This article made possible by a donation to our Writer’s Fund by S.W. Basics

Fellow block & lot and rooftop chefs: Burger season is upon us. Let 2013 be the year you took your burger to the next level.  Your patty prep is key to getting compliments around the grill from your homies! There are a lot of things you can add to your beef before you grill to make it tasty. Start with quality beef. And try some of the following additions to the mix.  Just remember to go easy with quantity. If you are using butcher beef, you don’t want to overpower a complimentary flavor with the natural flavor of fresh beef.  The following five ways to prep your ground meat are tried and tested, so give these ideas a chance for your next rooftop BBQ.

Beef From The Butcher

Half & Half  Use 50% ground pork with 50% ground beef. I hear a lot people say this is a Greek version of the hamburger, but my Italian grandmother made her meatballs this way, too. If you do want to go Greek, add some parsley and minced onion and squirt a little lemon on the patty right before you take it off the grill. Otherwise keep it simple with the mixture with good amount of fresh ground salt & pepper.

Soy Sauce Use a tablespoon of soy sauce for every 8 ounces of meat, mix thoroughly. I like to use my hands for all ground beef mixing. Your fingers can mix more efficiently than any stationary tool. Squeeze the beef in both hands in a big bowl. Add some fresh ground pepper, but no more salt. Don’t forget that the soy sauce is all the saltiness that you need.

Caramelized Minced Red Onion

Onions  Minced shallots or any kind of onion mixed with ground beef will be delicious. If you like the burger medium rare, make sure you mince onions, so the onion pieces can cook and sweeten.  If you’re cooking your burgers medium or medium well, you can use bigger pieces of onion. I like shallots best because they’re already a little sweeter even before it caramelizes. My favorite option, which takes longer, is caramelizing onions ahead of time in a skillet and adding that to the ground beef.

  • — For every 4-ounce patty, which to me is the ideal burger size, add 2 tablespoons minced onions and ¼ teaspoon olive oil to a skillet on medium-high heat for 6 minutes. I actually like to burn the onion bits a little. You don’t want them black, but those charred bits in your burger can be pretty amazing. (If you’ve got a pound of beef, that’s ½ cup of minced onions) Let it cool enough to handle, and then mix in with the beef with your hands nice and good to get an even meat to onion ratio throughout the patty. 

Butter  Stick a pad of butter into the center of the patty.  I know, it sounds both gross and amazing. Add some salt and pepper and grill. I had my doubts until I tried it also. It’s quite satisfying. Again, if you’re using quality beef, use quality butter, not some lab-created substitute. I suggest this recipe only for people who like their patties medium to medium rare; otherwise, I think you lose a lot of the butter from over-cooking.  I also like to make herbed butter. Ahead of time, take half a stick of room temperature butter and mix in fresh chopped herbs, like dill, parsley & chives. Put the butter in a small container and refrigerate until it’s hard again.

  • — For every 4-ounce patty, cut the butter into ½ tablespoon pads. Most sticks of butter come with tablespoon measurements on the wrapper or you can just eye it. Make sure there are equal amounts of beef on both sides of the patty. You can combine this recipe with the minced onion recipe above, too.

Worchester Sauce & Garlic  Of all the ideas mentioned in this post, this recipe will give you the most distinctive flavored burger. I usually say that a good melted cheese is required on a crowd-pleasing burger, but this one seriously doesn’t need anything else except a bun.  This combination was suggested to me from a butcher from The Meat Hook and it is truly delicious.

  • — For every 4-ounce patty, add two cloves a minced garlic and two teaspoons of Worchester sauce (If you’ve got a pound of beef, that’s 8 cloves of minced garlic and about 2.5 tablespoons Worchester sauce). Mix well and form into patties. Add salt & pepper.  If you try any of these recipes, try this one and let me know what you think.
Experimenting with Patty Prep

Final thoughts on any of these burgers: they generally need to be balanced with a proper cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles. Ketchup is optional, but don’t drown out all those subtle flavors with too much of the red stuff.  And make sure your bun size works with your patty size. Too much bread cancels out flavor. I’ve been using Thomas’ English Muffins instead of regular buns lately. When you’re grilling, make sure you clean the grill before each session and use a silicone or traditional brush to lubricate the grill surface with non-extra virgin olive oil (you don’t want to taste the extra virgin oil).  This will prevent sticking and having your beautiful patty get disfigured in the process.  One last thought with grilling burgers, try 3 or 4 different things with one batch of burgers. Take notes. I do this all the time. The more variations you try, the better chance you’ll have a Holy Shit This Is An Amazing Burger Moment.

Join the Conversation


  1. Tony! As a burger connoisseur I find it shocking how often I come across a burger that’s nearly flavorless, having been prepared poorly. It really isn’t that hard. Thank you! for pointing out how simple preparation and some select spices help a burger go a long way. I myself keep it very simple with rolling a ball of fatty ground beef (mixed with lean) through an evenly proportioned spice mixture of salt, pepper, garlic salt, and chili powder. Twist and mash (marbleizes the spices), then grill hot flipping only once until medium. Perfect American burger.

    1. Good point about flipping only once, I’m always annoyed with the over-flippers. I hope to see you this summer at one of my rooftop BBQs!

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