Burger Basics


Homemade burgers seem like a no-brainer (squish meat into bun-sized circles, right?) but sometimes they fall apart, don’t taste right or end up with a weird texture. While every recipe has its own take on what a basic burger should include, they all come down to four key components:

  1. ground meats, or other proteins
  2. binding ingredients
  3. herbs and spices
  4. add-ins

The meat: Lean ground beef is standard (but medium ground beef is extra delicious)

as is ground pork, turkey and chicken. Burgers can also be combined with, or made from:  

  • Diced seafood
  • Smashed beans or lentils
  • Firm tofu, pressed and grated
  • Chopped mushrooms 

The binders: These ingredients keep burgers from falling apart. You don’t have to use them,

but they can help bring flavour into your burgers and also provide texture. Try one or two of:

  • Egg or egg substitute (e.g. flax)
  • Tahini or other nut butter
  • Tomato paste
  • Mayo
  • Milk
  • Dijon mustard
  • Mashed potato 
  • Bread crumbs
  • Panko
  • Oats

 The herbs and spices: If nothing else, salt and pepper. While other herbs and spices largely depend on the burger’s main ingredients, don’t overlook a pinch of sweet spice like cinnamon or cardamom inside savoury meat burgers (think tourtière!).   

The add-ins: Get creative and toss a handful of something like these in your next burger mix: 

  • Grated vegetables (try carrots, beets or zucchini)
  • Finely diced green apple
  • Chopped walnuts
  • A cube of cheese tucked inside each patty
  • Minced garlic
  • Lemon zest

How to account for shrinkage: 

Most importantly, don’t forget to size for the bun. Most beef burgers shrink or turn into an odd round shape when cooked. To prevent this…

  • Form a flat burger slightly larger than the bun you are using.
  • Make a depression in the centre of the patty by pressing down with your fingers.

For complete recipes, check out my Sheet Pan Burgers, Better-Than-Takeout Smash Burgers, and really easy Shrimp Burgers.


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