Burger toppings to fire up your tailgating crowd

Are you planning a cookout?

I'm willing to bet that burgers will be on the menu.

It's America's favorite food to throw on the grill, after all, so who are we to mess with tradition?

But that doesn't mean you can't shake things up by offering a few new toppings along with the ketchup and classic yellow mustard.

Just as the definition of what constitutes a "burger" has evolved over time -- today, home cooks are just as likely to stuff patties made from ground seafood, beans or veggies inside a bun as ones made from grilled beef or turkey -- so, too, has our idea of what tastes great on top.

Happily, you don't need a ton of fancy ingredients, or even a whole lot of time in the kitchen, to make a killer burger topping. Take the humble pickle, perhaps the quintessential cookout condiment. Why settle for a limp spear out of a jar when you can make your own crispy dill spears from scratch? All it takes is a handful of sliced Kirby cucumbers, a few spices and a cup of vinegar. Homemade pickled jalapenos and pepper sauce, which speak to America's growing love affair with the chile pepper, are similarly easy to prepare. Or maybe you'd rather add some crunch and color with a tasty Moroccan carrot salad (great on lamb burgers) or get your Latin groove on with a savory sun-dried tomato chimichurri.

Admit it. Doesn't ketchup and mustard suddenly sound boring?

This Independence Day is the perfect time to declare your independence from the same old, same old. To get the fireworks started, we offer an A-to-Z list of toppings for your favorite meat, seafood and veggie burgers.


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
  • 2 avocados
  • 6 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 hot green chile
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Handful of coriander/cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Heat olive oil in pan. Add red onion and cook 1 minute. Add curry powder, cook for 2 minutes, allow to go cold.

Cut avocados in half, remove the skins and stones. Place in blender, add the remaining ingredients (except the sour cream) plus the spiced onion mix. Whiz into a coarse puree, then fold in the sour cream.

Place in a bowl and refrigerate to allow the flavors to marinate for 1 hour.

Serves 4.

-- "Burgers" by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat grill on medium-low. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan on grill. Add onions, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (about 1 hour).

Add vinegar and cook to reduce to syruplike consistency. The mixture should still be moist and resemble a jam. Delicious served warm or refrigerate and heat just before serving.

Makes 1 cup.

-- "All Fired Up" by Margaret Howard (Firefly)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound shallots, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they have been reduced to a dark, sweet paste, 15 to 25 minutes; you will have to stir often. Lower heat as needed to keep from burning. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The shallots can be caramelized several hours or even a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let return to room temperature before serving.

Serves 4.

-- "Planet Barbecue!" by Steven Raichlen (Workman)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 4 to 6 Kirby cucumbers, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 2 crushed and peeled garlic cloves
  • 2 cups water

Place sliced cukes in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; pour mixture over cucumbers.

Use a small plate to submerge cukes in liquid. Refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours. Pickles can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Makes 1 quart.

-- "Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast" from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter)


  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons capers, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tablespoons French dressing

Mix all ingredients together, and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

-- "Burgers" by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2 bulbs fennel with fronds
  • 1 small jicama (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into julienne
  • 1/2 cup fresh chives, sliced 1-inch long
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • Kosher or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the fronds from the fennel and chop enough fronds to yield 1/4 cup. Core the fennel bulbs and slice very thinly. Transfer to a serving bowl along with the chopped fronds. Add all the remaining ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste, and toss to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Toss again just before serving.

Serves 6.

-- "Burger Parties" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut in half crosswise

Preheat grill to high.

Cut 2 12-inch squares of aluminum foil and layer them with the dull side up to form a double thickness. Place sheets on a baking sheet and set aside.

Combine mayonnaise, parmesan, breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon juice. Spread mixture evenly on the cut side of each tomato half. Arrange tomatoes on foil sheets. Slide sheets onto the grill.

Cover grill and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops of the tomatoes are browned. Slide foil sheets from grill onto a plate and serve tomatoes hot on top of burgers.

Makes 4 servings.

-- "The Kansas City Barbecue Society Cookbook" by Ardie Davis, Paul Kirk and Carolyn Wells (Andrews McMeel)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 small red West Indian hot chile peppers
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 standard pack fresh cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the peppers either on a hot grill or over a gas flame until skins have blackened, then put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to cool. Finely chop the garlic and onion.

Wearing gloves, remove stems of chile peppers, cut in half and discard seeds, then chop very small.

Peel the bell peppers and cut into small cubes. Mix together bell peppers, garlic, onion and chile peppers in a saucepan. Add the oil and vinegar and bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Strip the leaves from the cilantro and add to the sauce, then leave to cool. Refrigerate overnight and check seasoning before serving.

Serves 6.

-- "Barbecue" by Thomas Feller (Octopus)


  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup rum, dark or light
  • 1/4 cup liquid honey
  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine ingredients and heat until simmering, stirring often.

Makes 1-1/2 cups of sauce.

-- "500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades & More" by George Geary (Robert Rose)


  • 3 large Anaheim or Cubanelle chiles, cut in half and stemmed
  • 10 jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Place chiles, jalapenos, red onion and garlic on prepared roasting pan. Brush with oil. Roast in preheated 400-degree oven until skins of chiles and peppers are darkened, about 20 minutes.

In food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse roasted vegetables 10 times or until desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in lime juice and salt. Let stand in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour for flavors to develop or for up to 2 days.

Makes 2 cups.

-- "500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades & More" by George Geary (Robert Rose)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, tarragon or basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound mushrooms, such as chanterelle, cremini, portobello or button

Place butter in a mixing bowl. Add garlic and parsley and whisk until light and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel or dishcloth. Trim ends off stems and slice.

Set up grill for direct grilling, lightly oil grates and preheat to high. Lightly brush mushrooms with garlic-herb butter. Grill on hot grates until nicely browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes per side, basting with more garlic-herb butter. (Don't apply too much or it will drip and flare up and make the mushrooms sooty). Alternatively, grill the mushrooms in a grill basket or shish-kebab-style on skewers. Transfer mushrooms to a platter and serve at once, with any remaining garlic-herb butter spooned on top.

Makes 4 servings.

-- "Planet Barbecue!" by Steven Raichlen (Workman)


Go with a variety you've never tried before, such as butterhead or red leaf, or shred it for extra texture.


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated

Combine the lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, red pepper flakes and salt in a bowl. Mix well to combine. Add the honey, parsley, olive oil and carrots. Mix well and refrigerate until serving.

Makes enough for 6 burgers.

-- "Burger Parties" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed)


  • 1 cup salad dressing
  • 1/3 cup sweet relish
  • 1/3 cup French dressing
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry minced onion

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and stir well. Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Makes 1-3/4 cups.

-- cdkitchen.com


  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mashed roasted garlic cloves
  • 1 grilled red onion (3 minutes per side), chopped
  • 1 cup nicoise olives, pitted and finely diced
  • 1 medium grilled tomato, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil and garlic together. Add the onions, olives, tomato and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well, using your hand or a wooden spoon. Let sit for 20 minutes. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Return to room temperature and add cilantro just before serving.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

-- "Latin Grill" by Rafael Palomino with Arlen Gargagliano (Chronicle)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced thick
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  • 8 cups water
  • 15 jalapeno peppers (about 1 pound), rinsed (and I sliced them)
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, rinsed and sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 2 cups)
  • 1-1/4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
  • 4 bay leaves
  • White vinegar as needed

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 3 minutes, then add garlic. Continue cooking for another minute or 2 until onions are soft. Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil. Add jalapenos and carrots and cook 5 minutes, or until slightly softened.

Add cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon pickling salt, Mexican oregano and bay leaves and simmer for another minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove jalapenos, carrots and onions with a slotted spoon or tongs and place in glass jars. When cooking liquid has cooled completely, cover vegetables with liquid until jars are 3/4 full. Add a tablespoon of pickling salt to each jar and fill to top with white vinegar. Cap jars and keep in the refrigerator. Will keep for several months.

Makes about 1-1/2 pounds.

-- "The Tex-Mex Grill" by Robb Walsh (Broadway)


  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large or 2 small red onions, sliced into 1/4-inch rings

In bowl, combine 1 cup water with vinegar, salt and sugar, whisking to dissolve. Add onions, ensuring they are fully submerged. Let stand for at least 1 hour, or up to a week in the refrigerator, stored in the pickling liquid. Drain before serving.

Makes 1-1/2 cups.

-- "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" by Lukas Volger (The Experiment)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cups fresh corn (from about 6 ears)
  • 2 jalapeno chile peppers, minced (seeded or not, depending on your heat threshold)
  • Juice 1/2 lime
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In an oven-safe pan or skillet, heat olive oil. Add corn and peppers, tossing quickly to combine. Transfer pan to oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine corn and peppers with rest of the ingredients. Serve on top of burgers hot, cold or at room temperature.

Makes about 3 cups.

-- "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way " by Lukas Volger (The Experiment)


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 5 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine softened tomatoes, vinegar, roasted garlic and olive oil and process until well blended. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit for about 20 minutes and serve. Or cover and refrigerate up for 3 days. Return to room temperature before serving.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

-- "Latin Grill" by Rafael Palomino with Arlen Gargagliano (Chronicle)


  • 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons oil from sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon mild honey
  • 1/2 cup red flame seedless grapes (substitute green grapes, if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon brine-packed capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the tomatoes, oil, honey and grapes in a food processor and process to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the capers and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes enough for 4 burgers.

-- "Burger Parties" by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed)


  • 3 red, ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • Splash of red wine vinegar or a good squeeze of lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix first six ingredients in a large bowl, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow flavors to mingle for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 1 cup.

-- Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


  • 1 large Vidalia onion, sliced
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons salad oil, plus more for frying

Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Mix egg yolks, milk and salad oil in another bowl. Combine. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold into flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Dip onion rings into batter and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown.

Serves 1 or 2.

-- Vidaliaonion.org


(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • Bunch of watercress, well rinsed and trimmed

Place salt, sugar, pepper, ginger and garlic in a bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in vinegar and sesame oil. Add watercress, and toss to mix.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

-- "Planet Barbecue!" by Steven Raichlen (Workman)


American, Swiss, provolone or Monterey jack.


  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before serving.

Makes about 1 cup.

-- "Weber's on the Grill: Steak & Sides" by Jamie Purviance (Sunset)


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 poblano chile, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 dried chipotle chile, toasted and ground
  • 1 ancho chile, toasted and ground
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • Salt and ground pepper

In saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add onions, poblano and garlic, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in the ground chiles and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring. Add remaining ingredients and simmer. Cook for 20 minutes until thickened. Pour sauce into a blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper, and let sit for about 30 minutes before use. Refrigerate up to 8 days.

Makes 1 cup.

-- Chile Pepper magazine

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