Grilling season is well under way, and if you’ve gone through all of your tried and true BBQ recipes, you may be hitting the mid-summer menu doldrums.
If so, one of the easiest ways to add a little interest to your grilling repertoire is to put a spin on one of summer’s classic dishes, the hamburger.
For a new twist on this backyard mainstay, change up the standard ground beef with lamb, turkey, salmon, or veggie patties, like these homemade vegetarian Sweet Potato Coconut Patties.
Go with a regional flavor theme like Greek or Asian, and switch up the veggies, cheese and condiments to suit – try tinkering with every element, or only a few.
If you usually have a bun, go openface on a bed of salad instead, or try an artisan roll, homemade pita pocket, or naan for a different taste and texture.
Comparative Nutritional Values
Before we launch into the burger ideas, let’s have a look at comparative nutritional values of the different types of patties so you can tailor your selection to best suit your dietary needs.
The following are approximate values based on a 4” patty (or about 1/4 pound)(1):
• Ground Lamb comes in at 240 calories, 23% total fat with 9 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Chuck has 209 calories, 20% total fat with 5 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Turkey has 193 calories with 13% total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Grass-fed Bison will have 124 calories with 3% total fat and 2.5 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Lean Sirloin has 140 calories, 5% total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Salmon has 130 calories with 4% total fat and 0-1 grams of saturated fat.
• Ground Turkey Breast has only 91 calories, 1% total fat and .5 grams of saturated fat.
• Veggie Patties have between 90 and 150 calories, and 0-1 grams of fat.
• Soy Crumbles come in at 60-90 calories, 5% total fat and 0 grams of saturated fat.
Patty & Grilling Tips
Try the following tips for making delicious, moist hamburgers regardless of the type of protein used.
- For juicy burgers, make patties at least 1” thick. This is to allow the outside to form a crust from the heat of the fire without drying out the internal moisture.
- To bring out the best flavor, season with salt just before grilling. Adding it too soon will draw out the juices, drying out the patty. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides, then sear over high heat (375-400 F) before reducing heat, or moving to a cooler section of the grate to cook (325-350 F). The high heat reacts with the salt to form a delicious, amber-colored crust that seals in the meat’s juices.
- Don’t press the patties– art takes time! When grilling, don’t press with a spatula as this only presses out the juices, leaving you with the dreaded dry patties.
- And no poking either. Poking with a fork also releases juices, so you should look at the juices on top of the patties instead to test for doneness. When they first start to seep out onto the top and still have a hint of pink, they’re at about medium. When the juices are clear, the meat will be medium-well. And when they become opaque, the patties are well done.
- Although not necessary, it’s helpful to chill patties in the fridge for an hour before grilling, to allow them to firm up so they’ll hold their shape on the grill better.
- Salmon or crab patties, and any recipes that call for extra liquid, can be a bit fragile. To create a firmer texture, chill patties in the fridge for at least half an hour.
- Turkey must be cooked thoroughly, until the center is no longer pink. Remove from the grill as soon as turkey burgers are done, and serve with creamy condiments like cranberry or sage aioli to counteract any dryness brought about by the very lean nature of this meat.
- After an initial, brief sear on high heat to seal in juices, meat-based burgers should be cooked over medium heat (325-350 F) until done. This is the healthiest grilling method as it will minimize the health risks of charring and smoke residue created from dripping animal fats grilled at high heat.
- As with seafood burgers, chill veggie patties for at least half an hour after forming to help them hold together on the grill. A “vegetable grilling basket” is a useful accessory for barbecuing veg burgers (and seafood patties) as they have smaller holes than the average grill rack.
- Professional chefs recommend mixing the meat and forming patties with the hands, and that hands should be cold and wet from running under cold water. Mix and form burgers with a light, quick and chilled hand to keep the meat as cold and tender as possible.
Selecting the toppings that create a great tasting burger is similar to making any sandwich, and works best if the flavors are contained within a theme to maintain integrity.
Complementary or contrasting tastes and textures should always follow the lead flavor of the meat or other protein, and should support the dominant taste.
Two or three flavors and textures produce a well-balanced burger and can be further enhanced with a couple of intensive flavors.
Add intensive flavor in the form of cheese, relish, pickles, chutney, tapenade and condiments to add a prominent edge of flavor without overpowering the rest.
For big punches of flavor, we top our Korean barbecue burgers with a gochujang mayonnaise and a zesty slaw.
And our coffee-rubbed cheeseburgers with grilled onions and barbecue sauce is a colorful combination of amazing tastes and textures. You’ll love them if you’re looking for a punch of savory flavor!
And to avoid bland burgers, stay away from doubling up on toppings of a similar texture or flavor – they’ll need another element to complement or contrast with in order to add interest.
If you’re committed to ground beef for your hamburgers, try a combination of cuts for the juiciest and most flavorful burgers. Freshly ground meat from your butcher is preferable, but prepackaged meat from the grocery store is fine as well.
Regular ground beef is a “no-name” or generic category that can be made up of a number of different cuts, or from only one source, and may contain as much as 30% fat. While a bit of fat in the mix adds depth of flavor, a high percentage will make the burgers overly greasy and increases the chance of flare-ups on the grill.
Flare-ups from animal fats cause charring and leave a smokey residue, which has been linked to numerous health concerns – choose a leaner percentage of fat-to-meat for healthier grilling.
Ground chuck has about 20% fat, and while it’s full of flavor, this percentage of fat is still relatively high. This selection works very nicely when mixed half and half with lean ground sirloin – it’s full of flavor and has a lower fat count at approximately 17.5%.
Ground sirloin is a lean choice at about 15% fat, and it mixes well with ground chuck for lean burgers with flavor and panache.
Ground round has a low fat percentage of approximately 11%, which makes it a very lean choice for burgers. However, because of the low fat count the cooked patties can be somewhat on the dry side. Mix with ground chuck to increase the fat content and juices, or add some flavorful liquid to the meat when making patties.
Ground beef mixtures are nicely enhanced with Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha sauce, steak sauce, or a splash of red wine.
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The herbs and spices that make a good complement to beef burgers are parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory, garlic, and chili flakes or powder. For intensifying flavor, try using dill pickles, sweet relish, capers, anchovies or chutney, plus almost any cheese will serve a beef burger well.
For the true fromage fancier, try a combination of sharp cheeses to bring out the best flavor in the beef – red Leicester, extra-aged Cheddar and Roquefort create an amazing flavor combination.
And you can even mix the cheese with the ground beef for big bites of bold flavors. Take a note from our Bacon Cheddar Burgers!
And of course, beef can be dressed with any raw or grilled veggies and fruit, and your bun of choice. For a foray into flavor heaven, try out this Oozy Bluesy Stilton and Sirloin Burger.
Oozy Bluesy Stilton and Sirloin Burgers
These burgers have robust flavor and a fine, lean texture due to the combination of two types of ground beef. The red wine adds a lovely depth of taste of these burgers and is perfectly complemented by the blue cheese.
Serve open face or on crusty rolls with your favorite toppings, a side of sweet potato fries, and a well-chilled beer– perfect summer fare for any fan of beef burgers.
Ground turkey (a mixture of dark and white meat) and ground turkey breast are very lean options for the grill, ideal for those who are counting calories or tracking cholesterol levels.
But because of its lean nature, the final product can be a bit on the dry side and it definitely benefits from being mixed with some liquids.
For 2 pounds of ground turkey, add 1 tablespoon each of Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and white wine.
Add 1 teaspoon each of fresh minced sage, thyme and rosemary, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and ½ cup of ricotta cheese. Form patties, refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour, and season both sides with sea salt and freshly ground pepper just before grilling.
Add a milder cheese such as Swiss, pepper jack or caraway Edam and serve on a crusty roll – a Portuguese bun or ciabatta roll works nicely.
Dress with thinly sliced tomato, butter lettuce, sweet onion rings and a creamy condiment like cranberry aioli, Dijon mustard or a good mayonnaise.
Lamb does have a high fat content, but its incredible, rich flavor makes the occasional indulgence worthwhile. Sear patties on high heat after seasoning with salt and pepper. Then, to keep dripping fat and flare-ups to a minimum, reduce to medium heat until done.
Lamb is complemented by herbs such as oregano, dill, basil and mint, and a hint of crushed red pepper and lemon zest works well too. Brush some pita bread with olive oil and warm on the grill.
Dress the pita with sliced tomato and sweet onion, spinach or other leafy greens, and finish with a tangy goat cheese or feta mixed with tzatziki for some sharp flavors to complement the sweet lamb. For an extra flavor burst, spread the pita with olive tapenade – and check out this awesome recipe for Zesty Lamb Burgers with Fetziki Sauce.
Zesty Lamb Burgers with Fetziki Sauce
Serve on whole wheat pitas or seeded hamburger buns with Fetziki Sauce, sliced beefsteak tomatoes, grilled slices of red onion and fresh baby spinach.
And an ice cold glass of retsina.
Salmon is an excellent source of lean protein and contains all of those wonderful omega-3 fatty acids that are so good for our heart and brain health – so learning how to create a good salmon patty is well worth the effort. Which isn’t much.
Because of its lean flesh, ground salmon doesn’t cling to itself in the same manner as other meats will, so the use of a binder is recommended.
For a binding agent try using egg, white or panko breadcrumbs, or a current favorite, quinoa. Add in a splash of white wine, herbs, spices and seasonings and form into patties, then chill in the fridge for an hour or so before grilling.
Salmon goes well with a number of aromatics, herbs and spices including dill, parsley, basil, savory, shallots, tarragon, chives and garlic, as well as lemon zest, lemongrass, and ginger.
One of our favorite condiments for this lean fish: a mean green goddess dressing, drizzled atop your salmon patties. Check out the recipe and give it a try…it’s delicious!
Try a salmon burger without a bun, and dress it on a bed of mixed greens with pear, pecans and gorgonzola cheese for some sharp flavor highlights.
Veggie burgers work very well on the barbeque and are easy to make – a delicious, healthy alternative for a meatless barbeque.
A bit more prep time is required for these than other burgers, so double up your recipe and freeze some patties for later.
Look for veggie burger recipes that have a good source of protein and enough moisture to keep them juicy on the grill.
This one works well:
We also have our recipe for winter squash patties, if you are craving vegetarian burgers in the colder months!
And that closes the lid on our look at different burger ideas for your summer grilling pleasure. Be adventurous and try one, or all of them… you never know when you might find a new flavor favorite for this popular classic.
(1) NutritionDataSelf.com, http://nutritiondata.self.com/
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.