Indeed, the burrito offers a lot: Convenience, sustenance, even regional pride. Take, for example, the California burrito, a concoction of carne asada and french fries; it's as much a native as the San Diego Chicken.
Still, for all of the burrito's wonders, one question remains: Can you shoot one out of a cannon?
Yes. Yes, you can.
One recent Tuesday afternoon, I was standing in an empty lot by my house as I stuffed a homemade bean-and-cheese burrito down the muzzle of my burrito cannon, a contraption I'd built out of PVC and ABC pipe using directions from William Gurstelle's 2001 handbook Backyard Ballistics. (He was instructing on how to build a potato cannon, but it worked all the same.) I filled the gun's air chamber with hairspray—a flammable gas that, once ignited, propels the burrito with great force— and screwed on an end-cap affixed with a flint-and-steel lantern sparker pointing into the chamber. I aimed the cannon toward a shipping container at the other end of the lot. Then I flicked the lantern sparker.
With a loud pop, the burrito blasted from the cannon, sailed through the air and landed in the weeds about 25 yards away—a wreck of cold beans, congealed cheese and torn-up tortilla.
Now, I bet you're wondering: Isn't this a waste of food?
It's a fair question, of course. True, it's a shame that a delicious burrito I lovingly prepared with my own hands was destroyed. But this was a scientific sacrifice. In our time, so many beloved things have been propelled through the air using the laws of physics. Humans have shotgunned weed, sling-shotted water balloons and blasted T-shirts into crowds at sports stadiums using specially designed cannons. It only makes sense to add one of the border region's favorite foods to the launched lore.
Maybe some day, we'll find a practical application for the burrito cannon. In the meantime, the joy I feel as I send a burrito flying through the air makes the endeavor worthwhile.
My cannon was ridiculously easy to build. I bought most of the parts at a hardware store across the street from CityBeat's North Park office and spent no more than 15 minutes assembling the tubes, leaving the piping cement to dry overnight. I modified the end cap of a potato cannon that my brother had built several years ago, reinforcing the lantern sparker with Krazy Glue and installing a new knob to aid flicking. In total, construction cost me about $40.
The challenge is getting the cannon to fire. Alas, I couldn't use any old burrito. The barrel is two inches in diameter on the outside, so I couldn't fit anything huge—like the vegan-friendly veggie burrito from Pokez (947 E St., Downtown) or the 20-inch-long “Super Burrito” from La Herradura (3131 University Ave., North Park). Also, dense burritos work better than soft ones: A juicy chile relleno from Humberto's (1015 25th St., Golden Hill) fell apart while I was trying to stuff it down the muzzle, making a huge mess. The same thing happened with one of the shop's vegetarian burritos.
By comparison, the California burrito at Saguaro's (3753 30th St., North Park), a solid 1 pounds and 4 ounces of carne asada and freshly cut French fries, worked with surprising lethality. Of course, I had to remove some of the fries to fit it down the muzzle. And the tortilla broke while I was stuffing it in. But I gave the air chamber a possibly hazardous seven seconds of hairspray (Backyard Ballistics recommends spraying for no longer than two seconds) before I flicked the sparker.
The burrito discharged like a shotgun slug, bursting apart midair and spraying pico de gallo, fries and carne asada. The mostly empty shell of a tortilla landed about 35 yards away. Impressive!
The best method I found was to custom-build bean and cheese burritos to fit snugly down the barrel and put them in the fridge to firm them up. The ones I made certainly could've been healthier or tastier, but the unfortunate fact is that a fresh burrito dripping with salsa verde and guacamole just didn't work. Hopefully, one day I'll build a cannon that shoots any and all burritos (sure enough, Make magazine offers directions for a high-tech “burrito blaster”). But for now, I'll just save the duds for lunch.