Great American Burger Book, and he serves as host and co-executive producer of Travel Channel's Burger Land.
“Over the years,” Motz says, “I've amassed a ridiculous amount of burger knowledge, historical and current, and eaten more burgers in more places than anyone.” And if that doesn’t make the man a burger scholar, we don’t know what would.
Motz’s life almost completely revolves around burgers. What can drive that kind of single-minded mission? “Simply put, I love to eat burgers,” Motz explains. “But even better is that after years of doing this, my reputation now precedes me and to eat a burger at one of my favorite burger joints is to eat among family.” Everyone knows America’s Burger Expert.
A day-in-the-life of a burger scholar is like that of any other educator, Motz says. He spends time researching, writing, and teaching. For his research, he explains, “I spend weeks on the road crisscrossing the country eating two to five burgers a day, covering 400 miles.” When his research is complete, he writes for magazines and most recently, he completed his forthcoming fourth book. “And in my downtime, I cook at outdoor events around the country and teach people the importance of American hamburger history,” he says. Motz’s teaching opportunities have brought him around the world, and most recently to Brazil.
It is, perhaps, a job any real burger lover would dream of. And for those burger aficionados, Motz is here to tell you how you can follow in his footsteps and become a burger scholar.
1. Have integrity. Motz says that having integrity is the number one tenant of his personal ethos. “Without integrity,” Motz says, “you have nothing,” and no one will take you seriously.
2. Listen. This job demands a lot of research, and it’s not all about eating burgers and making calls. “The best information I obtain during research happens when I shut up and pay attention,” Motz says. “I've learned that if I spend two hours just sitting at the counter of a burger joint, observing, I can learn a helluva lot more than any 10-minute phone call.”
3. Eat all the burgers. This might seem obvious, but Motz says that many a wannabe burger expert “assume you can take a bunch of pretty pictures and post them on Instagram and become an expert. This is not the path to true knowledge. I eat a lot of burgers, and just about every burger I've ever shot I've also eaten and finished.” So be ready to research hungry. “Unfortunately, most ‘influencers’ never eat the food they shoot and that is not acceptable,” Motz says. “Simply put, if you don't eat the food, how can you appreciate the taste or the people making it for you?”
4. Take a lot of photos—and not just of burgers. “My research is not limited to photos of burgers,” Motz says. “I shoot everything—the menu, the owners, pictures on the wall. I even shoot the damn parking lot and down the street.” Why does he document so many aspects of his experience? “Sometimes after I've read my notes from an interview, I need to refer to my extensive photo coverage of a burger joint to complete the story,” Motz explains.
5. Show respect. Just like you must show integrity to get others to take you seriously, you must show respect to gain the trust of the people with whom you will work, Motz insists. “The burger joint owners I've come to know over the years trust me and are aware of the burger ‘hero’ status I give them,” he says. “But it's a well-deserved status—because they sometimes have difficulty believing they are an important part of American history.”