Last year was a banner year for summer cook-outs as Americans caught up on two years worth of much-missed barbecue get-togethers. We showcased techniques learned in lockdown, and nailed recipes with the confidence of experience through necessity. How then to top that backyard burger bash joy this summer?
Our answer: literally topping it.
This summer, make a better burger by finding your signature topping combination. Do something new and creative, and show your friends and family that your grill skills are only going to improve from here on out. Here’s to a hot burg summer.
Peanut Butter Bacon Burger
Yes, this combo sounds a little out there, but trust me—it’s a salty, savory dream. The slight sweetness, extreme creaminess, and saltiness of the peanut butter complements a charred-edge patty like you wouldn’t believe, drawing out subtle meaty notes you may never have tasted before. All this richness needs to be cut, which is where the lettuce, tomato, and onion come in for a refreshing (literal) palate-cleanser for the pb on the roof of yours.
Sweet Brunch Burger
Toppings: Mayo + Hot Sauce + Mesclun + Maple Syrup + Over-Easy Egg + Bacon + American Cheese
We all know now that tossing a runny fried egg on top of a bacon cheeseburger is genius. But why stop at savory when you can have a wider spectrum of flavor? Swirl mayo with hot sauce on the top bun, add spring mix to distribute it, then drizzle your bacon-topped egg with maple syrup for salty, meaty, and sweet … with a kick.
Wedge Salad Burger
Toppings: Blue Cheese Sauce + Tomato + Iceberg Lettuce + Crumbled Bacon
This quintessential steakhouse salad almost always leads up to a big hunk of beef. Go ahead and skip that degree of separation by combining the salad course with the main! Char the patty over high heat to impart fiery smokiness that will get further amplified by the bacon and keep the inside from overcooking. And don’t worry about the blue cheese dripping down the beefsteak tomato slice—let generous cuts of the lettuce catch it for you. A pliant, soft bun that will conform to the rigid iceberg would be best.
Bahn Mi Burger
Toppings: Mayo + Pickled Daikon/Carrot + Cucumber + Cilantro + Sliced Jalapeños
Traditional bahn mi sandwiches earn that designation as much for their French bread base as their toppings since their base meats can vary. So why not trade pork meatballs for a turkey patty, or grilled chicken for ground? In fact, in Europe, Italian meatballs have become popular, which isn’t much of a stretch then for beef burgers. For bread, a hard kaiser roll can get you close enough. The sweet vinegar and crunch of the root vegetables and the grassiness of the cilantro and cucumber make it instantly lighter for a hot summer day like in Vietnam.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
Toppings: Guacamole + Queso Fresco + Pickled Red Onion + Grilled Spring Onion + Cilantro + Lime
Banish all thought of queso dip, refried beans, and other Tex-Mex accoutrements—they’re arguably delicious, but not what we have in mind. Instead, slather on the guac, sprinkle on crumbled queso fresco, and bring on the alliums for a combination that brings real Mexico street taco inspiration to your backyard barbecue. This combo works for seafood, too. A white fish or shrimp burger changes things up.
Peking (Duckless) Burger
Toppings: Mantou Bun + Hoisin Sauce + Cucumber + Scallions
It seems like every gastropub is turning everything into baozi, so why not do the same at home? The key is to use a steamed mantou bun, which you can buy frozen from nearly any Asian grocery store or make yourself. Top your burger patty—whether it’s beef, turkey, venison, or salmon—with thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions under a healthy dollop of hoisin and you’ve got bao that wows. Or, go the baked bao route—milk buns, Hawaiian rolls, or brioche will do just fine
Toppings: Berry Compote or Fig Jam + Goat Cheese or Brie + Arugula + Prosciutto
Charcuterie boards have been all the rage this year, but honestly, they don’t do well sweating in the sun. Turning its more summery ingredients into a burger solves that problem, with components that actually open up more with concentrated heat! The sweetness of berry compote or fig marmalade mellows and spreads, the tangy goat cheese or brie melts, and the prosciutto is lovely warm. Arugula’s bitterness keeps all the other flavors in peppery check. Chicken or turkey burgers will do just as well as beef to let your toppings sing.
French Onion Burger
Soup may not say “summer” to some, but that doesn’t mean its flavors aren’t fit for year-round enjoyment. Top your beef patty with Gruyère and Swiss on the grill until it begins to melt, then top it with a healthy portion of caramelized onion. You can choose to dip it in au jus or reduce a demi-glace to a thickness that allows you to spoon a bit on the onions before crowning it with the top of a kaiser, bulkie, or onion roll, which is kept from getting soggy with a leaf of red lettuce.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
Pimento cheese has been having a moment nationwide, and we’re here for it. Slather your top bun with sweet bacon jam and load up the bottom with pimento, then chopped scallions. This reversal will keep the other toppings from pushing the precious Southern staple out and help your bacon jam go further as it dissipates its sweetness across the tomato and pickle slices. This riff will work well on a chicken, turkey, or shrimp burger, too.
Toppings: Olive Tapenade + Arugula + Roasted Red Pepper + Feta Cheese
What better region to channel for good eats in the sunshine than this? Nestle feta crumbles beneath a wide slab of roasted red pepper, over your beef, lamb, salmon, or veggie patty and spread the briny olive mix on the top bun. A handful of zippy arugula will complement the sweetness of the red pepper well and serve as a barrier for its juices, protecting the structural integrity of the top bun. A seeded multi-grain or whole wheat would do well here.