Top American burger recipes for your BBQ

When thinking of American cuisine the burger is often the first thing that springs to mind. Juicy, greasy and deviously tasty - here are three traditional recipes from across the states to grace your BBQ this summer.

4 mins

1. The San Antonio Beanburger (Texas)

No, this is not the veggie burger you're thinking of. This is a beef burger, and a historically significant one at that. The beanburger is a true classic; indigenous to San Antonio, Texas, where it was born. In the 1950s the long-gone Sill's Snack Shack served the first Beanburger, and soon many local burger joints were copying them.

Homemade refried beans is the right call, but how do you replace Fritos? Ideally, you don’t because the Frito has no equal. In a pinch, substitute other salty store-bought corn chips, or better, pick up fresh tortilla chips from your local Mexican restaurant. For cheese my recipe again falls in the middle. Cheddar is great, but to get closer to the original make your own cheddar spread. If that’s not your thing, simply drape your beanburger with a slice of cheddar and toss it under the broiler to melt before adding the top bun.

The San Antonio Beanburger
The San Antonio Beanburger

Makes 8 burgers
A seasoned cast-iron skillet or a flat top
A stiff spatula
A medium-size mixing bowl
A #12 salad scoop
The Burger
Peanut oil, or other neutral oil
2 pounds (about 1 kg) fresh-ground
80/20 chuck
Salt, for seasoning
8 soft white buns, toasted
The Toppings
Frijoles Refritos de Jorge (refried beans, recipe follows)
Motz’s Whiz Cheese Spread (recipe follows)
1 large bag (93⁄4 ounces/275 g) Fritos
1 medium Vidalia or Walla Walla onion, chopped


1. Make the frijoles refritos and cheese spread and set both aside.
2. Preheat the cast-iron skillet over medium heat (or a flat top to medium) and add a drop or two of peanut oil. Use the spatula to spread the oil, coating the cooking surface.
3. Place the ground chuck in the mixing bowl. Using the salad scoop, form balls of beef (they should be heaping scoops), placing them on the heated skillet as you go. Each ball should have about 3 inches (7 cm) of space around it. (Depending on the size of your cooking surface, you may only be able to cook 2 or 3 burgers at a time.)
4. Sprinkle a generous pinch of salt on each ball of beef and then, using the stiff spatula, press them down hard until they’re wide patties, just a bit larger than the bun. Once they’re flat, don’t touch them again. Let cook for 2½ minutes or until reddish liquid begins to form on the surface of the patty.
5. Flip the patties once and let them cook for another 2 minutes, undisturbed.
6. Spread a dollop of cheese spread on the toasted side of each bun (tops and bottoms) and add a handful of Fritos to each bottom bun.
7. When the burgers are cooked through, add them to the bottom buns followed by a healthy scoop of refried beans. Sprinkle with the chopped onion and top with the other half of the bun. Raise to lips, eat, and be transported to Southwest Texas.

Sill's Snack Shack, San Antonio, Texas
Sill's Snack Shack, San Antonio, Texas 

Frijoles Refritos de Jorge
Refried beans are very easy to make, and if you like freshly made refried beans then you owe it to yourself to give this recipe a try. Unfortunately for the non-carnivores out there, the only way to elevate refried beans is by selling your soul to the pig—you’ll need to use lard or bacon grease. Lard basically does two things to refried beans: It makes starchy, pasty beans luscious, and, of course, it adds tremendous flavor. Without bacon grease you’re just trying to achieve that consistency and flavor by using oil and salt. Use lard for truly delicious refried beans.

Makes enough for 8 beanburgers
1 (15-ounce/425-g) can pinto beans
¼ cup (60 ml) chicken broth, plus more if
your beans become too thick
3 tablespoons (40 g) lard or bacon fat (if
you don’t want to buy lard, get a pack
of bacon, cook the bacon, eat the bacon,
and save the grease)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon jalapeño (optional), seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt, to taste

1. Drain the beans in a mesh sieve, transfer to a small mixing bowl, and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Add the chicken stock and continue to mash until a lumpy paste forms.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the lard over medium heat and add the diced onion. Cook until the onion is just translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the jalapeño, if using, to the onions and cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add the bean mixture, stir to incorporate, and cook for about 1 minute. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until fully blended and smooth. Return contents to the saucepan over low heat. Keep warm until ready to eat.

Motz’s Whiz Cheese Spread
Motz’s Whiz Cheese Spread

Motz’s Whiz Cheese Spread

To construct a true San Antonio Beanburger you’ll need to pick up some good-old processed Cheez Whiz. But for those who would prefer to avoid heavily processed foodstuffs, make your own Whiz with the recipe below, a variation on one of my favorite foods ever: cheese spread.

Makes enough for 8 beanburgers

3 tablespoons (40 g) good, salted butter
3 tablespoons (25 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (240 ml) half-and-half or light cream
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (225 g) extra-sharp cheddar, shredded

1. Start by making a roux: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture becomes brown and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. (Do not overcook!)
2. Slowly stir in the half-and-half and salt, whisking continuously. When the cream has thickened slightly, add the shredded cheddar, one handful at a time, while continuously whisking. Yes, keep whisking.
3. Once the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is thick, remove it from the heat. Use it on your beanburgers immediately or store it in the fridge. It will last for a few days. It’s also great on nachos, other burgers, or your finger.

2. The Cuban Frita (Florida)

The principle industry in Miami is tourism. Most find their way to the warm weather during the winter months and don't give much thought to life in Miami beyond the beaches. For those smart enough to get off the sand and into diverse and vibrant culture of Miami, one reward comes in the form of the Cuban frita.

In 1959, Cubans began to flee their country following the Cuban Revolution, and many settled in Miami, only about two hundred miles away. The frita was one of the culinary survivors of the exodus. Sharing the same DNA as the American hamburger, the frita was served from street carts in Havana before Fidel Castro seized control of the country. Chorizo spices such as paprika and garlic were mixed into the patty, and it was served on a soft roll with sauteed onions and a nest of fried potatoes on top.

Every frita joint has its own take on the tasty Cuban burger, but all share a few key ingredients, like the fried potatoes and the chorizo-spiced beef. The classic Cuban bread roll is also key, similar in taste and texture to the pillowly-soft, thin-crunch exterior of po'-boy bread in New Orleans. Most importantly, the patty itself is cooked in a special sauce directly on the flat top – the secret ingredient that gives this burger a pronounced, caramelized kick.

The Cuban Frita
The Cuban Frita

Makes 8 burgers
A medium-size mixing bowl
A saucepan or aluminum skillet with a heavy lid
A seasoned cast-iron skillet
A stiff spatula
The Toppings

Motz’s Kinda-Secret Frita Sauce (recipe follows)
Thin-Cut Fried Potatoes (recipe follows)
The Burger
2 pounds (about 1 kg) fresh-ground
80/20 chuck
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin

3⁄4 cup (95 g) grated onion (reserve 1⁄4 cup/35 g for topping)
1 loaf Cuban bread or 8 Cuban rolls (any sturdy yet soft bakery rolls will work if you can’t find Cuban bread)
Peanut oil, or other neutral oil
Salt, for seasoning

Note: This recipe will make a mess of your cast-iron. You’ll want to scrape it clean (no soap!) once you’re done cooking, or it could rust your skillet.

1. Prepare the frita sauce and fried potatoes according to the recipes opposite. I recommend starting with the sauce because it can simmer while the potatoes are frying. Set both aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, mix the ground beef, garlic, paprika, cumin, and grated onion, using your hands to blend until well combined.
3. Hand-form the mixture into 8 fairly thin (¼-inch/6-mm), loose, flat balls and set aside.
4. Slice the bread or rolls in half, then reassemble and place them, three at a time, in a dry saucepan with a heavy lid. Heat over low heat, covered, for approximately 10 minutes, flipping the bread once halfway through. If you’re using rolls, they should be soft and steamy in the middle, but stiff and toasted on the outside.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the cast-iron skillet over medium or medium-low heat with a small dab of peanut oil, spreading it evenly over the surface with the spatula. Once the skillet is hot, add the patties, leaving 2 inches (5 cm) around them (you may only be able to fit two or three at a time), and press them flat like the Griddle-Smashed Classic Cheeseburger. Add a pinch of salt to each patty and let them cook for about 3 minutes, then flip.
6. Spoon a generous amount of the frita sauce over the burgers while they’re sizzling in the skillet and let them cook for 2 minutes. Flip again and cook for 1 minute more.
7. Transfer the patties to the toasted bread or rolls. Top each patty with a heaping handful of fried potatoes, followed by a pinch of the reserved grated onion and a dollop of ketchup. Sandwich with the top piece of bread or roll and serve immediately.

Creating the Cuban Frita
Creating the Cuban Frita

Motz’s Kinda-Secret Frita Sauce
Makes more than enough for 8 Cuban fritas

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press
2 ounces (55 g) tomato paste
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce or similar hot sauce

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until it just begins to turn golden brown (do not burn).
2. Stir in the tomato paste and 1 cup (240 ml) water. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the paprika, sugar, vinegar, and hot sauce. Stir to combine, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. Once cool to the touch, transfer the sauce to a blender and blend on low speed until smooth.

Thin-Cut Fried Potatoes
Makes enough to top 8 Cuban fritas
A deep frying pan
A mandoline slicer (optional)
A large mixing bowl or stockpot
Long tongs (skip the plastic tips!) or a metal slotted spoon

1 quart (1 L) peanut or grapeseed oil
(or enough to fill the frying pan with
½ inch/12 mm oil)
3 large russet (baking) potatoes
Ice water
Salt, for seasoning

1. Preheat the oil in the frying pan over medium high heat until the top of the oil appears to be shimmering. It’s hot enough if you add a piece of potato to the oil and it bubbles.
2. While the oil is heating, peel the potatoes and chop them into matchstick-size strips (or julienne them with a mandoline).
3. Place the matchstick potatoes in a large bowl or stockpot filled with enough ice water to cover them. Soak them for 15 minutes, then drain in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Warning: Make sure the potatoes are fairly dry before placing them in the oil (water + hot oil = horrible explosions).
4. Just a handful at a time, add the dry julienned potatoes to the hot oil in your frying pan. The oil should bubble up immediately upon contact.
5. Cook each batch for about 3 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Using the tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
6. Continue to fry handfuls of potatoes until they’re all cooked, then transfer them to the mixing bowl (make sure it’s dry first) and toss with salt to taste.

3. The Loco Moco (Hawaii)

The Loco Moco has its roots in Hilo, Hawaii, specifically at the now-defunct Lincoln Grill. It was created in 1949 at the request of local high school football players, which makes sense looking at the ingredients. The classic Loco Moco consists of a bed of white rice under a burger patty smothered in beef gravy all topped with a fried egg. It is a sight to behold and equally tasty. Variations exist with Spam, beef chili, and fish. You should experiment, but here is my recipe for the classic – a good place to start. 

The Loco Moco
The Loco Moco

Makes 4 servings
A mandoline slicer
A seasoned cast-iron skillet
A stiff spatula
A medium-size mixing bowl
A #12 salad scoop
A small nonstick skillet
The Burger
Peanut oil, or other neutral oil
1 pound (about 500 g) fresh-ground
80/20 chuck
1 medium Vidalia or Walla Walla onion, sliced into super-thin rings (translucent and thinner than paper)
Salt, for seasoning
2 cups (about 400 g) cooked white rice, prepared according to package directions
The Toppings
Super-Easy Tasty Brown Gravy (recipe follows)
4 large eggs

1. Make the brown gravy according to recipe instructions (below).
Set aside.
2. Preheat the cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add a drop or two of oil, and use the spatula to coat the cooking surface.
3. Place the ground beef in your mixing bowl. Using the scoop, form heaping balls of beef, gently releasing them into the hot pan. Leave about 3 inches (7 cm) of space surrounding each. (You may only be able to cook 2 or 3 burgers at a time.)
4. Sprinkle a generous pinch of salt on each ball of beef. Then grab a golf ball–size pile of the thin-sliced onion and push it onto the center of each ball of beef so it sticks.
5. With great force, use the stiff spatula to press directly down onto the balls of beef, smashing them into thin, wide patties. The onions should fuse nicely with the raw beef. Once they’re smashed, don’t touch the patties again until they’re ready to flip— 5 minutes or until red moisture begins to form on the top of the patties.
6. While the burgers cook, pile ¼ cup
(50 g) of warm rice in each of four single-serving bowls or on plates.
7. When red moisture begins to form on the patties, flip them and cook an additional
2 to 2½ minutes.
8. Meanwhile, in a clean, nonstick skillet, fry the eggs, sunny-side up or over-easy. You’ll want the yolks to be runny because when the egg yolk meets the gravy, beef juice, and rice all hell will break loose on your taste buds (in a good way).
9. Place a cooked burger patty on each bed of rice, smother with the brown gravy, and top with a fried egg. Serve immediately.

Cooking the Loco Moco
Cooking the Loco Moco

Super-Easy Tasty Brown Gravy

Makes enough to smother 4 loco mocos

4 tablespoons (½ stick/55 g) butter
¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (240 ml) beef stock
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons whole milk

1. Start by making a roux: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture is browned and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. (Do not overcook!)
2. Slowly pour in the beef stock while whisking and reduce the heat and simmer. Keep stirring.
3. Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce and continue to stir with the whisk.
4. Introduce the milk slowly, a little at a time, and keep stirring until creamy. Remove the pan from the heat. If your gravy gets too thick, stir in a bit more beef stock until you’re happy with the consistency.

The recipes & text were taken from George Motz's The Great American Burger Book: How to make authentic regional hamburgers at home 

Images by Kristoffer Brearton, Douglas Young & George Motz

Main Image: Classic American burger (Shutterstock)

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