Seems like every day one of the magazines or newsletters you subscribe to comes out with a list like “burger trends for 2017” or “6 things chefs are putting on burgers—number 4 will blow your mind.” To get to the bottom of what’s really happening and to see what’s on the horizon for burger lovers, we talked to Chef Jorge Cespedes. He has over nine years of experience in the foodservice industry and recently completed a burger tour in Atlanta.
The Core Elements: Master the Foundation, Then Go Beyond Basic
Chef Jorge says before you get too wild or stretch the boundaries of what a burger can be, you have to make sure you have the fundamentals down solid.
He recommends working with your distributor or local resources to make sure you have amazing bread. He’s seen many restaurants move to a brioche bun since it has a good texture that can soak up flavors, but its own flavor isn’t overpowering.
Once you have the foundation of your burger established, you can begin to branch out into other areas. You can go bold and wild by offering burgers on something like French toast or a donut, or you can go the wholesome route with breads based on ancient grains or older bread styles.
Some operators are adding jalapenos to their buns or using honey butter as a spread. The more wacky ideas might be best left for food trucks though.
Many places are experimenting with new cuts of beef in their grind, but whatever yours is, make sure you’re consistent. Fancier beef might sound good on the menu, but more than likely it won’t make a ton of difference in flavor. The fat content is likely where you’ll taste the most difference. 70/30 is probably where you want to be.
While premium sounding cuts aren’t the ticket to better burgers, you can incorporate other flavor-adding proteins such as brisket, short rib or even bacon.
As options like the “Impossible Burger” (the vegetarian burger that “bleeds”) become more popular, guests have higher expectations from your nonmeat patties. It’s time to go beyond black bean patties or trying to pass a grilled portabella as an appropriate patty substitute.
Some people don’t even like to call American cheese “cheese,” but it is the gold standard for burgers. Think of using an “elevated” American cheese cut into thicker slices.
Go high-end with US-made cheddar or other regional options. Some southern restaurants are putting pimento cheese on their burgers. Guests love switching things up and having quality choices.
Be Regional and Original
Chef Jorge understands the importance of region so he recommends bringing in the flavors of your hometown or area to make loyal fans as well as give visitors something they can’t get anywhere else. More and more travelers want to “eat where the locals eat,” and if that’s your restaurant, you can become a destination.
Aside from sports teams and local celebrities, what else can inspire your burger creations? Past historical events, local festivals, and regional lore can all provide new ideas for burger names and recipes.
People Expect Premium
The idea of premium is shifting. Anymore it means local, simple ingredients. Bare Burger has made it their mission to source as many ingredients as locally as possible.
If you can develop a relationship with local meat suppliers, you can use their story to help tell your own. Guests knowing they’re supporting local businesses can make them feel good about dining with you, and they’re likely to pay more for the premium experience.
Pickles Add Crunch and Flavor
When thinking about your toppings, crispiness is an element that really enhances the overall experience. Pickles are a great way to bring that texture in addition to their unique taste. Chefs are also using spicy hot pickles to create livelier burgers.
There are lots of recipes and techniques out there that help you make your own pickles. That way you can develop ones that are exactly to your liking and custom to your burgers. Plus, guests will love to see “house-made pickles” on your menu.
Toppings Are All About Crispy
The basic elements of a burger are inherently soft, so bringing in something with a bit of crunch will round out the eating experience.
Getting items from the garden on a burger is a smart way to jazz things up. Using regional favorites is a good idea too. Chef Jorge loved the fried green tomato on a burger he recently had in Atlanta.