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Spice up the grill with unconventional burgers

A Bouillabaisse slider, a miniature groundfish burger, topped

A Bouillabaisse slider, a miniature groundfish burger, topped here with Tomato-Fennel Relish and Saffron Mayonnaise, is a holiday possibility. Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Looking around for new burger ideas to spice up that Fourth of July party you're planning? You came to the right place. We're going a little more unconventional here, with patty recipes built around ingredients such as minced fish, carrots and pinto beans.


This recipe, from "BBQ Makes Everything Better" by Aaron Chronister and Jason Day (Scribner, $30), takes the hot-wings concept to a convenient burger form. Be sure to have some extra hot sauce on the table for dunking.

2 pounds ground chicken

1 cup dried bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

3/4 cup hot sauce, divided

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Salt and pepper to taste

4 to 8 hamburger buns

Lettuce leaves

Tomato slices

1. Combine the ground chicken, bread crumbs, blue cheese and 1/2 cup of hot sauce in a mixing bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour. This will give the bread crumbs time to absorb the moisture from the meat and hot sauce and act as a binder to hold your burgers together.

2. Remove the meat mixture from the refrigerator and form 4 equal-sized large patties or 8 small ones. Mix the garlic powder and butter together and spread on the buns.

3. Grill the burgers over direct medium-high heat for about 7 to 8 minutes per side until the burgers are well done. During the last 2 minutes of grill time, baste the burgers with the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce.

4. After turning the burgers, toast the buttered buns facedown on the grill for 2 to 3 minutes. Place cooked burgers on toasted buns and top with lettuce and tomato before serving.


This succulent seafood burger, from "Burger Parties: Recipes from Sutter Home Winery's Build a Better Burger Contest" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed, $19.99), incorporates red snapper and shrimp. A crunchy fennel relish and mayonnaise infused with threads of saffron are perfect accompaniments.

For patties

1/2 pound skinless, boneless red snapper fillets or any other firm-textured lean white fish like cod

3 ounces peeled and deveined large raw shrimp, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

For mayonnaise

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

Kosher or coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For relish

1/3 cup seeded and finely chopped plum or vine-ripened tomato

5 tablespoons finely chopped fennel bulb

11/2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion

1/4 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/8 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 (1/2 inch-thick) slices French bread, cut diagonally from baguettes about 3 inches wide

1. Prepare a medium-hot fire in charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat gas grill to medium heat.

2. Grind the snapper coarsely in small batches, in a food processor, or chop by hand into about 1/4-inch pieces. Combine it with the shrimp, egg whites, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.

3. Stir in enough panko to bind the ingredients together. Form the mixture into 6 equal patties to fit the slices of bread. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

4. To make the mayonnaise, combine the saffron and lemon juice in a small bowl and let soak for 20 minutes. Add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

5. To make the relish, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

6. Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Place patties on the rack, cover and cook, turning once, just until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes on each side. Place slices of bread on the outer edges of the grill rack to toast lightly, turning once. As soon as they come off the grill, rub them with halved garlic cloves then brush with olive oil.

7. To assemble the burgers, spread the mayonnaise over one side of each toasted bread slice. Place a patty on 6 of the slices. Using a slotted spoon, top each patty with some tomato-fennel relish. Add the remaining bread slices and serve. Makes 6 burgers.


This recipe, from "Burger Parties: Recipes from Sutter Home Winery's Build a Better Burger Contest" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed, $19.99), calls for ground sirloin, but for a juicier burger, substitute ground chuck, which has a higher fat content.

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup drained and chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 pound ground sirloin (or chuck)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco pepper sauce

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed

1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

11/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 cup Italian-style bread crumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

6 squares focaccia bread, halved horizontally

6 thin prosciutto slices, folded to fit bread

6 inner leaves romaine lettuce, trimmed to fit bread

6 paper-thin slices red onion, separated into rings

1. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium heat.

2. Combine mayonnaise and chopped basil in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until assembling the burgers. 3. Combine the feta and tomatoes in a small bowl. Divide mixture into 6 equal portions, form into balls and set aside.

4. Combine ground sirloin, egg, pepper sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic, bread crumbs and Parmesan in a bowl. Handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix well. Form the meat mixture into 12 equal thin patties to fit the bread squares. Place a ball of the feta mixture into the center of 6 of the patties and press down lightly to spread. Place the remaining patties on top, press down lightly, and seal the edges to totally enclose the filling, forming 6 patties total.

5. Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, about 5 minutes on each side for medium. During the last few minutes cooking, place the focaccia squares, cut side down, on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly.

6. To assemble, spread the basil mayonnaise over the cut sides of the bread bottom. On each bread bottom, place a patty, prosciutto slice, lettuce leaf and some red onion rings. Add the bread tops and serve. Serves 6.


Beans are the foundation of Mexican cooking, along with garlic, cumin and coriander. These veggie burgers, from "All Fired Up! Year Round Grilling and Barbecuing" by Margaret Howard (Firefly, $24.95), incorporate all of the above.

2 14-ounce cans pinto beans

1 tablespoon canola oil

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons ground coriander

4 teaspoons each all-purpose flour and ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper

6 hamburger or sesame-seed buns

For garnish: sliced avocado, sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, mild or medium salsa

1. Mash pinto beans with a fork or a potato masher; set aside.

2. Heat oil on medium-high in nonstick skillet; cook onions and garlic for 5 minutes until tender. Add coriander, flour, cumin, salt and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add onion mixture to pinto beans and stir well.

3. Cut 6 squares of wax paper. Divide bean mixture into 6 equal amounts. Shape into patties on each square.

4. Preheat grill to medium. Carefully place patties on well-oiled grill rack. Close lid and grill for 4 minutes per side. Heat buns during last part of grilling.

5. Place a patty in each warmed bun and serve with choice of toppings. Makes 6 burgers.


Natural peanut butter, which is a little denser than regular varieties, works best for this spicy veggie burger from "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" by Lukas Volger (The Experiment, July 2010, $16.95).

The original recipe calls for frying and then baking the burgers. But you get almost as decent results on the grill as long as you cook them over indirect heat on a piece of foil that's been lightly brushed with oil. To round out the veggie theme, I topped them with a tangy Red Cabbage Slaw (see recipe).

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch scallions, including 1-inch into dark green parts, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated

1 serrano chile pepper, finely chopped (seeded or not, depending on your personal heat threshold)

4 cups grated carrots (about 8 medium)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 egg whites

2 tablespoons natural peanut butter

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Heat a large lidded saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When hot, add the scallions and cook just until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chile pepper and stir for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the carrots, salt, coriander, turmeric and cinnamon. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the carrots are soft but not mushy.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites, peanut butter and lime juice. Stir in the carrot mixture and the cilantro. Fold in the bread crumbs. Let sit for about 10 minutes, allowing the crumbs to absorb some of the liquid. Adjust seasonings. Shape into 4 patties.

4. In an oven-safe skillet or nonstick saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the patties and cook until browned on each side, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the pan to oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers are firm and cooked through. Makes 4 burgers.


This easy slaw, from "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" by Lukas Volger (The Experiment, $16.95), takes less than 15 minutes to prepare, and tastes just as good beside a burger as on top of it.

1/2 head red cabbage, julienned into 1/8-inch pieces

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill

1. Toss cabbage with vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl and let stand until it begins to wilt, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour off excess liquid at the bottom of bowl. Add yogurt, dill and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. 4 servings.

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