There is a country diner a couple miles from home. We go there often when we are too bushed to cook. They serve a great mushroom Swiss burger. I don’t know that I can make a better burger. But I still prefer cooking them at home.
Store burgers are boring. Most of the time, you get the standard condiments plus cheese, maybe bacon, and lettuce and tomato. That’s it. There are no herbs or blue cheese stuffing or jalapeno peppers etc.
There’s a world of what you can do with burgers with toppings and stuffings. At one point, we set out to explore that world. We started that trek with virtual visits of great restaurants. Most renowned restaurants publish their menus. So we got on the internet and started pulling up menus looking for exciting, different burgers to make. Soon we had a long list.
We then retreated to the test kitchen to start experimenting. We made tons of burgers. Lucky customers! We would traipse down the stirs to the store with the extra burgers: “Who would like to try a Thai Peanut Burger?” Who would like to try an Italian Cheese and Basil Burger?” We got opinions and customers got burgers. From this came ten great burgers.
Ten Great Burgers
1. Yuri’s Famous Mushroom Burger
If you like burgers smothered in sautéed mushrooms, you’ll like this. The sour cream gives it richness and a little kick. It’s topped with sautéed mushrooms, provolone, and sour cream on a whole wheat bun.
2. Apollo Burger
We can’t find much that is Grecian about this burger; it must have been named for the gods. This burger is topped with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber slices, and avocado.
3. Acapulco Burger
The salsa and fresh avocado make this a south-of-the-border delight. It’s topped with bacon, Monterey jack cheese, and of course–avocado and salsa.
4. Good Earth Burger
Any burger with sprouts reminds us of the Good Earth Restaurant in Minnesota that we enjoyed so much. This burger is topped with cheddar cheese, sprouts, tomato, and avocado on a whole wheat bun.
5. Carrie’s California Burger
Carrie is our production manager. She’s really from Houston but this is her kind of burger with a touch of the southwest. It’s topped with Monterey jack cheese, slices of banana peppers, and bacon. The bun is spread with ranch dressing.
6. Petra’s Pesto Burger
We experimented with pesto on a burger. This one was excellent with mozzarella cheese and our own basil pesto
7. Honolulu Hula Burger
Ah, with freshly grilled pineapple, this reminded us of our time in the Islands. We splashed the burgers with a hot teriyaki sauce and topped it with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The grilled pineapple balances the kick from the teriyaki nicely.
8. Day Break Burger
This burger is dedicated to those who could eat a burger for breakfast. A fried egg atop a burger—that sounds like a breakfast food. In addition to the fried egg, this burger is topped with Colby cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.
9. Em’s Pizza Burger
We have two Emilys: one in production and one in fulfillment. It seemed like we should dedicate a burger to them. And who wouldn’t like a pizza burger topped with pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, slices of tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, and basil-olive mayonnaise. We made the basil-olive mayonnaise with a half cup of mayo, a quarter cup of diced black olives, and a half tablespoon of dried basil. This sauce was a great discovery.
10. Red Red Onion Burger
We went back to the caramelized onions that we like so much for this one. And yes, when you caramelize red onions, they’re still red. We used this recipe for caramelized onions but used red onions and apple cider vinegar instead of the white wine vinegar.
Along with the caramelized red onions, add mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise to your burger.
Ten Secrets for Great Burgers
1. Start with the right meat. Buy your meat from a butcher you trust. Avoid the lean and extra lean burger which is great for casseroles but too lean for burgers—you need the fat for flavor and juice. Your meat should be fresh. Ask the butcher when it was ground and avoid meat that was not ground in the last few hours.
2. Don’t handle the meat unnecessarily. Too much handling makes for tough burgers. Break a section of meat off and form the burgers with as little handling as possible. If you are mixing seasonings into the meat, toss the meat gently with your fingers to disperse the seasonings.
3. Make the burgers the right size. Remember, they shrink while cooking. Three-quarters of an inch thick on the edges and slightly thinner in the middle is just about right for most of us. A hamburger press like our Burger Buddy is a nice way to form burgers without handling them too much. Make the burger thicker than necessary and then gently press the center to form a concave patty.
4. Start out with a clean, well-oiled grill. Burnt food particles will taint your burger and make it stick.
5. Avoid the urge to press. Yes, you see others pressing their burgers with the spatula but doing so forces the juices from the meat. Again, it’s the juices that make your burgers moist and flavorful.
Don’t press too hard with your hamburger press
either. You can press the juices out before you even begin to cook. Press just hard enough to form the burgers
6. Turn ‘em once. Years ago, I worked a grill in Alaska. The chef taught me to never turn the steaks more than once—doing so lets the juices run out and dries out the steak. The same goes for a burger.
7. Avoid the urge to overcook. A well-charcoaled burger is going to be tough and dry. That same chef taught me to tell how done a steak was by poking it with my finger. (The meat becomes firmer as it cooks.) You can do the same with burgers (and chicken). After the first cookout, you’ll be a pro. No more over-cooked burgers or burgers torn apart to see how red they are in the middle.
8. Season your meat before cooking. You’ll find that your burger will taste much better if every morsel is seasoned, not just the outside. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to every pound of burger and knead it in gently.
9. Cook your burgers on medium high heat. You want to sear the burgers, make a bit of a crust, and seal in the juices.
Too high and you’ll burn the outside before the burger is done; too low and too much of the juice will drip out.
10. Try mixing grated cheese into the meat for cheeseburgers. You’ll get a burst of cheese in every bite, the cheese won’t drip down into the grill, and it takes less cheese to make a cheesy burger.
Additional Suggestions and Recipes
Always use a Burger Buddy. It’s the only way that we know that you can have uniform size, thickness, and compression—which you’ll need for uniform cooking. And lightly compressed burgers are juicier burgers.
For more great burgers, see “Eight Ideas for Exciting New Burgers”
Consider making your own hamburger buns. It’s not hard to do and burgers on a homemade bun are wonderful. You can buy a hamburger bun mix from us and mix them with your stand-type mixer or in your bread mixer. You can even bake hamburger buns on your grill.
Eight Ideas for Exciting New Burgers
Surprise your guests and make Cheese-Stuffed Burgers, Buttery Onion Burgers, or Tex-Mex Burgers.
Make Cheese-Stuffed Burgers. Instead of placing the cheese on top of the burger, use a burger press like our Burger Buddy to form two thinner patties then place the cheese between the patties. Mold the edges together to trap the cheese as it melts.
Make Tex-Mex Burgers. Toss your ground beef with diced green chilies, chopped cilantro, and shredded Monterey jack cheese before forming the patties.
Make Cheese and Herb Burgers. Make burgers as for Tex-Mex burgers but instead of chilies, use your favorite herbs.
Make Buttery Onion Burgers. Freeze a cube of butter then grate it as you would cheese. Mix the grated butter, a chopped sweet onion, and your choice of spices into your ground beef before forming the patties. (To keep the butter hard, place the grater and a plate or cutting board in the freezer before use. Make sure that the meat is ice cold.)
Make Blue Cheese and Bacon Burgers. Mix crumbled blue cheese into the ground beef. Cook and top with crisply fried bacon. If you are cooking on the grill, try wrapping the bacon strips around the burger patties before cooking. Secure the strips with toothpicks.
Make Italian Burgers. Mix one part ground beef with one part ground Italian sausage. Form patties. Season with additional oregano and basil.
Make Bacon Burgers. Microwave bacon until it is partly done. With kitchen shears, snip the bacon into bits. Mix the bacon bits into your ground beef.
Make Swiss and Mushroom Burgers. Make a cheese-stuffed burger as above but with Swiss cheese. Top the burger with sautéed mushrooms.
Dennis Weaver is the president of Prepared Pantry.