Burgers are one food that nearly everyone can agree on (that includes veggie burgers for vegetarians and vegans). A well constructed and well cooked meat burger is crusty on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, and coats the tongue in a lingering brush of primal unctuousness. Burgers can divide family members and friends into different camps: the nearly mooing medium-rare club or the medium-well to well done safety net moms feed the kids; camp naked that might tolerate cheese and ketchup but nothing else, or team craft burger that fancies piling on juxtaposing textures and flavors. These iconic handheld meals also unite us, despite our varying preferences, because they’re pretty damn delicious. Learn all you might want to know, and then some, about creating and cooking the best burgers.
The Secret Ingredient in the Best Burger: Fat
The secret to cooking exceptional burgers—or any dish, for that matter—doesn’t actually have anything to do with cooking. The first step to cooking superlative food is to start with outstanding ingredients. Yes, we’d all love to be able to buy locally produced products, produce from the farmer’s markets, raw or at least organic dairy, free range chickens and grass-fed meats, pole-caught, sustainable fish… but, in reality, we should buy the best that we can afford. For burgers, that means grass-fed beef or bison and turkey raised without added hormones or steroids, if you can swing it. Snatch up 70/30 or 80/20 ground beef—that is 70 percent lean meat and 30 percent fat or 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fat—for the juiciest, most flavorful burgers.
Or, ideally, if you have the time and patience to grind your own meat at home, you can control the quality, fat content, and even the cost of your burgers. These cuts will provide the right meat-fat combo for juicy burgers: chuck steak, sirloin or tri-tip, brisket, or boneless short rib. You can always add more fat to the mix if needed—raw bacon makes an excellent fatty exclamation mark that’s smoky and salty.
Season the ground meat a bit aggressively and simply with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic powder, ground cumin, ground mustard, or smoked paprika if you’re feeling fancy. We prefer to keep it elemental (salt and pepper only) and allow the flavor of the meat to shine; that said, we can get crafty with our burger toppings, condiments, and sauces when the mood strikes. Check out our sections below on our best burger recipes, and flavor boosters for burgers for extra inspiration.
How to Cook Burgers
While we do love the smoky flavor a charcoal grill can impart on a burger, cooking burgers over high heat in a cast iron skillet is a foolproof way of getting that contrasting crusty exterior, tender interior that makes a burger crave-worthy. Follow these simple steps to cook the perfect burger:
- Season well. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating. Whether you season the ground meat before forming into patties, or you season the outside of the already-formed patties, salt and pepper are your friends.
- Heat a cast iron pan over high heat until it starts to smoke slightly. Add a couple of teaspoons of avocado oil or olive oil and place the burgers in the pan. Once the burgers touch the pan, don’t move them around until it’s time to flip them. You want to give the burgers time to develop a crust.
- Cook for about 3 minutes on the first side. Flip the patties over with a spatula and cook for another 3 to 8 minutes on the other side.
Here’s a quick guide to approximate cooking times:
- 6 minutes total = rare
- 7 minutes total = medium rare
- 8 minutes total = medium
- 9 minutes total = medium well
- 10-11 minutes total = well done
If you’re making cheeseburgers, add the sliced, grated or crumbled cheese about 1-2 minutes before your approximate cooking time is complete. Pour a teaspoon or two of water into a lid that will fit on top of your cast iron pan; carry the lid water side-up to the pan and place it on top of the pan. The water will help create steam, which will melt the cheese more evenly.
Our Best Burger Recipes
This keto-fied version of a classic cheeseburger is as simple and simply delicious as you’d hope. Seared organic grass-fed beef sits atop buttery, crisp lettuce, adorned simply with melted sharp cheddar, grilled diced onions, piquant pickles, and keto-friendly unsweetened ketchup and mustard. American food at its finest.
Full of layered, complex flavors, the grass-fed beef provides a rich, tongue-coating base for smoky, fatty bacon; racy red onion; sweet, acidic tomato, velvety avocado; and the tangy, creamy, herb-spiked BBQ Ranch that’s doused on top. Wrap this one in a double layer of bibb or butter lettuce, but the drippings might still spill down the sides of your hands. Napkins are optional.
Topped with pickled or sliced fresh jalapeños, you could combine Primal Kitchen Spicy Ketchup with the Classic BBQ sauce for an extra kick in the pants. The Swiss cheese and crunchy coleslaw helps cleanse the palate in preparation of your next bite.
Some cooks tuck a pat of butter or even cubed cheese inside a burger to make a wow statement. We boosted the richness of these grass-fed beauties with our Garlic Aioli. Simply spread on a thick layer of the creamy emulsion made with avocado oil and the unmistakable pungent, sharp flavor of garlic before grilling. These burgers may be the most moist, tender puck-shaped pieces of protein you’ve ever tucked into.
If you’re a fast food burger lover, you’ll know what we mean by “secret” sauce. Adored by many and recreated on food blogs across America, this sauce redolent of Thousand Island dressing makes for a craveable topper for an otherwise ordinary burger.
This triple B delight seems straight off a Chili’s menu, but it’s possible to recreate an even more delicious Primal/paleo and keto version at home. Start with good quality protein, season well, and cook according to the instructions above. Dunk thinly sliced onions in unsweetened coconut milk before dusting with seasoned almond flour; bake these paleo onion strings in the oven until crisp. Add to the burger and top with no sugar added Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce.
We dressed up an ordinary turkey patty with plenty of sass. It’s part turkey teriyaki burger (see below for a purist version of this combo) with a paleo-friendly hit of salty coconut aminos. The grilled onions, pineapple, and avocado serve as a salsa of sorts that adds attitude to this clucker.
More Ideas to Boost the Flavor of Your Burger
Americana = Burger with Ketchup or Mustard or Both
It doesn’t get more homespun American than topping char-broiled burgers with ketchup, mustard, or a combo of ketchup and mustard. Why argue against a classic? It works, so if that’s your thing, do you. If you want to poke a toe out of the classic box, Primal Kitchen Spicy Ketchup can give you the jalapeño-spiced kick you might find yourself craving from time to time.
Polynesian = Turkey, Teriyaki, and Pineapple
This sweet-and-salty combo may seem strange to some, but a savory yet somewhat bland turkey burger transforms beautifully into a mashup of Asian and Pacific Island flavor with the simple addition of grill-kissed, caramelized pineapple and the salty-sour-sweet-umami blend of Primal Kitchen No Soy Teriyaki.
Rancher = Beef, Steak Sauce, Grilled Onions & Mushrooms
This one’s kind of like salisbury steak just without the school lunch mystery meat aspect, and instead of drowning in sad brown gravy, sauce with punchy, salty-sour-savory Primal Kitchen Steak Sauce. Add thickly sliced onions and halved mushrooms to the grill, and you’ve got yourself a home-on-the-range meal worthy of a cattle rancher.
Vampire Slayer = Garlic Aioli, Roasted Garlic Spread, Baby Arugula
Don’t plan on kissing anyone for a week after you scarf this puppy. Hyperbole aside, we’re not suggesting you pile cloves of raw garlic on top of a beef patty. Smear a generous spoonful of Primal Kitchen Garlic Aioli on whatever lettuce, collard, sweet potato or bun vessel you plan to use, squeeze out the guts from a few roasted garlic cloves (roasting mellows the bite and transforms the bulb into a spoonable, sweet puree), add a handful of peppery, young arugula, and bite in.
Porky = ½ Beef, ½ Bacon Burger, Golden BBQ Sauce, Caramelized Onions, Sliced Bacon, Avocado
We know we’ve recommended several bacon burger recipes here, but… can you blame us? If one of the above suggestions doesn’t tickle your fancy, level up your game by adding bacon twice to your burger. You read that right. Grind up raw bacon with beef chuck or short rib, and crisp up an extra slice or two for topping. Since you’re investing extra time and care into this craft burger, might as well take the 45-50 minutes it takes to gradually caramelize sliced onions over medium-low heat on the stove. The mustard-forward Golden BBQ Sauce provides acidic balance that helps cut through all that richness.
Southwest = Roasted Poblano, Chipotle Lime Mayo, Pepper Jack Cheese, Mashed Avocado
This one’s for all of the foodies who crave Tex-Mex, south of the border flavor. A little spicy, a little zesty, a touch comforting and a lot of face-melting flavor, this burger would be delicious with salmon or a hearty white fish as well.
Vegilicious = Veggie Patty, Pea Shoots, Roasted Red Pepper, Vegan Ranch
We tend to avoid commercially made plant-based burgers and DIY instead. All it takes is a food processor or high-speed blender (that can handle chopping seeds or nuts) and the time it takes to bake the patties in the oven. Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, everybody can benefit from eating more vegetables—and really, this is a loosely deconstructed salad served stacked up.
Here’s a great real-food veggie burger recipe that’s easy to make:
- 1 cup chickpeas, soaked, cooked, drained*
- ½ cup grated carrots
- ½ cup riced broccoli or cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons shallot, diced
- ½ cup cashews, soaked and drained
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts or shelled pepitas, lightly toasted
- ¼ cup baby spinach, micro greens or fresh herbs
- 2 teaspoons ground flax seed
- 2 tablespoons Primal Kitchen No Soy Teriyaki
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup cassava flour or arrowroot
- ½ teaspoon optional spices: ground ginger, paprika, cumin, cayenne, crushed red pepper
*Note: This is not a low-carb, Paleo, or keto recipe. If you can’t tolerate legumes, but still want to try making this veggie burger, substitute soaked and drained cashews or pecans, or use 1 ½ cups of riced cauliflower or broccoli.
- Preheat oven to 375ºF.
- Place all ingredients except for the flour into a food processor or high-speed blender. Pulse until mostly smooth, but still a bit chunky.
- Add ¼ cup of the flour to the processor. Pulse gently to mix.
- If the mixture is too liquid or thin, add a bit more flour. The mixture should come and hold together.
- When the mixture holds together, remove it from the processor and form it into a ball.
- Wrap the ball in plastic wrap or in a clean kitchen towel, and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Spray a baking sheet with Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil Spray, or line it with parchment paper.
- Remove mixture from the refrigerator and shape into 6-7 individual patties (about the width of the palm of your hand).
- Flatten patties a bit and place them on baking sheet.
- Bake for about 15 minutes on one side, then remove them from the oven.
- Flip patties over with a spatula and bake on the other side for 10-12 minutes.
- The veggie burgers will be lightly golden on the top with slightly crisp edges when they are fully cooked. Remove from oven.
- To turn these veggie patties into Vegilicious Burgers: Place 1 veggie patty on a plate. Top with roasted red pepper slices, washed and dried pea shoots, and a generous drizzle of Primal Kitchen Vegan Ranch Dressing. Enjoy!
You might like to serve any of these alongside your burgers: