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Our “bigger is better” mentality has resulted in many supersized foods, including giant hamburger patties, often piled high with bacon, cheese, and other flavorizers. Delicious? Yes. Nutritious? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean you have to skip burgers altogether.

With a few tweaks, you can rethink the old paradigm with an eye toward nutrition and sustainability. It might be as simple as making a smaller, better-seasoned burger, or bulking up your beef patty with vegetables, or skipping the beef altogether and using other proteins in its place. Salmon, poultry, beans, and vegetables are tasty, if unexpected, alternatives. These recipes offer a starting point for exploring your burger options.

Tips for Making a Better Burger

Pick high-quality protein: Grassfed beef is more nutritious and flavorful than conventional; the same is true of pastured turkey, chicken, and eggs. Choose wild salmon rather than farmed (or “Atlantic”). (For more on selecting healthy and sustainable meat, eggs, and fish, see “The Conscientious Carnivore.”)

Rightsize your patty: Half-pound burgers are common in many restaurants, but they’ll likely leave you feeling bloated. Aim to make your meat patties about 4 ounces, knowing that they’ll shrink to 3 ounces or so when cooked, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Make your veggie patties about 3 ounces; they won’t shrink.

Consider your flavors: Meat and veggies need a little seasoning to really sing. Per pound of mix, start with a teaspoon of fine-grain sea salt or a tablespoon of a salty condiment like Worcestershire sauce, plus 2 teaspoons of dried herbs or spices (or 2 tablespoons fresh). Seasoning preferences are personal, so scale up or down to suit your tastes.

Handle with care: Squeezing and compressing meat makes for a dry, chewy burger, so be delicate when shaping your patties and try not to overwork them. For a more evenly shaped result, use your thumb to make a shallow indentation in the center of each raw patty — this will keep them from swelling into round burger-balls once they’re on the grill.

Master the grill: A few grilling guidelines can make a world of difference. Pour a bit of oil on a crumpled paper towel, then hold the towel with tongs to swab the grill grate before cooking.

Avoid pressing your patties with a spatula while they’re cooking — this squeezes out the juices, along with crucial moisture and flavor.

Think outside the bun: Whether you’re avoiding white flour or just looking to add more variety to your diet, there are plenty of alternatives to the traditional sesameseed bun. Consider serving your patty between romaine lettuce leaves or on a bed of mixed greens, or try a coconut wrap or whole-grain pita.

Know your doneness preferences: The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for turkey and chicken, 160 degrees F for beef and bison, and 145 degrees F for fish. Adjust these guidelines to suit your personal tastes. We prefer to cook beef, bison, and fish burgers until browned and crisp on the outside, and poultry until the juices run clear.

Supplement with veggies: Serve your patty with a side of roasted broccoli or sautéed spinach. You can also experiment with mixing some chopped veggies right into your ground meat for added moisture, flavor, and color (see our Basic Better Burger below).

Basic Better Burger

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

Classic burger.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. grassfed ground beef
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup diced mushrooms
  • 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbs. fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs. ghee or high heat oil

DIRECTIONS

Place the beef, egg, mushrooms, Worcestershire, and thyme in a large bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients gently but thoroughly.

Divide the mixture into four equal portions, then shape into 3/4-inch-thick patties. Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each burger.

Grill: Preheat the grill on high heat. Oil the grate, place the burgers on it, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for three to four minutes per side, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 160 degrees F.

Stovetop: Preheat a 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel pan over medium-high heat for one to two minutes until hot. Add ghee and tilt to coat the pan. Place the patties in the pan, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between them. Cook for two minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for two minutes more. Flip and cook an additional four minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 160 degrees F.

FLAVOR EQUATION

Use this template for these combos.

1 lb. base + 1/4 cup veggie + 1 tsp. salt or 1 tbs. salty condiment + 2 tsp. dried (or 2–3 tbs. fresh) herbs or spices + toppings

Taco: Ground beef + diced red onion + sea salt + cumin, chili powder, and fresh cilantro + salsa

California: Ground bison + shredded carrots and chopped spinach + Worcestershire sauce + fresh dill and parsley + avocado, sprouts, and tomato

Hawaiian: Ground turkey + sliced scallions + fish sauce + fresh ginger + grilled pineapple and sriracha mayo

Mediterranean: Ground chicken + diced sun-dried tomatoes + sea salt + dried basil and oregano + basil pesto or olive tapenade

Turkey Burger Banh Mi

Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time
Cook time: 10 minutes

Turkey burger banh mi.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. ground dark-meat turkey
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 1 tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tbs. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tbs. Sucanat or organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup shredded daikon
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 tbs. ghee or high-heat oil
  • 4 butter-lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise, optional
  • 1/2 medium cucumber, sliced
  • 1 medium jalapeño, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

DIRECTIONS

Crumble the turkey into a large bowl. Add the egg, scallions, ginger, fish sauce, and sriracha. Use your hands to mix the ingredients gently but thoroughly. Divide the mixture into four equal portions, then shape into 3/4-inch-thick patties. Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each burger, then place on a plate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four hours until time to cook.

In a medium bowl, whisk rice vinegar and Sucanat until dissolved, then add the daikon and carrot and toss to coat. Let the veggies marinate, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

Grill: Preheat the grill on high heat. Oil the grate, place the burgers on it, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for three to four minutes per side, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 165 degrees F.

Stovetop: Preheat a 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel pan over medium-high heat for one to two minutes until hot. Add ghee and tilt to coat the pan. Place the patties in the pan, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between them. Cook for two minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for two minutes more. Flip and cook an additional four minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reads 165 degrees F.

Place each burger on a lettuce leaf and top with mayonnaise, if desired. Drain excess liquid from the pickled veggie mixture before topping the burgers. Finish with fresh cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro.

Salmon-Dill Burgers

Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time
Cook time: 10 minutes

Salmon-dill burger.

Mushroom-Walnut Burgers

Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time
Cook time: 20 minutes

Mushroom-walnut burger.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbs. ghee or other high-heat oil

DIRECTIONS

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for one minute, then add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook for one minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another five minutes.

While the onions cook, put the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to grind to pebble-like texture, then transfer to a large bowl. Place the oats in the processor and grind to a coarse powder. Transfer oats to the bowl with the walnuts.

Place the mushrooms in the processor bowl and pulse until the mushrooms are minced to the texture of ground beef. Scrape the mushrooms into the pan with the onions and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir until the mushrooms are soft and brown, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, then add the tamari to the pan and cook until dry, reducing the heat if the mushrooms start to stick. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms are tender and browned, remove pan from heat and let cool.

Add the cooled mushrooms to the bowl with the walnut mixture, then add the egg, parsley, thyme, and shredded cheese. Use your hands to mix the ingredients gently but thoroughly. Divide into four equal portions of about 1/3 cup each. Place on a plate and chill for 30 minutes.

Stovetop: Preheat a 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel pan over medium-high heat for one to two minutes until hot. Add ghee and tilt to coat the pan. Place the patties in the pan, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between each. Cook for one minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for one minute more. Flip and cook an additional two minutes. Continue to flip burgers every two minutes for a total of about 20 minutes, until browned and firm when pressed.

Bake: Place burgers on an oiled sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, until firm when pressed.

Grill: Preheat the grill on high heat. Place a square of aluminum foil on the hot grill grate, then swab with oil. Place burgers on foil and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for six to 10 minutes per side, until browned and crisp.

Vegan Quinoa Burgers

Makes four servings
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes inactive time
Cook time: 20 minutes

Vegan quinoa burger.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup plus 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tbs. ground flaxseeds
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup pumpkinseeds, toasted
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tbs. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbs. ghee or other high-heat oil

DIRECTIONS

In a 2-quart pot, bring 1 cup water to a boil, then add quinoa. Return to a boil, then cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes. When the quinoa has thrown off little white circles, drain any remaining water; measure 1 cup quinoa and reserve the rest for another use.

In a small bowl, whisk 1/3 cup water with the ground flaxseeds and let stand to thicken.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for one minute, then add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onions to the pan and cook for one minute, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for one minute more, then remove pan from heat and let cool.

Place the oats in the food-processor bowl and grind into a coarse powder, then transfer to a large bowl. Place pumpkinseeds in the processor and pulse to a pebble-like texture. Transfer to the bowl with the oats. Place the drained beans in the processor and process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to the bowl. Add the carrots, cumin, paprika, tamari, salt, thickened flaxseeds, cooked onions, and 1 cup cooked quinoa. Use your hands to mix the ingredients gently but thoroughly. Divide the mixture into four equal portions and form each into a ¾-inch thick patty. Place on a plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Stovetop: Preheat a 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel pan over medium-high heat for one to two minutes until hot. Add ghee and tilt to coat the pan. Place the patties in the pan, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between each. Cook for one minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for one minute more. Flip and cook an additional two minutes. Continue to flip burgers every two minutes for a total of about 20 minutes, until browned and firm when pressed.

Bake: Place burgers on an oiled sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, until firm when pressed.

Grill: Preheat the grill on high heat. Oil the grate, place the burgers on the grate, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for six to 10 minutes per side, until browned and crisp.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine. 

Photos by: Andrea D’Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
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