The Burger Topping That Makes Or Breaks A Dish, According To Alton Brown

Everyone has their own idea of a perfect burger, and there is something to be said for a lot of different setups. Raw onions bring sharp freshness, but grilled onions have delectable sweet and smoky notes. Fresh jalapeños give a great kick, but so do a few dashes of your favorite red or green pepper hot sauce. Creamy American cheese has the ultimate melt factor, but Swiss brings a pleasant funk and pairs well with mushrooms. The meat is, of course, important, and you can't have a burger without the bun, but for Alton Brown, there is one non-negotiable burger accoutrement — pickles.

Pickles do hold two absolutely indispensable roles — they provide the necessary acidic tang and craveable crunch. Without them, a burger can taste overly fatty and one-dimensional. Especially for someone like Brown who prefers a burger on the simpler side with nothing more than mayo (Alton Brown's favorite mayonnaise is Duke's, by the way), mustard, and cheddar cheese, this classic sandwich would be wholly incomplete without those little green rounds.

What kind of pickles does Alton Brown prefer on a burger?

Alton Brown is partial to dill pickles for the assertive tanginess and satisfying crunch. Surprisingly, this notoriously opinionated chef is also open to a mix of dill and bread and butter pickles. Bread and butter pickles are a sweet variety often pickled with spices like coriander, mustard, or celery seeds. These tend to be a bit brighter and more well-balanced than other types of sweet pickles, and they are almost always sold in chip form. You can use other types of sweet pickles instead, but just steer clear of candied pickles for this purpose, since those are packed in a syrupy sweet brine.

Also, if dill pickles tend to be too strongly acidic for your palate, go for sour or half-sour pickles. These two varieties are made by lacto-fermentation instead of vinegar pickling, so they have a less bold flavor. Half-sour are fermented for less time than sour pickles, so they have the mildest taste of the bunch. Layer on a single type or a combination of slices, or chop them all up to make a relish.

What to put on a burger instead of pickles

Burger purists may shake their heads in disappointment, but the reality is, not everyone likes a pickle. At the end of the day, the texture and flavor that pickles bring to a rich burger are very important, but they are not the only addition that can do that same work. Pickled jalapeños, pepperoncini slices, banana peppers, hot cherry peppers, or sport peppers could all bring a nice bite, but they will also bring a little heat to the party. Pickled onions would be ideal for a milder option.

If you take issue with the texture of pickles more than the flavor, turn to the condiments in your refrigerator door. Lots of different hot sauces bring tanginess that can really dial up a burger. Mustard is another option that adds a welcome zip. It makes sense that the tangy secret ingredient in Ina Garten's next-level smash burgers is mustard powder, which is a great way to add an extra layer of heat and acidity. As for the finishing condiments, yellow mustard is classic for a reason, but you can also use other varieties like spicy brown, Dijon, or something with horseradish for a bolder take. With pickles — or an honorable substitution — a simple burger really shines.