Building a great burger

It is grilling season again! Seems like it was a long time coming in here in Chicagoland, but we've returned to the days when many of our meals are being prepared on the grill. So, that means that burgers are in the regular rotation. I do my best to stray from a boring burger on a plain white bun with the most basic of condiments.

A burger has five parts that allow for a lot of creativity.
1) Patty
2) Bun
3) Cheese
4) Veggies or other toppings
5) Sauce or Mayo

The Patty

So, let's start with the patty. It doesn't just have to be ground beef. You can opt for ground turkey or a blend of beef/turkey or beef/sausage. Or you can add a second meat by laying some bacon across your patty or scooping on a little pulled pork. You can also change it up with spices and seasonings that are added into the meat before cooking or sprinkled on top during the cooking process. I've used seasoning salt, onion soup mix, chili powder, paprika, Italian seasoning and few others. Don't forget that stuffing your burger is a great way to add flavor. Put some cheese or mushrooms inside rather than outside.

The Bun

If all I have on hand is plain white buns, I usually at least will toast them. Other ways to elevate your burger via bun are to go with a pretzel roll, onion roll, a crusty Italian roll or some focaccia.

The Cheese

Probably the most common of burger cheese is the dreaded American. There's so much more out there than American cheese. Venture out and give a different variety a try. There's no such thing as a cheese that doesn't work on a burger. Swiss. Muenster. Brick. Cheddar (mild, sharp, super sharp, aged -- they are all awesome on burgers, although they don't ooze as well as other cheeses when they melt.) Brick. Havarti. Edam. Colby. Monterey Jack. Gorgonzola. Feta. Goat cheese. And many more. I happened to pick up these delicious, creamy Butterkase cheese from Aldi recently and it is a beautiful burger cheese. Keep an eye out for it if you shop at Aldi. It's a mild, semi-soft cheese that is popular in Europe.

The Veggies (and fruits)

The most common veggies you'll find on a burger are probably lettuce, tomato and onion, but they aren't the only ones worthy of topping a burger. I adore cucumbers and they make a very refreshing topping. Radishes are all the rage these days in the foodie world and they aren't just for garnish anymore. While they can be quite strong on their own, thin slices are a great accompaniment to a burger. Also, ditch the plain old lettuce and upgrade your burger with some green or red leaf lettuce, arugula or spinach. Dice up your tomatoes and add a little olive oil and some seasonings. Avocados are another great topper for burgers, adding a buttery texture that is normally not part of a burger experience. Mushrooms are always fabulous on a burger. My favorites are cremini, a mini version of the popular portabellas. Throw them in a skillet with a touch of butter and they soften and melt in your mouth. Roast some red peppers on the grill and then add them to the burger. If you like some eat, pile on peppers of the spicier sort, like jalapeƱos. Eggplant, either baked or fried makes a nice topping. Go from raw onions to grilled or fried for a change of pace. Pineapple can give a tropical touch and a citrusy salsa with mangos or peaches can add a great hint of sweetness to a meaty burger. Oh, and don't forget about herbs. Throw on a few fresh basil leaves or some fresh cilantro!

The sauce or mayo

For the love of burgers, please don't ever grab a patty and settle for a blob of ketchup and call it a day. There's so much more out there.
Barbecue sauce.
Chili sauce.
Chipotle sauce.
Spicy mustard.
Ranch dressing.
So many possibilities.

Also, take some mayo and spice it up a bit. Add freshly ground pepper or Italian seasonings or garlic.