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Expert Guide

13 Ways to Make a Bad Burger Great

As writer Daniel Duane learned the hard way, a great burger is really about the meat. But what if you’re stuck at a cookout with nothing but those stacks of frozen patties? That’s when a maximalist approach is not only okay, but required. Here are 13 ways to smother your less-than-stellar burger and make it awesome.

1. Beyond mayo. Make your own “secret sauce” (aka Russian dressing) and flavor it with herbs, like tarragon. Spike mayo with any one of the fiery condiments in your fridge—Sriracha, harissa, cherry pepper relish or Tabasco—to add a spicy kick. Or add just a touch of soy sauce to pump up your burger’s umami quotient.

2. Other salad dressings. Leave the bottled dressing in the door of the fridge; a bad burger needs some homemade love. Make a sweet-and-tangy riff on “Catalina” dressing or a refined riff on blue cheese.

3. Barbecue sauce. Burger needs more help than ketchup? Make your own barbecue sauce to spread on your bun

4. Nachos. Be like Bobby Flay and top your burger with salsa, cheese sauce and (yep) even chips. Your hangover? Cured.

5. Chili. Cure not work? Go really over the top and ladle some meat stew on top of your meat patty.

6. Chile relish. For a spicy topping that’s more complex than spicy mayo, make a roasted chile relish, like this simple garlicky one or a cilantro-flecked green harissa.

7. Banh mi it. Yes, to banh mi something is now a verb. Do it to your burger, adding pickled carrots and daikon radish, cilantro, jalapeños and mayo.

8. BLT it. Does this need any explanation?

9. Slaw. A crisp salad topping isn’t just for hot dogs. Creamy-style or Asian-style—it’s all delicious.

10. Smoked cheese. No grill and a bad burger? No problem. Just griddle your burger and top it with smoked gouda or cheddar.

11. Yogurt sauce. While good with beef, if you’re in a Mediterranean state of mind, an herb-flecked tangy yogurt sauce is life-changing on a lamb burger

12. Kimchi. Either throw the jarred version of this garlicky (often spicy) Korean pickle on top or make your own.

13. Pickled everything. Okay, so maybe not pickled CD jewel cases, but boring burgers are a great place to showcase your homemade pickles.

Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.

Related: 32 Best Burger Recipes
Best Burgers in the US
Wines for Every Type of Burger

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