Summer time means backyard cooking, and firing up the grill never gets old. Eating the same thing over and over again is a different story though, even when it’s a longtime favorite like hamburgers. Luckily, new burger ideas are as close as your fridge or pantry. Don’t just change the toppings, give new flavor to the burger itself with one of these uncommon and inexpensive add-ins.
They cost under $5 to purchase and a whole lot less for the amount you’ll use in the recipe, so feel free to be generous as you add them in. You never know, the food at your next backyard get-together might just set a new standard for the whole neighborhood, especially if it happens to fall on May 27, National Burger Day.
Ranch Dressing Mix
Price: $4.58 for a 4-pack of 1-ounce packets
Ranch dressing makes a creamy, tangy complement to a hamburger when you use it as a condiment, but you can also incorporate it right into your burger patty in the form of dry ranch dressing mix.
Crumble 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef and sprinkle one pouch of the powder over top, then fold it in gently before shaping your burgers. The grilled burgers will have a uniquely rich, herbal flavor that brings out the best in your beef and toppings.
Price: $4.48 per pound
Slapping a couple — or a lot — of bacon strips on top of your burger is a well-established tradition, but adding bacon to your burger patty itself is pure genius.
For every pound of burger, mince two to four strips of uncooked bacon and mix them gently into your beef. While the burgers cook, the bacon will help keep them moist and lend them a subtle, smoky flavor.
Price: $2.48 per pound
The notion of a hamburger patty with peanut butter in it might seem like a far-fetched food trend, but it’s not as crazy as you’d think. The peanut butter adds richness and savoriness to your burger, and it goes really well with spicy toppings and condiments.
Think about it like you would a Thai peanut sauce. Use a heaping spoonful or two for every pound of beef.
Price: $3.48 for 28 ounces
Speaking of spicy toppings and condiments, few are more popular than this American-made, Asian-style hot sauce. When you’re looking for an ingredient to spice up your hamburgers, this one packs a lot of punch.
It brings a deep flavor and vinegary tang to your patties along with the signature heat, cutting the beef’s richness. Start with a tablespoon per pound of beef and add more to taste.
Price: $1.98 for 8 ounces
Putting mushrooms on your burger is a popular option, but you can also put them in your burger for a less messy alternative. For every pound of beef you’re using, finely chop a quarter-cup of mushrooms and sauté them until their moisture evaporates, leaving just concentrated mushroom flavor.
Let the mushrooms cool to room temperature, then add them to your favorite burger recipe. For an extra-savory version, cook minced onion with the mushrooms as well. Throw some veggies fresh from the farmers market onto the grill alongside the burgers and you’ve got a gourmet summer meal.
Price: $0.98 for a 1-ounce packet
One easy rule of thumb for adding ingredients to your burgers is to ask yourself, “What have I paired with ground beef in other meals?” An obvious choice is taco seasoning, with its signature mixture of Mexican-style flavors.
Add one packet of taco seasoning to your pound of beef and gently mix it in before shaping your patties. It goes great with nacho-style toppings, such as Monterey Jack and sliced jalapeños or green chilies.
Price: $1.68 each
If you struggle to keep your burgers from turning out dry after they’re cooked, look for add-ins that help keep them rich and moist. Avocado fills that role neatly, because its low-key flavor and high levels of healthy fat keep your patties from drying out without masking the taste of the beef.
Mash up half an avocado for each pound of beef, or for a more savory version, add in between a quarter and a half-cup of prepared guacamole.
Price: $2.38 for 10 ounces
Vegetables can add moisture to your burgers as well, but they can easily become too much of a good thing. Zucchini is very watery, for example, and may affect your patties’ ability to hold together. Chopped and sautéed spinach is a better option, one that you’ve probably used with ground beef in your favorite lasagna recipe.
Half of your 10-ounce bag of fresh spinach cooks down to just over 1/3 cup, which is about right for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of beef.
Price: $4.28 for 16 ounces
Adding cheese to your burger is certainly nothing new, but mixing cream cheese into your patty recipe is a much more subtle way to add tangy, cheesy flavor.
Cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of an 8-ounce block of cream cheese and melt it in your microwave, then mix it into the beef before you make up your patties. It’ll give them a rich zing that doubles down on the cheesiness of your cheeseburgers.
Price: $1.48 for 3 bulbs
Garlic adds a powerful savory kick to your burgers, but in its raw form it can be a bit overwhelming. Roasted garlic is a sweeter, smokier alternative.
Roast a whole bulb or two for every pound of beef, then squeeze the softened cloves from their skins and mash them before adding them to the beef. Roasted garlic is also a great addition to homemade veggie burgers, regardless of whether you use a grain, vegetable or bean-based recipe.
Price: $1.98 for 32 ounces
Grilling aficionados usually prefer beef that’s 80 to 85 percent lean, because if it’s any leaner there isn’t enough fat to keep the burgers juicy when they’re done.
However, if you favor extra-lean beef, you can add moisture to it directly by mixing well-seasoned beef broth into your pound of beef. Some ground beef may already have water added, so don’t use this tip if it already seems wet in your mixing bowl. Otherwise, add in a few tablespoons of broth.
Price: $1.95 for 1 can (14.9 fluid ounces)
A variation on the add-moisture technique uses beer as the liquid of choice. It makes perfect sense, because beer and burgers have a pretty solid relationship to begin with.
Hop-heavy craft brews will overpower the taste of your burger, but a few tablespoons of a dark, mellow stout such as Guinness — or your local equivalent — is ideal. Barring that, use any light-tasting beer you have on hand.
Korean Barbecue Sauce
Price: $4.13 for 16.9 ounces
If you’ve ever gone out for Korean barbecue, you know that Koreans have a serious way with beef short ribs and other meats. That same sauce or marinade, called bibigo, can do wonders for your hamburgers.
Using it to glaze the outside works, but it’s even better if you mix a few tablespoons into the beef before you shape your patties. The rich garlic-and-soy flavor permeates the entire burger, making the beef taste bolder and beefier than ever before.
Flavored Popcorn Salt
Price: $1.98 for 2.85 ounces
Why settle for just seasoning your burger when you can let your imagination run wild with the flavors of flavored popcorn salt. Most supermarkets carry them in a range of flavors, from cheese to bacon and jalapeños to dill pickle.
Choose a favorite — or combine more than one — and sprinkle it over your ground beef before you shape the patties for a whimsical blast of flavor. There are lots of ways to save money when entertaining friends, but this is ridiculously frugal.
Price: $1.68 per pound
Got kids who can’t decide between hamburgers and hot dogs? Give ’em both, in one easy portion.
Coarsely dice the franks, allowing 2 for every pound of beef, and fold them into your beef before you shape the patties. The finished burgers will be studded with little flavor bombs of hot dog, complementing the beef with their distinctively smoky, savory taste.
All prices sourced from Walmart and accurate as of May 19, 2017.
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