Burgers with Bite

Is your mouth big enough for this?

The turning point for the humble American burger came at the hands of a Frenchman.

Kicking convention to the curb in 2001, Daniel Boulud created a version with all the hallmarks of fine dining: short ribs braised in wine, foie gras, black truffle and root vegetable mirepoix wrapped in ground sirloin. Topped with a house-made bun, toasted Parmesan, horseradish mayonnaise, tomato, tomato confit and frisee, his burger at DB Bistro Moderne in New York launched with a $27 price tag, but everyone had to try it.

Boulud made it not just de rigueur, but nearly mandatory for restaurants at all price points to have at least one signature burger. Even the elegant Villa at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles boasts a burger topped with caramelized bacon, wild mushrooms, Gruyère, baby spinach and gremolata aioli.

Most importantly, Boulud’s DB Burger challenged chefs to use top-quality ingredients and to rethink all elements of a burger. The improvement in quality resonates with the “farm to table” movement, as many restaurants proudly name their meat purveyor on their menu. New York City’s Amsterdam Tavern and Michael Symon’s B Spot Burgers in Cleveland call out Pat La Frieda on the menu for the purveyor’s custom blend beef.

Today, the possibilities seem so infinite that even the most creative culinary mind can reach burnout. Many gastropubs, taverns and burger joints now invite customers to design burgers, like Milwaukee Burger Co. in Eau Claire, Wis., which lets patrons create a new burger each month. Recent winner Anna Chaplin’s creation topped a burger patty with ham sautéed in brown sugar and butter, plus pineapple, jalapeño slices, raw onion and mustardy mayo.

Don’t fret if your burger is so gargantuan that it needs a fork and knife.  Anything goes as long as it makes a customer say, “I gotta try it,” just as the fancy DB Burger did more than a decade ago.

Scott Hume is the editor of BurgerBusiness.com, a digital menu/marketing news magazine for burger restaurateurs.

Top Toppings

46% of consumers like bacon on a burger

54% of consumers like raw onion on a burger

66% of consumers like tomato on a burger

68% of consumers like lettuce on a burger

Source: National Cattlemen's Beef Association Study

The Daily Grind 

Some 74 percent of consumers say meat quality and taste are the most important parts of a burger, according to food industry consulting and research firm Technomic. But what’s the optimal blend of meats and balance of lean to fat?

That’s up for debate. Slater’s 50/50 in Anaheim Hills, Calif., takes its name from its signature blend of equal parts ground beef and ground bacon, while New York City’s Rare Bar & Grill includes ground rib-eye. The burger supplied by Pat LaFrieda & Son to Bistro Vivant in McLean, Va., is a mix of two parts beef chuck, one part brisket and one part boneless short rib. 

At Black Betty Burger & Winebar in Calgary, Alberta, the house blend is primarily brisket, and Stack’d Burger Bar in Milwaukee blends bratwurst and beef for its German Stack burger. 

Percentage of fat in ground beef varies, but the blend Los Angeles’ Huntington Meats created specifically for Nancy Silverton’s Short Order is coarsely ground with 20 percent to 28 percent fat for extra flavor and better texture. 

There’s no one way to make a stellar burger. But to not experiment with beef, buns and more to make one all your own would just be wrong.


Consumers who eat at a burger at least once a week, up from 38 percent in 2009

Source: Technomic Consumer Trend Report

Hail The Almighty Burger 

The trend of its parts

More than one protein is so hot:

Spicy Monk Burger
Chorizo mixed into ground beef
A customer creation
Lucky Monk, South Barrington, Ill.

Memphis Barbecue Burger 
Topped with sauced pulled pork, cheese and fried onions
Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, nationwide

Pastrami Burger 
Piled with sliced pastrami and housemade coleslaw
Eden Burger Bar, Glendale, Calif.

Yo! Burger 
Topped with fried salami, coppa, hot peppers, provolone and ShaSha hot sauce
B Spot Burgers, Cleveland

A bun can make a customer look twice:

Salt-and-pepper brioche, wheat buns and ciabatta rolls from a local baker
Blanc Burgers + Bottles, Kansas City, Mo.

Plain, multigrain, English muffin, gluten-free bun or market selection
The Counter, nationwide

Pretzel, whole-wheat or plain bun, brioche or bun-less (served in a bowl)
Hole in the Wall Burger Joint, Santa Monica, Calif.

Feta, Comté and white cheddar are popular. Other CHEESES:

Colby, sharp cheddar, pepper Jack, smoked mozzarella, Wisconsin blue and vegan cheddar
Bareburger, New York City

House-made mozzarella and locally sourced goat cheese
Farm Burger, Atlanta

Grafton reserve cheddar, organic American, Duchess Sara Gouda
Local 186 Burgers & Beer, Provincetown, Mass.