Whether you’re tailgating or homegating, serve up classic fare with a gourmet flair. Here are a few interesting ways to bring those burgers to the next level. As you prepare your table with chips, dips, and veggies galore this weekend, give a little extra thought to your main courses. The hamburger (with or without cheese) has been a staple in American dining for decades, and for a good reason—it’s delicious, filling, easy to cook, and infinitely customizable. Next time you fire up the grill, consider some of these simple ways to step up your burger game and rise to the challenge.
Spice Up the Meat
If you’re staring at a package of ground chuck, brainstorming your next great burger recipe, turn your attention to the spice rack. Herbs, spices, and different seasonings are a quick and easy way to elevate your patty. Garlic is a common crowd-pleaser when paired with fresh herbs. You can also whip up an in-house seasoning blend with favorites like smoked paprika and cracked black pepper.
Pick one or two elements of your burger to elevate. Swap out your American cheese slices for some equally gooey brie, or make your patties from Wagyu ground beef instead of the regular stuff. Respect the burger’s place at the table as an unfussy yet delicious staple; you don’t have to rebuild it from the bun up. Just give it a couple of fancy twists to get fellow tailgaters asking for your secret.
Add Homemade Elements
Speaking of building a burger from the bun up, have you ever made hamburger buns? A simple bread recipe only asks for flour, water, yeast, and salt. Bake up a few buns and season them with your favorite elements, whether garlic, pepper, cheese, or others. Slice them, toast them, or lightly grill them, and start building that burger! Additionally, make some condiments. Chimichurri and spicy aioli sauces will make a tasty home on the table next to the ketchup and mustard.
Ease Up on Beef
If you’ve got a meat grinder, try a juicy burger with new depths of flavor by introducing other meats to the mix. Lamb and veal are equally tender options. You can even get creative with different parts of the cow! Grind up some brisket along with the rest of your meats for a uniquely flavorful bite.
Next tailgate or backyard BBQ, delight your guests with new twists on the classic hamburger. This time-honored American fare is a perfect blank canvas for all kinds of flavor experiments. Fire up the grill this weekend and try some of the best ways to step up your burger game. Give one of these recipes below a spin and impress your guests with your burger skills!
All-American Double Bison Cheeseburger
Yields: 4 burgers
2 pounds ground bison (a blend of bison cuts that will yield an 80/20 meat-to-fat ratio)
Kosher salt to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for cooking
4 large potato buns
8 slices yellow deli-style American cheese
Garnishes: Jarred sliced pickles, sliced onion, ketchup, mustard,
Special Sauce (recipe follows)
For the Special Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pickle relish
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small bowl, mix all the special sauce ingredients together using a whisk. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Divide the ground meat into 8 equal portions and shape each into a ball about the size of a golf ball. Salt the tops of each bison ball.
Heat a skillet over high heat until very hot. If you have an infrared thermometer, the skillet should register at least 500°F (250°C). Or test by brushing on a bit of oil. When the skillet starts to smoke, it is ready.
If your skillet is not big enough to accommodate all of the burgers at the same time, cook them in batches. Line a platter with butcher paper or a large piece of a paper grocery bag. (We don’t think paper towels are sturdy enough for this job; they absorb too much moisture and destroy the crust.) Open your windows and/or turn on your oven fan. There’s gonna be some smoke!
Place the burgers in the skillet, salted side down. Press gently and cook for 1 minute. After 1 minute, using a sturdy spatula, smash each burger until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Salt the tops of the smashed burgers before flipping them.
Cook for 2 more minutes and then flip the burgers. Lay a piece of American cheese on each burger and cook for 2 more minutes.
If cooking in batches, transfer the burgers to the platter. Repeat until all the burgers are cooked. Note that this method cooks the burgers almost through with just a bit of pink in the center. We sacrifice our usual preference for rare-ish meat in order to get that wonderfully crispy exterior. Once you have transferred the burgers to the platter, don’t cover them or put them in the oven. You want to preserve what you worked so hard to achieve.
To serve: Place 1 patty on the bottom half of a bun. (If you have some burgers resting from an earlier batch, place them back on the skillet for a minute to warm them up.) Stack another burger on top, and garnish with pickles and onion. Spread mustard, ketchup and Special Sauce on the other bun half, place that on the burger and serve.
Classic Smash Burgers
Prep Time: 15 minutesCook Time: 5 minutesServes 4
4 hamburger buns
2 tablespoons butter, softened, or as needed
1 pound ground chuck beef (80% lean)
4 6-inch squares parchment paper
salt to taste
4 slices American cheese
burger toppings of choice
Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat and lightly oil the grate. Set a cast iron flat-top griddle or large cast iron skillet onto the grill and preheat until smoking.
Butter the buns and toast them on the griddle for about 30 seconds or more, just until toasted.
Form meat into 8 loosely packed balls. Place balls on the hot flat-top, cover with a piece of parchment to prevent sticking to the spatula. (Re-use each parchment square on a second patty). Smash down to a 1/4 inch thickness using a metal spatula or burger press. Sprinkle the meat with salt.
Grill for about 45 seconds, until the edges are dark brown, and the centers are a light pink color. Using a bench scraper or metal spatula, gently scrape up the patties, flip over and immediately cover 4 of them with cheese. Grill an additional 15 to 20 seconds; stack the plain patties over the cheese-covered patties so you have 4 stacks. Move each stack to a toasted bun and serve with your favorite toppings.
Bacon Swiss Burgers
Prep: 20 minutesGrill: 8–10 minutesServes: 4
3 slices bacon
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1½ pound ground chuck (80%lean)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
4 thin slices Swiss cheese
4 hamburger buns, split
8 medium slices tomato
In a large skillet over medium heat on the stove, fry the bacon until crisp, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving the drippings in the skillet.
Cook the onion in the skillet with the bacon drippings over medium heat until tender but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and thyme. Continue to cook until the garlic has softened, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the onion mixture to a small bowl and let cool. Finely chop the bacon.
In a medium bowl mix the ground chuck with the Worcestershire, salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce, the onion mixture, and the bacon. Gently form four patties of equal size, each about 3/4 inch thick. With your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1 inch wide in the center of each patty to prevent them from doming as they cook. Refrigerate the patties until ready to grill.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400° to 500°F).
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the patties over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until cooked to medium doneness, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. During the last minute of grilling time, place a slice of cheese on each patty to melt, and grill the hamburger buns, cut side down, until toasted. Build each burger on a bun with a patty, tomatoes, ketchup, and/or mustard. Serve warm.