RECIPES: Burgers that go beyond the standard beef

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Try recipes for salmon, turkey, and lamb burgers as an alternative to beef

The official start of summer may be the solstice on June 21, but summer, and grilling season, unofficially commences on Memorial Day weekend.

Few experiences are as wholesome and iconic as a summertime barbecue, complete with ice-cold drinks, laughter and backyard games. Summer fun and summer foods, like many special times, are intertwined. The aroma of food on the grill is one of the most tempting smells of the season. Hamburgers reign supreme, but what about burgers other than beef?

It’s hospitable to have alternatives for non-beef eaters, as well as pescatarians, and folks who simply want a change of pace. Here I offer three non-beef choices: two leaner meats, salmon and turkey, as well as a lamb burger. Plus, I’m including instructions on how to cook indoors, in case you are grill-less or the weather is not cooperating.

Salmon makes a delicious burger. One of the reasons it works so well on the grill is that it is rich, meaty and forgiving to cook. (As a sustainable seafood advocate, I encourage you to search out wild-caught salmon, such as wild Alaska salmon.) For seasoning and texture, I’ve added red onion and sweet red peppers. Briny capers are classic with smoked salmon and are incorporated into this burger, along with pungent mustard and aromatic dill.

Turkey burgers are not so very special — until you stuff them with savory, umami-rich blue cheese and top them with zesty whole basil leaves. I’ve also upped the flavor with chopped baby spinach leaves and a heavy hand of red pepper flakes. The doubling up of citrus flavor with the coriander and basil brings these burgers to life. No ho-hum, dry turkey burgers here! I suggest using 99% fat-free ground turkey breast. If you are worried about them drying out on the grill, you can use a blend with more dark meat.

The last non-beef burger is lamb. Lamb burgers are more common where lamb is a traditional part of the cuisine. Think the Middle East, Greece and North Africa. With that in mind, I suggest topping them with feta and serving them with mayonnaise seasoned with spicy harissa, a hot chile paste from Northern Africa. Chiles are blended into a thick, fiery paste with pungent garlic, rich olive oil, and bold, aromatic spices such as cumin, caraway and coriander. It’s a powerful combination of aromas and flavors. Substitutes could include Sriracha or even hot sauce, but harissa is readily available at many local grocery stores.

Ready to get grilling? For charcoal grills, ignite about 6 quarts (one large chimney or about 6 pounds) of charcoal and burn for 20 to 30 minutes, until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash. Spread coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot. (It is ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds.)

For a gas grill, turn all burners on the gas grill to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes. When cooking with gas, you should close the lid during the cook time to evenly circulate the heat.

Before placing food onto a hot grill, clean and grease your grill rack. Scrape the hot grill rack clean with a wire brush. Lightly dip wadded paper towels in vegetable oil, and holding the wad of towels with tongs, quickly wipe the rack. (It will lightly smoke. Don’t keep the oiled towels in one place too long to avoid catching them on fire.)

For indoor cooking, you can always use a grill pan or skillet. Instead of wiping the grill rack with oil, just grease the skillet. These burger recipes can all be cooked in batches in a large skillet simply by using nonstick cooking spray in the heated pan. Once seared, reduce the heat to medium and cook for the times suggested in the recipes.


Mix things up this Memorial Day weekend with burgers other than beef. Salmon, turkey, and lamb burgers are three fantastic, flavorful burgers to kick off the summer grilling season.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Salmon Burger with Mustard Dill Sauce

You can chop the salmon by hand, in the food processor, or a combination of both. Hand-cut salmon for the burger has the most even texture. Processor-pulsed salmon is the smoothest for the binder.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Turkey Burger

If you are not a fan of blue cheese, nearly any semi-dry, semi-firm cheese will do. You could give feta or goat cheese a try.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Lamb Burger with Harissa Mayonnaise

The bold acidity of the lemon zest and juice marries well with the rich lamb. Look for the PDO (protected designation of origin) mark on real feta from Greece for the absolute best lamb cheeseburger topping.

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