Paula Deen and the culinary history of the Luther Burger

January 13, 2012

Paula Deen announced she has Type 2 Diabetes this morning, confirming gossip online, in print—and all the schadenfreude.

And Southern food takes the blame once again. But where in culinary history can one trace the giant lasagna sandwich? Or the doughnut burger?

Deen appeared on the Today show with Al Roker, revealing she was diagnosed three years ago and is now a paid spokesperson for Novo Nordisk, the company that makes the drug she's taking, Victroza, an injection that may be used to control blood sugar levels in adults with T2D.

Deen stars on the companion website, Diabetes in a New Light, featuring "diabetes-friendly recipes that everyone will love...created by Deen and her sons, Bobby and Jamie" says the site.

The Deens' first diabetes-friendly made-over recipe is their signature Lady and Sons Lagagna. It makes 12 servings in a 9x13 pan.

The original recipe—different ingredients but also made in a 9x13 pan—makes eight servings.

But it's Deen's Lots O'Meat Lasagna that's infamous. It's the one she ate as a giant lasagna sandwich—in a giant piece of garlic bread—all as big as a baseball mitt. You can watch the video here. Again very different ingredients, but same 9x13 pan, and makes only 4 servings. Four servings.

And not traditional Southern food.

Deen may have always eaten in moderation, as she told Roker, but she certainly didn't preach it. But did she need to, really? She's not a runway model claiming she eats whatever she wants, doesn't work out, and doesn't gain weight.

Because as we all know, diet—not dieting—is only one part of the equation. Exercise is another, and other factors.

Another sandwich for which Deen is credited—or blamed—is the doughnut burger.

Doughnut burgers—best known as the Luther Burger—use doughnuts instead of buns. Culinary legend has it that the late Luther Vandross either invented the doughnut burger or was a big fan. Vandross also publicly suffered from health problems, before his death at 54 in 2005.

Deen's doughnut burger is called The Lady's Brunch Burger. The LBB made its debut in a 2008 episode of Paula's Home Cooking on the Food Network entitled The Brunch Club. If you watch the video, you'll see Deen demurely say, "I've never done this before, y'all, in my entire life" and from her initial hesitation and surprised reaction, that could be true.

Wait Wait's Sandwich Monday featured the LBB—but their version included cheese. Deen's recipe does not include cheese. And actually on Wait Wait's segment Not My Job in which she talks about tofu, she tells Peter Sagal a different LBB origin story and adds, "It's only one serving per lifetime."

There's that moderation.

The first documented doughnut burger pre-dates Deen's version by three years. In 2005, the Tribune ran a story about the Luther Burger at a now closed bar called Mulligan's in Decatur, Georgia.

The Lady's Brunch Burger is a hamburger—not a cheeseburger—that uses two glazed, yeast doughnuts as buns, topped with a fried egg and bacon—hence the brunchiness.

The classic Luther Burger is a bacon cheeseburger that specifies one single Krispy Kreme Original Glazed, split, used as a bun.

At Wiener and Still Champion in Evanston, you can order owner Gus Paschalis' Luther Burger from the secret menu. The doughnut bun is split, grilled, and thoughtfully served with the sticky glaze facing in. At WASC they cook their burgers on grills—there's no flattop griddle—so the bacon is deep-fried and an optional Country Fried Egg is batter-dipped and also deep-fried.

Even Deen hasn't done that.

Moderation, y'all.