Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 2008

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 2008

Build a Better Burger turned 18 in 2008, voting age in America. Since this anniversary coincided with an important national election year, the contest focused on a search for America’s best local burgers. Entrants were asked to send in recipes that were representative of where the contestant lives or grew up, or those that highlighted the foods, products, or cooking traditions of a community, state, or region of the nation. To support the theme, head judge James McNair invited acknowledged experts in the cooking of the five regions of the country into which the contest was divided.

Competition at BBB is always heated, but the 2008 event will probably be remembered as the hottest cook-off ever, with mid-afternoon temperatures soaring to 105 degrees! In addition to nature’s heat, warmth generated from High Noon Productions’ television light banks, installed for Food Network coverage, raised the temperature inside the big tent to record a record high.

James McNair, BBB Honorary Chairman and Head Judge, introduced each finalist to the onstage judges and the invited guests. After passing their burgers to the judges, the contestants remained onstage to read aloud the introductions that they had written as to why their burger was a great regional American burger, then remained to answer questions about their recipes and to hear opinions of the burgers from the strongly opinioned judges. Sutter Home’s culinary team prepared each of the ten competing burgers for serving to the cook-off guests at the same time that the burgers prepared by the finalists were presented to the judges, and attendees marked their ballots for the People’s Choice awards.

After the scores were tallied, Jeffrey Starr, Sutter Home’s Culinary Director and Executive Chef, announced the winners and Bob Torkelson, Sutter Home’s President, presented them with giant checks and arty trophies.

The judges chose the Tidewater Boil Burgers from Susan Scarborough of Fernandina Beach, Florida, as winner of the $10,000 prize for Best Alternative Burgers, but another seafood creation, Ocean State Swordfish Burgers from Valerie Szlatenyi of Wakefield, Rhode Island, captured the People’s Choice award of $2,500.

Contest rules allow previous winners of the Grand Prize who did not win with a beef burger recipe or won before the big increase in prize money in 2004 to try again and go for the big bucks. The 2000 Grand Prize Winner, Jamie Miller of Maple Grove, Minnesota, made a return trip to the finals, as did our 2001 Grand Prize Winner, Kristine Snyder, a harpist from Kihei, Hawaii. Early in the year the two women, who are good friends yet fierce competitors, had been finalists in Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Burgers. Kristine took the top prize in that showdown. The next month, it was announced that Jamie had won Rachael Ray’s annual Burger Bash contest and appeared on Rachael’s show to make her winning burgers. Having won every burger competition in the nation, these two women are arguably the undisputed “Burger Queens” of America, so it was a fun sideline to BBB to watch them compete once again.

Kristine Snyder captured the Grand Prize for the second time with her Hawaii Da Kine Burgers. The cook-off guests agreed with the judges and awarded Kristine the People’s Choice prize of $2,500 to be added to her $50,000 check. Later that afternoon, Kristine headed to New York City to prepare for a Monday morning appearance on NBC’s Today Show.


Sutter Home staff members screened almost 10,000 recipes during the summer and sent all qualified recipes to a preliminary panel of judges: James McNair, Head Judge; Andrew Moore, McNair’s Culinary Associate; Jeffrey Starr, Sutter Home’s Culinary Director and Executive Chef; and Sutter Home chefs James Houghton and Matthew Bennett. They each selected their five favorite recipes in each category from one of five regions. The panel then met as a group and narrowed the field to three recipes from each region in each category, then chose a finalist in each of the two categories from each of the five regions.

Cook-off Coordinator

Michele Moline, Marketing Event Manager, Sutter Home Winery


  • Grand Prize and People’s Choice Award: Kristine Snyder, Kihei, Hawaii: Hawaii Da Kine Burgers with Sweet-Chili Glaze, Ginger-Goat Cheese Spread, and Hot Watercress Salad
  • Grand Prize First Runner-Up: George Graham, Lafayette, Louisiana: Bluesiana Burgers with Zydeco Sauce, Mardi Gras Slaw, and Root Beer Glaze
  • Grand Prize Second Runner-Up: Sonalie Ruder, New York, New York: New York Steakhouse Burgers with Tarragon Mayonnaise and Frizzled Onions
  • Best Alternative Burgers Prize: Susan Scarborough, Fernandina Beach, Florida: Tidewater Boil Burgers with Charred Sweet Corn Salsa and Lemon-Lime Crem-onnaise
  • Alternative Burgers People’s Choice Award: Valerie Szlatenyi, Wakefield, Rhode Island: Ocean State Swordfish Burgers with Tangy Apple Tartar Sauce
  • Alternative Burgers First Runner-Up: Sharyn Hill, Las Cruces, New Mexico: Ole Mole Chicken Burgers with Pepita Pesto and Tomatillo Slaw
  • Alternative Burgers Second Runner-Up: Lisa Huff, Clive, Iowa: Yooper Sausage Burgers with Mustard-Zin Mayo

Other Grand Prize Finalists

  • Jamie Miller, Maple Grove, Minnesota: Smoky-Sweet Bacon Burgers with Crisp Apple and Blue Cheese Slaw
  • Mary Thompson, Lexington, South Carolina: Palmetto Pride Pimento Cheese Burgers with Tangy Bacon Slaw and Spicy Grilled Green Onions

Other Alternative Burgers Finalist

  • Kathleen Stubler, Kansas City, Kansas: Kansas City Barbeque Pork Combo Burgers with Barbeque Bean Spread and Piccalilli Slaw


James McNair, Head Judge
Lucy “Lulu” Ann Buffett
Cathy Cochran-Lewis
Nathalie Dupree
Barbara Pool Fenzl
Rick Rodgers
Art Smith

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 2007

Build a Better Burger

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 2007