These UFO-shaped sandwiches debuted at the Seattle World's Fair.
Every August, the Grant County Fair returns to Moses Lake, Washington. With it comes the fair’s most well-known food: Spaceburgers. Two slices of white bread go in a special sandwich-making machine that seals inside a mixture of seasoned ground beef, sauce, and shredded lettuce. At a blistering 400°F degrees, the machine toasts the bread in a mere 30 to 40 seconds while also crimping shut the sandwich edges and cutting off the crusts, making flying saucer-shaped burgers.
Simple though they may be, Spaceburgers draw thousands of eager fair-goers, some of whom order as many as 20 at time, without lettuce, so they can freeze the burgers for later enjoyment at home.
The Lioness Club of Moses Lake has sold Spaceburgers for decades as a fundraiser for local community services. According to Frogg McMains, a past president of the Lioness Club, the recipe for the sauce and the burger meat hasn’t changed in 50 years. “I’ve tried to get them to change the meat recipe because we need to watch our sodium intake,” adds McMains, who by day works as head cook for the Moses Lake School District. “I’ll get that done one of these days.”
The burger seasoning is top-secret, as is the sauce, made by Lioness members in giant batches at Chico’s Pizza Parlor in Moses Lake. (“They have the largest mixer of anybody in the community,” says McMains.)
The Spaceburger machines originated across the Cascade mountains, at the Century 21 Exposition, also known as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. (The event also produced another icon, the Space Needle.) As one attendee remembered in a 1987 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about the fair, “There was this Spaceburger, a hamburger patty compressed between two slices of bread in a machine so that it looked like a flying saucer. I just went nuts over it.”
How the Spaceburger machines got to Moses Lake remains a mystery, but regional newspaper archives provide some clues. “After the World’s Fair, members of the then-Lady Lions tracked down two of the sandwich grilling machines which were gathering dust in peoples’ basements,” reads a 1995 article in The Wenatchee World. Spaceburgers debuted at the Grant County Fair in 1964, and today, the Lioness Club raises enough funds from Spaceburger sales to fund an entire year’s worth of projects.
Operating their five machines, the Lioness Club booth turns out about 5,000 Spaceburgers on every day that the Grant County Fair is open. McMains’s husband, David, handles machine maintenance. “Every so often with the old machines, you need to polish out the cups because they get a build-up of oil and bread,” he says, adding that they’re due for a rebuild. “They’re 1962 models so they have a potentiometer, a sliding resistor that you can adjust. If the machine overheats, it shuts them off and then they’ll turn back on.”
In 1994, the Lioness Club briefly introduced Spacescramblers, a breakfast version of the sandwich filled with eggs, ham, sour cream, and cheese, though those aren’t around anymore — McMains speculates it was too hard to make both varieties.
Where to Try It
Grant County FairMoses Lake , Washington, United States
There are only two times that these Spaceburgers are available to the general public. The Lioness Club booth sells them at the Grant County Fair for five days every August, and sometimes the club will sell them at an event in the springtime. Check their Facebook page for updates. (Tastee Treet, a restaurant with locations in Pocatello and Chubbuck, Idaho, sells Spaceburgers year-round, but without the Moses Lake Lioness recipe.)