Burger Innovation


While the basic burger sandwich shows up on plenty of menus, there’s lots of room for innovation between the buns. Several operators share their buying strategies and cooking tips.


The Counter

Santa Monica, California

Item: 1/3-pound burger on bun with cheese, four toppings and house-made sauce


“We buy all-natural chuck and grind it fresh, in-house, every morning, then patty it by hand,” says founding partner Jeff Weinstein. For his 1/3-pound standard burger, he starts with 7 ounces of beef that cooks down to exactly 5.3 ounces so “what we say we’re giving you is what you get.” Customers build their own burgers from a choice of several proteins, 10 cheeses, 26 toppings (such as honey-cured bacon and dried cranberries), 17 sauces (including roasted garlic aioli and ginger soy), and three buns. Signature fried pickle chips, sweet potato fries and onion strings are favorite go-alongs.

Public Restaurant

New York City

Item: Venison Burgers with Sweet-Sour Tomatoes and Horseradish Crème Fraiche


“You can use any cut of Cervena venison for this recipe, but I like the leg—it’s more affordable than the loin,” says chef-owner Brad Farmiere. Since venison is leaner than beef, Farmiere offers these suggestions to keep the burgers nice and moist: Use meat that’s coarsely ground, pack the ground venison loosely into patties and cook the burgers over a medium flame to medium doneness—no further. “I like serving the burgers on miso buns that we make at the restaurant, but you can use egg buns or any moist roll,” he adds.

Back Yard Burgers

Memphis, Tennessee

Item: Charbroiled Texas Jack Burger


“Everyone talks about ‘quality’ but we stand by our word,” says Lattie Michael, founder and CEO of this fast-casual concept. Coarse-ground Black Angus beef goes into every 1/3-pound burger; Back Yard buys Cargill frozen patties for all its 180 locations. “I started with a grinder, patty machine and cooler,” recalls Michael, who began by flipping burgers in the back of his grocery store in Mississippi. “Once we franchised, we had to find a simpler way to do it.” To set this burger apart from the crowd, Back Yard tops it with pepper jack cheese, crispy onion and jalapeno straws and proprietary Miz Grazi Hot Stuff—a flavorful pepper sauce with a slight kick that’s purchased from a small Mississippi vendor.


Ruby’s Diner

Newport Beach, California

Item: American Kobe Slider Combo


“We contemplated doing a slider for a long time,” says Doug Cavanaugh, CEO and founder of the Ruby Restaurant Group, which operates 38 classic 1940s-style diners. “American Kobe beef proved very popular in tests, and it was a great way to upgrade our burger program.” Finding the perfect bun to partner with these premium mini-burgers was the next challenge. Cavanaugh chose King’s Hawaiian original sweet rolls for their size (about 2 inches in diameter), soft texture and durability. Plus, the flavor of the sweet roll and savory burger is a match made in heaven—improved only by a splash of chipotle sauce.

Lilly’s Restaurant

Louisville, Kentucky

Item: Lamb Burger with aioli and watermelon pickle


“The lamb burger alternates with a bison burger on the ‘Kentucky Tapas’ section of my dinner menu,” reports chef-owner Kathy Cary. The ground lamb she uses is a blend of shoulder and leg with a fat content of 15 to 20 percent; some of the lamb is sourced locally but most comes from Jamison farm in Pennsylvania. Cary seasons the patties with garlic and fresh herbs and cooks them in a cast iron skillet. “Lamb burgers can be cooked on the medium-rare side with no food safety issues,” Cary says. The watermelon pickle on the side—made by 97-year-old Camille (a local culinary legend)—provides just the right crisp-tart contrast, she adds.

Lobel’s

New York City

Item: Signature Veal Burger


“Choose the right cuts and you’ll end up with a veal burger that’s leaner than beef but just as juicy,” says Mark Lobel, owner and cookbook author. “Grinding the neck and shoulder meat together keeps the burger moist.” For his favorite veal burger, he inserts frozen garlic-herb butter into the center of the patty and seals the edges, so “the topping is inside.” After grilling, crisp bacon and lettuce leaves go on top.

Burger trendwatch


The NPD Group, a market research company that collects consumer behavior data, polled 2000 Americans to learn about burger eating in casual restaurants. What they found is that people prefer bigger burgers and choose cheeseburgers over plain. When it comes to rolls, burger fans seem to be open to baguettes over traditional buns.


Trend-tracking firm FoodWatch partnered with NPD to share additional burger insights:


  • Mainstream flavor partners still in favor include Ranch, bacon and barbecue

  • Emerging flavors include orange, ginger, garlic and parsley

  • Those flavors gaining awareness are cilantro and Caesar


“New flavors and toppings are a great way to make a menu staple, like hamburgers, fresh and exciting,” comments Michele Schmal, VP foodservice for the NPD Group. “As casual dining operators explore new ways to grow, it’s good to remember that Americans love to try new twists on old favorites.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of New Mexico’s proposed on-campus taproom has officially been approved by the school’s Board of Regents.

Construction on the $650,000 student union taproom will begin this summer and is expected to finish in August when students return to campus. The school’s food vendor, Chartwells, and UNM’s Dining & Food Services department will split the cost of the taproom evenly.

Designed by students in the school’s architecture department, the space will feature a rotating selection of beer and wine, and will also welcome guest brewers. Chartwells will be...

Ideas and Innovation
cafeteria

Three years ago, Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., started a pilot supper program at its high school. The goal: To make sure the district’s students, 57% of whom are on free or reduced-priced meals, would not be hungry when school is done for the day.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to 12 schools and now provides afterschool meals to children participating in YMCA activities. And it's just one of many such programs popping up in districts throughout the country, as operators add supper to the list of daily meals they provide for students.

Building...
Ideas and Innovation
hydroponics

We put our hydroponic gardens in a spot where students can watch them grow, but at the same time it’s safe from being tampered with. At one of our elementary schools, the gardens are in the kitchen, but there’s a window where students can look in as they walk down the hallway. Some even stop to count how many cucumbers they see.

Ideas and Innovation
food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

FSD Resources