Improving the Cheeseburger

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, as a professional chef it can be dispiriting when the cheeseburger is the number one seller on your menu despite all the effort you put in creating interesting and exotic dishes.

One way to overcome this is to make your cheeseburger more exciting. If people are going to order it anyway, why not make it something special? So today’s blog is all about finding ways to improve the humble cheeseburger.

Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger

Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger

Probably the easiest way to improve the cheeseburger is to use a better quality meat. I’m not talking about $15/lb Kobe beef or even ground up Certfied Angus Beef. This is supposed to be a budget cooking blog, remember?

No, to improve the quality of your cheeseburger meat, look for ground beef that has a higher fat content. That’s right, higher! Ground beef that is 75:25, which means 75 percent protein to 25 percent fat, will be juicier and have a much better mouth feel than leaner ground beef, such as 85:15 or 90:10. Fat makes beef taste good. If you ate 100 percent lean ground beef, it would taste like sawdust.

Avocado Pepper Jack Burger

Avocado Pepper Jack Burger

The second way to improve your cheeseburger is to season it. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people skip this critical step. You need to season both sides of the burger with a good amount of salt and pepper in order to bring out the full flavor of the beef. If you want to mix a little S&P into your ground beef before forming into patties as well, then that’s a bonus!

A third way to make cheeseburgers taste better is to toast the burger bun. Rub it with a little olive oil or melted butter and put it into your frying pan or on your grill for less than a minute to give it a little crust. That way, when you bite into the burger, there will be a satisfying little crunch.

Burger Set Ups

Burger Set Ups

Burger set-ups are a restaurant secret that speeds up service. Before the customers arrive for the lunch or dinner rush, the cook lines up hundreds of little individual piles of lettuce, tomato and onion. When the orders start flying, the cook need only grab one of these and place it on the bun as the food goes out the service window. This same technique can speed up your dinner service as well.

Incidentally, unless you are working at McDonald’s, use red leaf or green leaf lettuce for your setups, not shredded iceberg lettuce. It may be the cheapest, but that stuff has little to no nutritional value. Plus it just screams fast food.

The final method to add dimension to your cheeseburger is to offer a variety of toppings. There are restaurant chains that have built their entire business model around this idea. Not only can burgers be topped with a variety of cheeses — American, Swiss, cheddar, pepper jack and blue cheese are some of the most popular choices — but other interesting toppings can be offered as well.

These include sliced olives, avocados, mushrooms, sliced jalapenos, sprouts and grilled onions. There’s even a famous Pittsburgh chain that tops its signature burgers with cole slaw, French fries and even a fried egg!

As long as we are breaking traditions, how about throwing out the French fries and serving your next cheeseburger with something different, like this potato casserole.

Cheesy Potato Casserole

Cheesy Potato Casserole
Cheesy Potato Casserole

3 russet potatoes, pre-baked and shredded

1/2 white onion, diced

2 scallions, sliced

8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1-1/2 cups)

8 oz cottage cheese

8 oz sour cream

1 tsp granulated garlic

Dash of hot sauce

Dash of Worchestershire sauce

Sea Salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

2 TBS butter

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Combine shredded potato, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, granulated garlic, onion, scallion, hot sauce and Worchestershire sauce in a mixing bowl and gently mix together with a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix again. Spray a casserole dish with pan spray and transfer mixture to casserole dish.

2. Combine bread crumbs and butter in a small mixing bowl and cut together with a pastry cutter or just between your fingers until the texture is pebbly. Sprinkle over casserole.

3. Cook covered for 40 minutes. Remove cover and cook an additional 10 minutes to toast up the bread crumb topping. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving to let casserole set up a little. If you serve it right away, it will be goopy.

What are some interesting ways you liven up everyday dishes? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

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11 thoughts on “Improving the Cheeseburger

    • Haha, one of the thngs I learned working in professional kitchens is that making food taste good is frequently counter-instinctual to making it good for you. Most restaurants use a lot of butter, fats and salt than the average home cook would ever dream of using. It’s one of the things that make people want to go back to restaurants: A lot of the time the flavor of the food is better than it is at home!

  1. I was blown away at the beginning of my cooking career when I learned that Fat=Flavor. That marbling in a steak adds so much flavor compared to the lean cuts, it’s like a different animal.

    On topic though, one of the best meals I ever had was a 2 am cheeseburger with a pina colada. Perfect.

      • To me it was. Was crew in a sailboat race years ago, and the kitchen was open at the sponsoring yacht club after the end of the (3 day) race.
        Ordered the cheeseburger. Bartender looked at me and said “At 2 am? Are you sure?” and I said “You’re right. Let me have a pina colada with that”.
        I was listening to a lot of Jimmy Buffett at the time.

    • I thought about adding a bit about punching little holes in the burgers and cooking them over grilled/steamed onions, like White Castle sliders, but it was running long. Maybe I’ll do a separate blog on that. Sliders are actually a pretty hot culinary trend right now.

    • I was picking Maggie up from GWU on Friday and we actually stopped for lunch at the Primanti’s in the Strip district for lunch on our way back to Chicago. Would have called you, but we only went on an impulse and were only there about an hour. It was pretty great, though!

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