Grilling on Memorial Day weekend is such a popular American tradition. Typically, there will be chicken, hot dogs or burgers involved. Why not invite your guests over for a little twist on the usual grill out.

Is there anything in the summer that people cook more than burgers? Probably not. It seems that regardless of whether you are a burger traditionalist or not, in a cast iron skillet or on the grill, burgers tend to always be present on the picnic table, especially on Memorial Day or Independence Day.

Try spreading out a Burger Bar For Your Burger Bash. You just won’t believe how much fun you and your guests can have creating unique burger masterpieces.

Set up a burger station with your choice of meats, a variety of cheeses and pickles, colorful heirloom tomato slices, sliced avocados, roasted red peppers, bacon, pancetta and various other ingredients and condiments.

In addition to the regulars: mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles, I like to offer a few different toppings and sides that might not commonly be found. One of our favorite toppings is caramelized onions which are easily prepared ahead of time.

Try new varieties of mayonnaise, ketchups or mustards, either homemade or store-bought. Bring out the Liquid Smoke, Worcestershire and soy sauces. How about adding some smoked salts or peppers? Pimento cheese instead of or in addition to cheese slices? Spread your greens plate with butter, leaf and Romaine lettuces, arugula, spinach, even kale and radicchio.

How about some of these suggestions from Food Network Magazine: Italian dressing, pizza sauce, peanut butter, General Tso’s Sauce, jelly, pesto, pickled ginger, sauerkraut, grilled eggplant, anchovies, kimchi, pickled beets, ranch dressing, wasabi.

Just let your imagination and tastes guide you. There’s no end to the possibilities.

Make up a batch of this BACON JAM as a burger topping. Your guests will be begging you for the recipe.




  • 2 pounds bacon, diced
  • 1 pound brown sugar
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons thyme
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh sage
  • ½ tablespoon chili flakes


Render bacon, but do not crisp.

Add remaining ingredients to pan and reduce by 1/3. Slightly cool to room temperature then purée until smooth in a blender, adding water if needed

Adapted from Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress in Charleston, SC.

Or this Spicy Chipotle Tomato Bacon Jam from Dining With Debbie.


Let each guest create his/her own specialty. Use small, inexpensive paper plates labeled with the name of each guest as individual “creation stations.” Since all burgers benefit from at least a 30 minute chilling in the frig, do this early in the party, and let your guests play yard games, swim or nibble on appetizers until it’s time to grill.

This works best when your guest list is kept at 10 or less. If you are planning on a larger gathering, you’ll probably want to prepare the burger choices ahead of time so you can also enjoy your own event.

I like to have more than one burger type available. This is especially important if you have vegetarian guests in attendance.

You might consider having slider buns available for those guests who want to create more than one style of burger.

BURGER STYLES: Diner vs. Tavern

Generally, there are two categories of burgers — thick or thin. The traditional diner burger is a smashed-thin patty that forms a crust as it fries in the pan. Then there’s the thicker, tavern-style burger which is thicker, larger and juicier. We’re a split decision burger family. I prefer mine somewhat thin but not as thin as diner burgers; my husband likes them thick.

For tavern-style burgers, you will form 8-ounce balls of meat then lightly form each into a thick patty about an inch thick and 3 1/2 inches in diameters. A panfried tavern-style burger will take about 3 - 4 minutes per side, only flipping one time, to cook to medium-rare.

A diner-style burger should only be cooked on a flat surface; it does not fare well on a grill. Using about 3-4 ounces of meat, form balls of about 2 inches in height. When you are ready to cook these, place the balls of meat into the very hot skillet or griddle and immediately press down to form a patty. Cook without moving until a deeply browned crust is formed, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip then add cheese and continue to cook about 1 minutes.

***Avoid commercial, premade, frozen burger patties. It’s worth it to take the time to make your own.



Prepare burger ingredients and toppings first. Once the burgers start cooking, you won’t have time to prepare anything else.

Do not handle the meat too much or pack it too tightly. Doing so will result in tough burgers.

Season meat prior to forming patties. Use your thumb to form an indentation in the top of each patty which will help it to cook more evenly. Generally, patties should be about 4 1/2 inches wide, about 3/4 inch thick, depending upon your preference.

Chill patties at least 30 minutes after forming. Some people like to have them at room temperature before cooking; I do not.

Make sure grill or frying pan is thoroughly preheated (as in screaming hot) before cooking burgers.

DO NOT PRESS BURGERS WITH A SPATULA. This is probably the most common cause of tough, dry burgers. (The diner burger is the only exception to this.)

Do not overcook the burgers. Burgers should be allowed to rest 5 minutes or so after being removed from the grill or frypan. They will continue to cook during this time.

Toast burger buns. This keeps the burger juices from soaking into the bread.

Layer the “topping” ingredients on the bun before the burger. This helps prevent burger collapse.

Never place meat and fish burgers on the same plate before or after cooking.



Beef Burgers

When most people think of burgers, they probably are thinking of beef burgers. The usual choices are chuck, round or sirloin. Whatever your choice, keep in mind that you always need at least 20% fat to ensure juicy burgers.

Ground chuck is usually the most flavorful because it has the most fat. Sirloin falls in the middle range with round being the leanest. I think sirloin has the most flavor, but it will also be the most expensive.

If possible, choose to grind your own meat for burgers (whether beef, poultry, pork, fish or lamb), but I know that’s not always possible or convenient. Even when I grind my own, I will typically use a combination of meats. By combining sirloin and chuck, you get all the flavor of sirloin with the fattiness and flavor of chuck.

Using our gas grill, I find that cooking the burgers 4 - 5 minutes on one side, then 3 minutes on the opposite side is usually just about right. We prefer our burgers cooked to medium or medium-rare.

I have also used ground brisket which has a good meat to fat ratio. Ground bison is flavorful but lean. You will need to add some fat so that you do not have a burger that is too dry.

Meat with a generic “hamburger” label can come from any part of the cow and may not be the best quality. Again if you can’t grind it yourself, locate a reliable butcher who will do it for you.

Pork Burgers

I seldom make a burger with all pork, but I do like to combine Italian sausage (either hot or mild) with beef on occasion. It makes for a superb flavor combination. Adding the fat of the sausage to a lean choice of beef also makes for a juicy burger. I use about 1/2 ground round with 1/2 ground Italian sausage.



Serves 3-4


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 8 ounces 85-15 ground round
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage (hot or mild)
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onion
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 4 thin slices Provolone
  • 4 thin slices sharp Cheddar
  • Caramelized onions
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Pickles of your choice
  • Basil Pesto
  • Dijon Country Mustard
  • Ciabatta or sourdough buns, buttered and toasted (see recipe)

Directions: see DiningWithDebbie

Lamb Burgers

If you’ve never tried using ground lamb, I strongly encourage you do do so. In fact, lamb burgers are one of our favorites. Try making these Lamb Gyro Burgers I fashioned for Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative a while back. These are absolutely delicious, y’all.

Poultry Burgers

When looking for ground chicken or turkey for burgers, make sure that you get the highest fat to meat ratio available at your market, or consider going to a butcher or grinding the meat yourself. You’ll need to add fat and moisture. Because poultry is leaner than red meat, the meat itself generally won’t be fatty enough to retain a patty shape or fry up properly. Moisten them by adding ketchup or chili sauce and a bit of grated onion to the ground meat. You can also add mayonnaise and some mustard.

Ground chicken, if not labeled lean, usually has the skin ground in. While this will definitely make for a juicier burger, it also increases the calories.


Give this GRILLED CHICKEN TEQUILA BURGER from Southern Living a try:

Serves 5


  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 2 Tablespoons tequila
  • 1 teaspoon fine lime zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
  • sliced bell peppers
  • sliced onion
  • 5 buns
  • cilantro-lime mayonnaise


In the bowl of a food processor, pulse chicken, cilantro, garlic and jalapeño about 3 or 4 times until combined.

3. Add in panko, tequila, lime zest, salt, pepper and soy sauce. Pulse to combine without overworking.

4. Shape into 5 patties and chill well.

5. Heat grill to 350 to 400 degrees and oil grates.

6. Grill patties 4 - 5 minutes on each side with grill lid closed. Thickest part of burger should read 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

7. Remove from grill and keep warm.

8. Reduce grill temperature to 300 to 350 degrees and grill onion and peppers about 4 minutes per side or until tender.

9. Toast buns, if desired.

10. Serve burgers, peppers and onions on buns spread with cilantro-lime mayonnaise.




  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (may substitute thickened nonfat Greek yogurt or labneh)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon fine lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice


Whisk all together and chill well. May be made a day ahead.


Regular ground turkey, usually a mix of light and dark meat, is more flavorful than the lean. Here again, the calories are greater.

Seafood Burgers

With any burger made of seafood such as tuna, salmon or shrimp, the key is to use a good binding agent otherwise your burger will fall apart. Many recipes rely on bread crumbs; others use an egg or mayonnaise. Whatever the recipe calls for, make sure the balance of wet and dry ingredients is maintained. Too much liquid, and you'll have a real mess; too little, and you'll end up with a bunch of crumbs in the pan. Cook seafood burgers in a cast iron skillet; they do not do well on the grill.

Tuna is an excellent choice because its high fat content lends itself to a juicy burger. Cook it as you would a tuna steak — briefly on a very high temperature grill. This is one burger I prefer on the rare side.

Salmon Burgers with Korean Spicy Mustard: one of the recipes I use for salmon burgers.

Here’s another one from Rachel Ray: Salmon Burgers Try it with this condiment:

Sesame Mayonnaise

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped chives, optional

Whisk all together; cover and chill for several hours.

Read more at:

Veggie, Grain or Legume Burgers

The problem with a veggie burger is mushiness due to the high moisture content. To fix that, try roasting the more watery ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu, beans or beets to both semi-dehydrate and to intensify their flavors. A lot of ingredients to make a good veggie burger, to boost both texture and flavor. Try using sweet or white mashed potatoes as a binging agent since legume and grain burgers can be hard to manage. It really improves the flavor as well.



Serves 4


  • 8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 1/2 cups portobello mushrooms, very finely diced
  • 1 Tablespoon dried porcini, finely minced
  • 1 cup freshly shredded smoked Provolone
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon iodized sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Creole mustard (or coarse grain)
  • 1 Tablespoon tubed tomato paste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Riceland Rice Bran oil (substitute canola or sunflower oil)
  • 4 - 6 ounces sharp Cheddar, thinly sliced
  • 4 buns, preferably sesame
  • toppings of your choice


In a large bowl, combine tempeh, portobello mushrooms, dried porcini, shredded Provolone, shallots, sea salt, garlic powder, Worcestershire, pepper, mustard, tomato paste, eggs and flour.

Gently work to combine the mixture using your hands. Allow the mixture to rest at least 10 minutes before forming burgers. Be sure to press the sides until smooth in order to help them hold together.

Form the mixture using 1/2 cup portions into 4 patties to desired thickness. Cover and chill for 30 minutes or more.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Panfry patties (preferred method) in hot oil about 4 minutes per side or until lightly browned and the egg has thoroughly set. Top with sharp Cheddar and allow to slightly melt.

Toast buns and add desired topping. Place cooked burgers on top. Burgers may also be grilled in a preheated 500 degree grill, about 3 minutes per side.

Adapted from The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook by Burks and Lawrence



Sautéed Mushrooms - In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, sauté 1 pound thickly sliced baby portobellos in 1/4 cup olive oil for two minutes. Add 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves. Stir occasionally for 8-10 minutes. Squeeze over with fresh lemon juice.

Caramelized Onions - I keep caramelized onions in my freezer all of the time using my Big Batch Slow Cooker Method found on Taste Arkansas, but you can do a small amount as well. In a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Toss in separated 1/2-inch-thick slices from two onions and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Cook very slowly until onions are caramelized, 20-30 minutes.

Compound Basil Butter - Combine 1 cup fresh basil leaves (other herbs may be used as desired) with 1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter in the bowl of a food processor. Mix thoroughly. Chill until ready to use. I use this both in my burgers and as a spread before toasting the buns for Our Favorite Beef and Pork Burgers.

Herbed Horseradish Mayonnaise - Stir together 1 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing), 1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish, 1/4 cup minced herbs (parsley, basil, scallions, chives, thyme), a squeeze of lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Chill at least 1 hour.

Accompany your burgers with ZUCCHINI FRIES as a replacement for your usual fries or chips.



Serves 4


  • 1 pound zucchini, about 3 small (I prefer the smaller ones because they hold up better.)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2-3 cups panko
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Riceland Rice Bran Oil or peanut oil
  • Herbed Mayonnaise or Greek yogurt and/or prepared blue cheese or Roquefort dressing. Buffalo sauce is nice as well.
  • Tabasco, optional

Recipe on DiningWithDebbie