5 Unexpected Fresh Ingredients To Upgrade Your Burger

From using high-quality meat and getting just the right thickness to invoking the magic of the Maillard reaction for a bit of crunch and caramelization, there are a number of elements involved in crafting the perfect burger. And once that burger is finished sizzling in the skillet or atop your grill grates, there's another consideration — what toppings you'll pile on.

Fresh lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and crisp onions are all solid go-to garnishes, but there is an infinite number of ways to build a satisfying burger. If you're on the hunt for new ingredients to top your patty with that will take it to the next level, look to other fresh bites that will also complement its tender texture and rich flavor instead of just sticking with the standards. From earthy root vegetables and briny spreads to pickled and marinated veggies or sweet fruit, there's no shortage of ways to take your burger from ho-hum to absolutely breathtaking. 

Add beets to your burger

For starters, try slipping a few beets between your burger and the bun. When roasted, the slightly sweet, earthy flavor of the root vegetable can enhance the flavor of the beef. Or, opt for a pickled version that will still impart the essence of beet flavor along with an added zing and a firm textural contrast to a juicy burger.

You can add them on top in slices for an added bite or dice them into a pseudo-relish. If you're feeling like investing a little more time, you can also blend roasted beets with your favorite seasonings (garlic, cumin, or za'atar would be fantastic to balance the sweetness) to make a spread.

Spread on some tapenade

The salty flavor of dill pickles always works well on (or beside) a burger, but you can switch them out for a fresh olive tapenade for a nuanced flavor profile. Smearing the chopped olive spread on your bread will add a bit of brininess while the olive oil can help keep the burger moist. Some recipes incorporate anchovies, too, adding even more rich umami flavor. Plus, the addition of herbs and citrus provides a bright contrast to the burger's meatiness.

And, if you want to double down with more Mediterranean-inspired ingredients, try sprinkling some salty feta on top, too, to bring a delightfully pungent creaminess to your burger. Or, swap out traditional mayo for some tangy Greek yogurt spiked with dill, oregano, or a hint of corriander.

Chow down on chow chow

Popular in the South, chow chow is a mixed vegetable-based relish that is simultaneously spicy, sweet, and tart. While the veggies may vary, it typically includes a mixture of bell peppers, tomatoes (green or red will do), cabbage, and onions brined in vinegar that's been seasoned with spices like celery seed, pickling spice, cayenne, and mustard seed and sweetened with sugar.

Not only is the condiment layered with flavors, but the various vegetables add a crunch that can totally surpass your standard iceberg lettuce and raw onions. With a balance of tart, sweet, and an umami punch thanks to the mustard seed, chow chow relish adds a brightness that can cut through the meaty flavors of a thick burger.

Marinate cucumbers for fresh crunchiness

Another easy upgrade is to stack freshly marinated cucumbers on top of your patty for tons of crunch and fresh flavor that the fully pickled variety lacks. To make a simple version, follow a recipe for making dill pickled cucumbers, which takes just a few minutes to make and only needs about 90 minutes to brine.

The beauty of this burger topping is that you can easily adjust it however you like to create a different combination of flavors each time you make it. Add red pepper flakes or cayenne for a spicy version, increase the sugar for more sweetness, or try adding soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame seeds for an Asian-inspired take on your cukes.

Pile on sliced pineapple

If you're a fan of sweet and savory combinations, a thick slice of pineapple on top of your patty may just elevate things to burger perfection. Plus, a simple fresh slice of pineapple will have just the right firmness to beautifully contrast the texture of the juicy beef. Plus, it's easy to prepare — just trim the skin and slice off a ring. 

You can also grill the pineapple to bring out even more sweet, caramelized flavor. Or, if you have a little extra time on your hands, mix the grilled pineapple with other fruits and some spices (we suggest cilantro with some salt and pepper, with just a dash of agave) in a grilled pineapple salsa to spread on top.