You've been grilling burgers for a couple weeks now, and you're thinking it's about time to up your game, to move beyond the ketchup-relish-mustard rut.
It's time to strut your stuff. But you don't know where to start, right?
Many high-profile chefs have been playing with burger toppings, coming up with inventive approaches to the traditional so-so toppers. Some then have opened upscale burger restaurants and written cookbooks — Bobby Flay and Hubert Keller are among them — to showcase their creations.
Of course, they're playing with the burger's mix, serving up all beef, beef and pork, beef and sausage, turkey, fish and veggie patties. But in the toppings department, they're mixing flavors and textures to maximize the eating experience.
"A burger is such a wonderful combination of taste and flavors and texture and temperatures," said chef Jeffrey Starr, culinary director of the 20-year-old Sutter Home Winery's Build a Better Burger recipe contest. "You bite through a bun that's a little crunchy on the outside, then soft and then through the crisp lettuce, then the cold tomato and into the hot beef."
His advice: "If you want to create your own burger, think of dishes that are not burgers that you love to eat. Chefs do this all the time — they deconstruct a dish and reconstruct it into something else. If you like moo shu pork, make a pork burger with hoisin sauce and fried vegetables on it."
Spike Mendelsohn (the guy from the fourth season of "Top Chef") is a firm believer in toppings. "I think that's what makes the difference in burgers," said Mendelsohn, who opened his burger-rich Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., two years ago.
"We have a really, really great blend of meat, but our chefs in the restaurant group came up with some innovative toppings to put on burgers — and we always try to incorporate texture and balance the flavors."
Be inspired by these topping ideas from a trio of chefs. Some of the combos may be a bit overwhelming, but, like the fashions on Parisian runways, pick and choose what you like and try a few.
Making burger patties better
Some tips from the pros:
Fat's flavor: Some chefs like lean-to-fat ratios of 80/20 or 85/15 percent.
Chill: Patty meat should be well chilled. So should ingredients you're adding.
Go easy: Don't overwork patty mixture. Shape; cover and chill until ready to grill.
Sear: Don't move burger around the grill until first side is nicely seared.
Gentle: Don't smash burgers; you'll lose juices and dry up the patty.
Rest: Let burger stand before assembling; juices will redistribute.
Spike's sunny-side burger
Adapted from "The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges, and More," by Spike Mendelsohn (Wiley Paperback, $24.95)
Grill burger (Mendelsohn uses ground sirloin). Flip burger; top with cooked applewood-bacon, a fried egg and American cheese. When cheese melts, put patty on toasted brioche bun bottom. Add lettuce leaf, slices of tomato, onion and pickle. Dress with "good stuff sauce" (mix mayo with a bit of ketchup, molasses, rice vinegar, pinch of salt). Add bun top. Let rest 2-3 minutes.
Smoky-sweet bacon burgers
Adapted from "Burger Parties: Featuring Winning Recipes from Sutter Home Winery's Build a Better Burger Contest" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)
Peel, core and grate Granny Smith apples; pat out excess moisture with paper towels. Add bit of lemon zest, lemon juice, mayo, maple syrup, thin-sliced celery, crumbled blue cheese, chives, paprika and nutmeg. Cook seasoned burgers. (Starr uses ground chuck). On a kaiser roll bottom, layer on a lettuce leaf, cooked patty, bacon and apple slaw. Add roll top.
Blackened burger with grilled onion salad and pico de gallo
Adapted from "Burgers: From Barbecue Ranch Burger to Miso Salmon Burger" by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small, $14.95)
Brush thick slices of red onion with olive oil; grill both sides. Place on tray. Mix a bit of olive oil with chopped cilantro, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper; brush over onions; keep warm. Grill burger. (Gayler uses a ground beef-minced smoked sausage mix). Warm and halve a roll or small baguette. Top bread bottom with grilled onion, burger and favorite pico de gallo; add the top.