In Springtime A Man’s Mind Turns To…

The grill’s been getting a fair amount of work. Did turkey burgers. Did ground beef burgers. Did a fish burger with that last piece of tilapia. Turns out, that spreadable cheese works as a nice substitute for tartared mayonnaise on a fish burger. The grill’s working a lot these days.

Avocado now feels like the essential vegetable on burgers for me. Lettuce, tomato, onion… These things are not important; if they aren’t on the burger, no problem. But I’m wanting that avocado a lot now. Below the jump, I continue riffing on burgers. You may not believe me as you read, but I am in fact not stoned right now.

Last year it was peppers: slice the pepper up into strips, roast it, then start the burger, then ornament with the softened pepper strips, top with cheese, boom. Sweet and savory at once. But this year it’s feeling all about those creamy, fatty slices of ripe avocado sliding around between the patty and the bun. Reminds me of a law school hangout.

The best condiment for a burger, of course, is bacon. But you knew that already. Potato chips are also very good burger condiments for flavor, saltiness, and crunch, and I am continually amazed at how many people think potato chips are only a side dish.

Grilled pineapple is good on the burger, and lots of people dig the grilled onions or the sautéed mushrooms. Mushrooms, pineapple, onions, lettuce, tomato, peppers, avocados — you do this right and it’s a whole salad sitting on top of that ground beef. Tomato, avocado, and pineapple are all fruits, not vegetables. You know, apples might be good, too, especially on chicken burgers.

Oh, and let’s get this straight: if you’re not putting cheese on beef, you are wasting my time. Mrs. Likko suggested I incorporate the cheese into the burger this weekend. So I julienned up a block of marbled cheddar jack and worked it in to the beef as I was seasoning it. This worked out well, because at home I do the patties the right thickness. Still got some meltout but most of the cheese was gooey and tangy on the inside of the burger. You get a big thick patty and some folks aren’t going to cook it enough. I’ve got no problem with a rare steak or even beef tartare. But the ground beef, you either need to acid it up or actually give it enough of a kiss of fire that it stops being blue. The right burger is juicy and pink in the middle.

You go to some fast food place, and they’re going to fry up this sad little thin thing that’s been frozen and it doesn’t have the flavor of your insoles, and it’s all tough. That is what the chili is for, I know. But at that point, it’s more about the chili than the burger. The meat needs to be done up right. I incorporate the salt, the pepper, the Worcestershire sauce, folded into the raw ground beef before cooking. Cayenne is going in everything these days, too. Burgers are also appropriate places for the powdered garlic and turmeric.

Hmm. Turmeric. What does that taste like? Hey: curry burgers! Now there’s an idea. Must try. And a client just gave me a gift of a frozen leg of lamb I’m thawing out. I could hack off a hunk of that, grind it up with some curry, and make burgers out of that.

Longtime readers will know that I’m not a ketchup eater. Can’t stand the sweet, pungent, vinegary taste of ketchup, which somehow overpowers everything else it comes in contact with. Keep your ketchup the fish away from my burger. Especially keep it away from my fish burger.

You want a condiment for that fish burger? Make your own: take out your stand mixer and get that whisk working. Olive oil, maybe a quarter cup all by itself; half a cup if you’re cooking for more than one person. Whip it at medium speed until it emulsifies, which should be about five minutes at medium speed. Add in some salt and lemon zest. Holy crap, Julia Child, you’ve just made aioli. Maybe you get all fancy and squeeze in a clove or two of roasted garlic. Now, if you’d have started with an egg yolk and half teaspoon of vinegar, and then added the oil, it would have been mayonnaise, but it isn’t because you’ve left the egg yolk out, so why not try it on that grilled fish on a bun you’ve got over there; top it off with some lettuce and onion and you’re in business like it’s Miami or something.

Regular off-the-shelf mayonnaise doesn’t do much for me one way or the other. A useful binder for making chicken salad or tuna salad, not much else. But, even a jar of store-bought mayo can be brought to life by folding in some black pepper, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (yes sugar) and a healthy amount of Tabasco. (I LOVE LOVE LOVE the chipotle pepper Tabasco sauce, especially for this purpose. For some reason I can only get it retail at Smart & Final.) Now that’s some serious burger sauce, man.

Southern Californians like me do wax rhapsodic about In-N-Out. Some of them like the “animal style,” where they fry up the burger in a few squirts of mustard. Meh. I like mustard sometimes on sausages but again, on a burger, I’m kind of about a flavored mayonnaise instead of the more traditional ketchup-mustard-pickle combo. I get my double-doubles plain (code “Z” on your receipt) because the fresh-ground meat tastes good all on its own. Fry it up in mustard, and you lose that richness.

Also, some people really dig a fried egg on their burgers. I never really bought in to that.

Once I put anchovies on a burger. Good, but I don’t need to do it again. I prefer my umami incorporated into the meat, which is what the Worcestershire sauce is for. But, if I have any leftover Caesar salad dressing, it’s very good on the burger.

A few thoughts on the bread. The higher-end places will give you your burger on a brioche bun. Yum; it’s close to eating your burger in a croissant. But unnecessary, delicate, and expensive. A regular white bread bun with a smear of butter melted on it works fine, and is a bit sturdier than the brioche. Patty melts require rye bread, of course, but not too strong of a rye. I had a patty melt on some marble rye once, and maybe it was just that baker but the rye seed flavor was all I could taste. A medium-density seeded multi-grain wheat bread comes surprisingly close to the effect of rye.

But for my money the best bread for a burger is a freshly-baked ciabatta. It has some of the same tanginess of a sourdough, but not strong like that, so the focus stays on the meat. And it has the sturdiness to stand up to a juicy piece of grilled ground beef. Sometimes if you’re lucky some of the beef juice gets down in one of the little pockets that were bubbles during baking and you get a nice slurp of meat flavor. If you’re doing ciabatta or baguette burgers, you need to fashion your patties into oblong shapes. Which you will find generates no protest at all from your guests.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Turkey is my go-to meat for enchiladas.
    2 parts ground turkey to 1 part pan sausage.
    The water from the turkey cooks out, and the grease from the sausage cooks in, flavoring the whole thing.
    Don’t know how that might work in a burger though.

    • You bake an enchilada. A burger grills up faster. Do you shred your turkey for the enchilada, or use the ground turkey meat?

  2. Q for me. Did up a whole corned beef brisket, hickory smoked and everything…

  3. As I continue on my quest to drop the 30 lbs my doctor wants me to drop, I have been grilling burgers kneaded with Worcestershire, garlic and a bit of onion powder, and then placing a very, very thick slice of heirloom tomato on top with just a hint of A-1.

    It’s not quite a burger, but it is surprisingly yummy.

  4. Also: I agree that the turkey and fish are good non-beef options, but you left out another important one: Lamb.

    • As it turns out I’ve a leg of lamb I just halved. A present from a client who has a friend that raises them. An entire leg of lamb is way too much for Mrs. Likko and I to eat on our own. So I split it between the bones.

      The larger half of it I dressed in shallot, onion, orange zest, mint, oregano, salt, pepper, and basil with a dash of red wine while home for lunch, and that will go in the sous vide tomorrow.

      The smaller half, which got the knee joint, I’ll save for later use in the freezer. I was going to cube it and make stew, but maybe I’ll hack off half a pound at a time, and make burgers out of it instead.

      • How big is your sous vide?

        And why does that feel dirty to say?

          • Cool… And nice stone work. I imagined a home one smaller than that but I guess much smaller wouldn’t be of much use. I was trying to figure out how you fit half a leg in there.

          • That’s why I thawed the thing out for a day and a half in my refrigerator before butchering it this afternoon. It was as much a problem of getting the meat in a sealable vacuum bag as it was getting the dressed and bagged meat in the oven. So I’m only going to cook it half a leg at a time.

          • How big is Burt’s sous vide?

            I would describe it as being exactly the right size to make an surprisingly enormous amount of unbelievably amazing ribs.

  5. Burt,

    Can you share your turkey burger recipe? Do you buy ground turkey? Per Russell’s STQ, I’d say that a meat grinding attachment for a stand mixer is a must… you can grind your own turkey and chicken for half the price of what they charge in the super market and know exactly what’s going into it. You can also ground your own beef… the savings aren’t as high, but if you start with a quality meat you’ll have a more quality burger and can push the rareness if that is your cup of tea (I like my steaks rare but my burgers medium and will never cook the latter with regular ground beef from the super market any less because who knows what’s in that shit).

    • All that you say is true, Kazzy. I admit I lack the meat grinder attachment, but if I don’t mind the meat ground a little bit more finely, my Cuisnart works just fine for about half a pound of meat at a time.

      I first sautée a chopped purple onion with black pepper, salt, and cayenne, until the onion starts to sweat. If the onion is a little bit dry, I open up a beer and pour in a few ounces to get the onion soft. The rest of the beer I… dispose of properly.

      The onion mix goes in the Cuisinart along with the turkey, and a little bit of celery seed, paprika, and sugar. Or if I’m using store-bought ground turkey I’ll just knead it in with my hands. Form it up into quarter-pound patties. Wash hands thoroughly afterwards; you’re handling raw poultry here, and be sure to cook it thoroughly.

      See also: Game Day burgers.

      • Is “purple onion” crazy Cali talk for a red onion? And do you keep the burger moist? What parts of the bird are you using? Breast meat, as I’m sure you know, can very easily dry out. Are you working in dark meat? I don’t know what goes into the store mixes, part of why I avoid them.

        • Dude, look at them. Those guys are purple, not red.

          I prize dark meat on the turkey; the breast gets very dry, very fast. When I roast a bird I drape the breast in a weave of bacon to both trap moisture in it and add some fat to what otherwise would be nearly inedibly lean meat.

          I don’t let ground meat sit around long enough to worry about drying out. If you have to prep, maybe some damp paper towels separating the burgers from one another inside your storage container?

          • Sure, but they’re called red onions!

            I tend to use poultry in place of beef to cut down on fat. My understanding is that dark meat is fattier, which is why so many filks avoid it. This would seem to negate the health benefits of using turkey in the first place. So, first, do I understand the gap between light and dark meat properly? And, two, if I do, am I oversimplifying, particularly with regards to different types of fat?

            “…drape the breast in a weave of bacon…”
            Sexiest sentence ever.

  6. I’m not really a burger guy. Sure, I like them, but I’m more of a Kebob guy. I recently had a dinner party and we had beef and chicken kebobs, marinated, then sprinkled with spices. (Sumac for the beef–rocking!) with grilled veggies: peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, etc.

  7. Blue cheese on a burger is fantastic.

    For the slow people in the readership, I don’t mean the dressing. I mean the actual cheese.

    • Blue cheese on a burger is fantastic.

      These may be among the truest of words written in this entire thread. Pardon me while I salivate.

      • Please keep this in mind the next time I get on your nerves.

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