Edible Basics: Burgers, Beyond the Beef

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY

New Englanders love a good cookout. From May to October, we grill outside at every opportunity: in the back yard, on a hard-won spot at the beach or campground, even in city parks, cooking our meats and veggies alongside good friends, cold beer and a bag of chips. In fact, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are holidays practically built around the backyard cookout tradition—is there anything more “American” than a juicy burger sizzling on a grill on the Fourth of July? According to some very cursory internet research, 85% of United States grill owners will cook hamburgers on the holiday; even if that figure is off by a few percentage points, it still represents a huge amount of beef consumed on just one day.

Of course, a good cheeseburger from the grill is a revelation—well-seasoned, medium-rare meat (preferably pasture-raised and from a local farm) dripping with melted aged cheddar, perched on a toasted bun, topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, lettuce and a slice of perfectly ripe tomato. It’s simple, it’s a standard, and the best burger isn’t embellished or fussed with too much. Good, grass-fed beef needs very little to dress it up. But is there another way to enjoy meat between two buns? Must beef be our only burger?

If you frequent a local farmers market you’re aware that most have at least one stand selling locally-raised meat. Many of these farmers don’t just raise one type of animal: Often they’re running a diversified farm, raising cattle alongside sheep, goats, pigs and poultry, so you can easily pick up an array of ground meats for your summer cookouts from one local farm. After the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays, when classic all-American beef patties are du rigueur, why not burger-up some of these “alternative” meats? Seasoned liberally with herbs and spices from around the world, each of the following recipes gives a nod to our country’s melting pot origins, introducing flavors from other cultures to an all-American classic.

For example, a pork burger hints at Spanish chorizo, seasoned with smoky pimentón de la vera, plenty of garlic, a lemony, homemade aïoli and parsley salad. Lamb burgers go Greek with a fresh topping of crushed peas, fava beans, feta and mint. Adding sautéed Swiss chard, lemon and basil to ground turkey makes it instantly Italian. If you’re vegetarian, or up for a Meatless Monday, take a trip to Mexico with a vegetarian black bean torta, redolent of cumin and topped with cilantro, roasted tomatoes, avocado and lime crema. And if you’ve never tried goat meat, now’s your chance: This Indian-inspired burger is filled with fragrant curry, diced apples and ginger, toped with cucumber-mint yogurt and nigella seeds.

Note: If you don’t have a grill or prefer to cook inside when it’s hot, all of these burgers can easily be prepared in a cast iron skillet or a grill pan on the stovetop. If you’re concerned about getting the seasoning right, pinch off a little bit of each meat mixture and fry it up in a hot skillet; taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. All of these burger blends benefit from time spent chilling after seasoning for the flavors to meld, making them easy to prepare the day before a big party.

Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at sarah@edibleboston.com