Looking for your new favorite cheeseburger? It's in Redlands

The double oxtail smash burger from The Jerk Grill in Redlands.
The oxtail smashburger, like half of the menu at Jerk Grill in Redlands, melds the chef's upbringing in Jamaica with his experience running a pop-up in Southern California. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Is there such a thing as “too decadent” when evaluating a cheeseburger? Where does one draw the line? The fourth piece of bacon? The pool of foie gras Bordelaise? The patty of fried macaroni and cheese over the half-pound of ground beef?

I recently contemplated how much was too much as I sat on the patio of the Jerk Grill restaurant in Redlands, staring down a double oxtail smashburger. It’s an unlovely hunk of meat and bread wrapped in pale yellow paper turned translucent from the mixture of juice and grease. Boorish and sloppy, the middle of the burger is a pummeled mess of ground beef, gravy, oxtail and cheese with grilled onions slumped over the sides. A small heap of the meat and cheese mixture dislodged while unwrapping and sits in a pile next to the burger.

There is no real plan of attack other than to ignore the spilled meat and onions for now, grip two sides of the bun as best you can and be aggressive with your bites.

Read more: What is car cake? And why we could all use a slice or two

“It’s just been like a crazy hit,” the Jerk Grill chef-owner Lerone Mullin said on a recent call. “I had one the other day and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s pretty good.’"

The oxtail smashburger, like half of the Jerk Grill menu, melds Mullin's upbringing in Jamaica with his experience running a pop-up in Southern California. Mullin grew up helping his mother cook on their farm in St. Mary Parish. He attend culinary school in the U.S. and moved to Redlands, where he got a job managing a restaurant.

Just before the pandemic in 2020, Mullin started popping up at local breweries selling jerk chicken, festivals and rice. He eventually left his job at the restaurant and started showing up at the breweries three to four times a week and catering events in nearby Lake Arrowhead.

“First we were doing straight Jamaican stuff, but it wasn’t really catching on,” Mullin said.

Many customers approached his stand asking for tacos and burritos.

“We were like, we don’t have tacos, but we caught on and started like California fusion with tacos, burritos and quesadillas,” he said.

Mullin built an enthusiastic following with his jerk chicken tacos. He opened the Jerk Grill in a shopping center on Barton Road in January 2022.

The oxtail smashburger, like the tacos, is designed as a gateway to Mullin’s more traditional Jamaican dishes.

Read more: Benny Blanco takes us on a 'bang bang' for his favorite Thai food, tacos and oysters

“I wanted to get something more familiar for people and combine it with something everyone loves, oxtails,” he said. “We just combined the oxtails with a burger and it’s been such a hit.”

The foundation for his oxtails is a rich brown stew fortified with Jamaican browning sauce, potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Mullin adds a pile of the shredded oxtail and gravy to his ground chuck patties, then smashes them together on the flat-top. He tops the burgers with a squirt of yellow mustard, American cheese and what looks to be an entire onion grilled until the slices are tangled, wilted and nearly burnt.

He slathers aioli on a potato bun and toasts both sides in an attempt to keep the bread from getting soggy.

The burger eats like a chopped cheese, with the oxtails and gravy creating a mass of warmly spiced, unctuous meat in the middle. There are pockets of potato and carrots, the vegetables soft and almost creamy. The charred onions are sweet.

Jerk chicken plate from the Jerk Grille in Redlands.
Jerk chicken plate from the Jerk Grille in Redlands. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Like the Jamaican equivalent of a Tommy’s burger, it’s intimidating in size and overall disorderliness, teetering on the edge of gluttony but falling just short. My fingers and lips were shiny before I was a quarter of the way through. The aroma of charred meat and onions became the day's perfume, lingering on my skin and in my hair until that evening.

I did not stop at the burger, ordering a jerk chicken plate with rice and plantains, festivals and a Jamaican patty. The crust on the patty was the flakiest in recent memory, buttery and nearly melting into the ground beef filling.

Mullin’s jerk chicken is marinated in 15 spices, smoked for a couple of hours and then grilled. Without a source for Scotch bonnet peppers at the moment, he achieves a slow but powerful burn with a touch of sweetness from both habanero and bell peppers. The particular combination of smoke and heat, ginger and spice, is based on a family recipe. His cousin would make jerk chicken and sell it around St. Mary.

“Typically in Jamaica, jerk chicken is not what we eat regularly," Mullin said. “It’s like a luxury or what the tourists eat. It’s expensive because it’s a lot of spices.”

When his father visited him, Mullin would take him to Portland Parish to eat jerk pork or chicken as a treat.

“I just think jerk chicken is really good and if enough people tried it, they would love it,” he said.

I will return for the chicken, the burgers and whatever else Mullin is cooking anytime I find myself heading east on the 10 freeway.

Sign up for our Tasting Notes newsletter for restaurant reviews, Los Angeles food-related news and more.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.