The one thing that keeps a particular burger a must-have

arrow In a trend-driven dining landscape with fickle customers, burgers are bulletproof.

Its portability, comfort-food standing and innumerable ways to riff on the classic patty and bun made it a menu must-have during the pandemic. But even as indoor dining resumes, one truth remains: The wow factor sets it apart.


From Canlis in Seattle to Noma in Copenhagen, the burger’s unlikely presence on a fine dining menu was

the extra pow to draw crowds last year for an already expected stellar burger based on reputation alone. Even in a sea of fast-food options under $10, the standout element could be a point of differentiation, such as a sprinkle of salt on the patties and grilled medium instead of well done like at Tasty Burger, the Boston-based regional chain. 

In today’s competitive market, regardless of pent-up demand from a pandemic, quality is a given. So whether a menu offers a solo star burger or many, including the ever-growing plant-based option, the X factor makes it an enduring bestseller. Here, chefs identify the ingredient that puts an already sensational burger over the top.

Recipes from this article:


Chef William Lara, Chop Shop, Chicago

  • » Components: 8-ounce Mishima Reserve American Wagyu patty, blueberry cheddar, tomato onion jam, sliced pickled strawberries, brioche bun
  • » Standout element: Housemade tomato onion jam on the bottom bun is sweet and spicy, but doesn’t overwhelm the wagyu
  • » Price: $16


Chef Sue Bette, Bluebird Barbecue,  Burlington, Vermont

  • » Components: 4-ounce Pineland Farms beef patty, Vermont-made Cabot American cheese, slow-smoked chopped brisket, housemade bread and butter pickles and housemade Mountain Maple barbecue sauce
  • » Standout element: The brisket is slowly smoked for 15 hours, then lightly tossed in a maple BBQ sauce made with local Runamok maple syrup for a classic-burger-meets-BBQ in the same bite
  • » Price: $15


Chef Kevin Meehan, Kali, Los Angeles

  • » Components: 8-ounce dry-aged Flannery beef, black garlic ketchup, Fiscalini cheddar, arugula, caramelized onions and a housemade bun
  • » Standout element: Burger blend by Flannery using 25% prime filet, 50% prime dry-aged New York strip and 25% hanger steak. It’s juicy, funky and not too tough
  • » Price: $18.50


Chef Hiroki Odo, HALL by ODO, New York

  • » Components: 4-ounce A5 Miyazaki Wagyu beef patty, 3-ounces of sliced A5 Miyazaki wagyu ribeye, real wasabi, housemade sansho pepper sauce, Boston lettuce, beefsteak tomato, American cheese, onion bun
  • » Standout element: A5 Miyazaki Wagyu ribeye is sliced and served rare. Servers suggest eating a few pieces of steak on its own first, then enjoying as a burger. Half of all orders include this burger, making it a bestseller
  • » Price: $20.21

Grind On

Roam Artisan BurgersRestaurant burger blends typically range between an 85/15 to 80/20 ratio of lean to fat. Roam Artisan Burgers favors an 80/20 ratio because they source 100% grass-fed and finished beef from 4K Farms in Stillwater, Montana, so the animal is leaner. “Fat is flavor,” says owner Joshua Spiegelman. “And just like wild salmon, this fat is high in Omega 3s, so actually, from a health and taste perspective, more fat is better.” Grinding their own burgers would be too labor intensive, so they rely on Golden Gate Meats to grind fresh meat and deliver daily.

Long-time purveyor Pat LaFrieda sells 50 burger blends using various whole muscles to create distinct flavor profiles for clients including Minetta Tavern, Shake Shack and The Beatrice Inn. Like Roam, LaFrieda aims for an 80/20 ratio and has a step-by-step guide to grinding your own burgers in his book, “Meat: Everything You Need to Know.”

Flannery Beef specializes in dry-aged burger blends, using higher-end cuts like rib-eye and New York strip. Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer goes as high as 73/27 ratio with their burgers, using a blend of ground brisket and chuck and Fleming’s takes it to 70/30 for their prime burger.


Chef Suzanne Perry, Datz, Tampa Bay

  • » Components: 8-ounce Angus beef patty made of ground beef and short rib, topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles
  • » Standout element: Two deep-fried slabs of bacon jalapeño mac-n-cheese replace the bun. It’s been the top-selling item since its 2014 debut. “The deep-fried panko coating still offers a base to soak up all the juicy deliciousness from the burger for extra flavor,” Perry says
  • » Price: $15

The Cheesy Todd


Executive chef and co-owner Lynn Gorfinkle, Roam Artisan Burgers, San Francisco

  • » Components: A 5-ounce grass-fed beef, free-range turkey, all-natural bison or housemade veggie patty with jalapeño relish, herb ranch, housemade corn strips, avocado, pepper jack cheese, sesame seed bun
  • » Standout element: White corn strips for a hearty, unexpected crunch
  • » Price: $11.99 ($2.99 upcharge for bison)


Chef Adam Fleischman, Umami Burger, Los Angeles

  • » Components: Two 4-ounce beef patties, truffle cheese fondue, truffle aioli, truffle glaze
  • » Standout element: Truffle fondue, made in-house with tartufo scorzones or black summer truffles from Tuscany, adds a delicate and luscious layered burger
  • » Price $9.99
  • Ground Up: Plant-Based Patties

    Just being a plant-based patty can be the draw whether it’s made in-house or by Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger. But to be a bestseller, it first has to be treated right.

    Burger patties

    Impossible Burgers are sold pre-seasoned, so there’s no need for additional seasoning. Don’t bother smashing these patties on a flat top or char grill – they don’t produce the same Maillard reaction as beef.

    “The patties are just as sensitive to over-cooking as beef is and will become dry and hard if overcooked,” says Umami Burger’s senior director of openings, Vincenzo Rossy. He recommends cooking Impossible Burgers to medium well so there is a faint light pink line in the very center. “Because of the delicate nature of the patties, they will lose structural integrity, so are best cooked on a flat top grill or nonstick fry pan.”


Chef Jeremy Pacheco, The Vig, Phoenix

  • » Components: 7-ounce Rovey Dairy Wagyu beef, cheddar cheese, smashed avocado, balsamic onions, pickled jalapeño, grilled house bacon, Vig sauce
  • » Standout element: Made from 100% Iowa Duroc pork, the belly is cured for five days with celery juice, no nitrates, then dried for two days and smoked for three hours over hardwood
  • » Price: $17

Vig Burger


Chef Linda Hampsten Fox, The Bindery, Denver

  • » Components: 8-ounce patty (75% wild boar and 25% top sirloin), bourbon brown sugar caramelized onions, black garlic aioli, aged sharp cheddar, pickled escabeche, seeded brioche bun
  • » Standout element: Wild boar, lean but uniquely flavorful, is ground weekly in-house. Burger starts on the grill for a smoky start but finished in the oven, so it stays juicy inside and out
  • » Price: $19

Dos and Don’ts for the Ultimate Burger


  • » Butter and toast the bun
  • » Season liberally with salt and pepper only
  • » Press down a little on the patty to fully caramelize on the flat top griddle
  • » Let burgers rest briefly after cooking to avoid making the bun soggy


  • » Bother with tasteless tomatoes
  • » Overdo seasoning – quality meat should stand on its own
  • » Let the juices escape
  • » Press down on your burgers too much while cooking; moisture is lost each time
  • » Overwork your meat when preparing patties by squeezing or kneading