It’s hard to believe that Labor Day is upon us. Seems like it was only yesterday that we were grabbing our grills and cranking up the coals to barbecue ribs, steaks and burgers.

Summer was a different season here in Michigan compared to what we usually expect: high humidity and temperatures to match, for one. Instead, the cool nights and moderate days not only kept the AC bill low, it made for wonderful times on the deck, whether grilling dinner or enjoying a late afternoon or evening cocktail.

I’m a fan of grilled burgers, and we enjoyed them regularly during the past few months — careful not to overindulge and making sure that meatless meals were enjoyed, as well. A thick beef patty slid between two pillowy buns and adorned with cheese and onion is my preferred favorite, but sometimes I like to serve up a salsa or chutney for topping or maybe add a few lettuce leaves or a thick slab of sliced tomato.

But it’s not just beef that makes super burgers. Other spectacular show-offs start with ground lamb, veal, pork, turkey, chicken and portobello mushrooms. These are particularly great choices when spiced up with Asian, spicy barbecue or Middle Eastern flavors. So this Labor Day holiday, I’m going beyond the beef with recipes from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, an outdoor kitchen and grill company that provides recipes to create on their superior line of grills. And unlike the days of summer, the variations are endless. Whether you’re eating it off a paper plate or Grandmother’s china, the all-American burger reflects the taste of all America.

Burger tips

The key to a memorable beef burger is the amount of fat in the meat, because if you use meat that’s too lean it will end up with the consistency of a hockey puck. Ideally, you want about 15 to 20 percent fat, so ask your butcher for a coarse grind of ground chuck.


Instead of ketchup and mustard, try herb-flavored yogurt, soy sauce, aioli (a garlicky mayonnaise), chutney or salsa to accompany your burger. Make your own chutney or salsa or buy it. If you must have mustard, stir in a dollop of horseradish or a bit of minced pickled ginger. Heighten the flavor of ketchup with minced chipotle chilies (a tiny bit goes a long way).


Don’t overwork the meat when shaping patties. The more gentle you are, the better the texture of the burger. Ideally, the seasoned patties should be 1-inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.


This also makes a great burger. Toast pita bread on the grill or run under the broiler to brown, then add the burger. Flour tortillas and naan (Indian flat bread) are also delicious burger holders. Ciabatta rolls, which are crusty and flat, are popping up in more supermarkets and make great burger buns

Brat Burger with Fennel Mustard Seed Slaw

Pork shoulder is roughly 80 percent lean, so it is perfect for a grilled burger application like this. Recipe from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

3 pounds pork shoulder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground Aleppo chili (you can find this at Williams Sonoma)

½ teaspoon freshly ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

½teaspoon freshly ground juniper berries

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon whole black mustard seed, coarsely-ground

½ teaspoon champagne vinegar

2 pinches fine sea salt

About 6 ounces of thinly shaved fennel bulb plus the wispy fronds

6 slices Emmenthaler Swiss cheese

6 pretzel hamburger buns, sliced

6 large tomato slices

Cut the pork shoulder into ½–inch cubes. Place the meat pieces in a single layer and sprinkle evenly with the salt, Aleppo chili, coriander, cardamom and juniper berries. Please note that the flavor of freshly-ground spices is much stronger than pre-ground spices. A coffee grinder is a perfect piece of equipment for the task.

Transfer the seasoned meat to a metal bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. A metal bowl will help transfer the cold to the meat. It is important that the fat be well-chilled prior to grinding.

Place the mayonnaise, mustard seed, champagne vinegar and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to thoroughly combine. Toss in the fennel and reserve.

Use a meat grinder, a food grinder attachment on your mixer or a food processor to finely grind the meat. Form into 6 equal patties, slightly larger than the buns and recessed in the middles.

Prepare the grill for direct grilling over a medium-hot fire, about 500 degrees. Grill the burgers, turning once, until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Add a slice of cheese to each for the last minute of cooking. Lightly toast the buns on the grill at this time.

Assemble the burgers with a slice of tomato and the fennel slaw and serve. Serves 6.

Per serving:

509 calories; 34 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 156 mg cholesterol; 587 mg sodium; 44 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Ricotta Cheese

Look for lean ground turkey that combines light and dark meat together. Leanest ground turkey will be too dry because it is only from the turkey breast. Recipe from Diane Rossen Worthington

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 ¼ pounds ground turkey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup ricotta cheese, whole milk or skim

Salt and pepper to taste

6 kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, lightly toasted

6 leaves lettuce, such as romaine or red-leaf, torn into pieces

6 slices beefsteak tomato

6 red onion slices, optional

6 slices sharp cheddar cheese




In a medium skillet on medium heat, add the oil. Sauté the shallots for about 3 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

In a medium bowl mix together the ground turkey, the sauteed shallots and garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ricotta cheese and salt and pepper. Shape into thick patties. Place on a platter and cover. Refrigerate for at least one hour so that the patties will hold together.

Heat a heavy-bottomed grill or sauté pan over medium heat and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Cook burgers. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on first side, flip and cook 4 to 6 minutes on other side, or until the burgers are brown and crispy on the outside. Turn down the heat, partially cover them so they will stay moist and cook a few more minutes (about 4) until an instant read thermometer inserted from the side of the burger into the center registers 160 degrees.

To serve, spread both sides of the toasted buns with mustard and mayonnaise and add the burger; and then top each burger with lettuce and tomato. Red onion and cheese are optional. Serves 6.

Per serving:

660 calories; 37 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 40 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 128 mg cholesterol; 817 mg sodium; 40 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Ultimate Burgers

Start with 85 percent lean ground beef (chuck), and top it with bacon, blue brie, grilled onions and rosemary aioli. The way the blue brie melts is absolutely luscious, and the rosemary blends perfectly with the slightly savory nature of the cheese. Recipe from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

1 batch Rosemary Aioli

(see recipe)

3 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef

Extra virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt

6 soft hamburger buns

1 red onion

6 ounces blue brie, sliced (I use Cambozola triple-cream cheese) (freeze for 45 minutes for easier slicing)

6 thick slices bacon, cooked and broken into 12 equal pieces

6 large slices ripe tomato

6 leaves butter lettuce

Prepare the Rosemary Aioli immediately before starting the burgers.

Divide the beef into 6 parts, 8 ounces each. Form them first into smooth balls and then into patties. Recess the patties in the middle so that they are thicker at the perimeter. Brush the patties lightly on both sides with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Allow them to rest as you start the grill.

Prepare the grill for direct grilling with 2 temperature zones: 1 very hot (about 700 degrees) and one medium-hot (about 400 degrees). A charcoal fire is preferred.

While the grill is heating, split the buns and lightly brush the insides with olive oil. Season lightly with salt.

Slice the red onion into 2 thick slices, discarding the ends. Insert 1 bamboo skewer through the side of each slice to hold all the rings together. Brush the slices with olive oil and season liberally with salt.

The trick is to sear the burgers on each side over the hotter fire and then finish them in the cooler zone. The onions can cook the entire time in the hotter zone: Place the onions and burgers in the hotter zone of the fire. Turn the burgers after about 2 minutes. (If they are ready to release from the cooking surface. If not, leave them go a little longer.) Cook the second side in the hotter zone for another 2 minutes, then flip again, transferring to the cooler zone. Turn the onions at this time, leaving them in the hotter zone. After the burgers have cooked in the cooler zone for about 3 minutes, turn them again. Top with slices of cheese and continue cooking until done, about 2 minutes more.

Add the bacon to the tops of the burgers to reheat (if not already hot) Separate the onions into rings and top each burger with 1 or 2 rings. Remove the burgers from the grill and reserve, covered loosely with foil while you grill the buns.

Quickly grill the insides of the buns over the cooler zone of the fire. If it is too slow, you can try the hot zone, but be careful not to burn them.

Spread a little Rosemary Aioli on each bottom bun. Place the burgers (with cheese, bacon and onion) on the buns. Cover with the tops and serve with tomato slices and lettuce. Serves 6.

Rosemary Aioli

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Leaves/needles from 3 sprigs rosemary

1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 egg yolk (see note)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the rosemary, garlic and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Process until the rosemary is finely ground.

Transfer to a smaller vessel with a spout and reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolk (see note) and the salt. Note, the more wires your whisk has, the easier it will be to make this mayonnaise. Whisk in 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice.

Add a few drops of the rosemary olive oil and whisk briskly. Repeat, adding a small amount of olive oil each time. Once you have added 1/3 of the olive oil, add another teaspoon of the lemon juice. Continue adding olive oil a few drops at a time and whisking until 2/3 of the olive oil has been added. Whisk in the remaining lemon juice. At this point, you can pour a thin stream of the olive oil while whisking constantly. It helps to have someone do the pouring while you do the whisking. When finished, you should have a smooth and stable mayonnaise texture. However, it can separate after a time. Cover and refrigerate, and use it within 1 hour.


There is a slight risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness when consuming raw eggs. Use caution. Use only fresh, clean grade A or AA eggs. Avoid contact between the yolks or white and the shell. Do not use the shell to separate the yolks. When available, use pasteurized eggs.

Per serving:

1,102 calories; 84 g fat (24 g saturated fat; 69 percent calories from fat); 26 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 232 mg cholesterol; 1,200 mg sodium; 60 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Nicoise Tuna Burger

Recipe from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

2 small new potatoes, halved

1 pound fresh tuna steak, cut up, cold

1 tablespoon salt-cured capers

About 20 nicoise-style olives

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

About 24 fresh green beans, trimmed

Sea salt

4 soft sandwich rolls, sliced

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Mixed baby greens

Tomato slices

Place the potatoes in a small pan. Fill with enough water to cover the potatoes. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue cooking until the potatoes are al dente, about 7 minutes more. Drain and let the potatoes cool.

Prepare the grill for direct grilling over a medium-hot fire. Preheat a grill basket or perforated grilling pan for the green beans.

Cut up the cooled potatoes. Place them in a food processor along with the cold tuna pieces, capers, olives, anchovy paste and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pulse-process until the texture is such that the mixture can be formed into patties but is still chunky. Form into 4 equal patties and lightly brush the outsides with olive oil.

Whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl. Toss the green beans in the bowl to coat. Season the beans with salt.

Brush the insides of the sandwich rolls with a generous amount of olive oil and season with salt.

Whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Reserve.

Lightly toast the sandwich rolls in a cooler area of the grill. Grill the nicoise tuna burger patties over the hottest part of the fire. Flip them over when halfway done and add the green beans to the grill, discarding the liquid. Grill the green beans until nicely marked but still crisp. Remove everything from the grill when done.

Divide the grilled green beans evenly onto the bottom halves of the rolls. Place the tuna burgers on top of the beans. Re-whisk the lemon vinaigrette and dress enough mixed baby greens for the four burgers. Top the burgers with the dressed greens and tomato slices. Serves 4.

Per serving:

490 calories; 25 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 35 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 42 mg cholesterol; 1,314 mg sodium; 32 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Chermoula Lamb Burger

Marinated ground lamb with cucumbers is a refreshing alternative to beef burgers. Recipe from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

For the Quickly Marinated Cucumbers

1 cup Champagne vinegar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1 large cucumber, sliced -inch-thick

For the Chermoula

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon crystalized ginger, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ cup smoked paprika

1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped

2/3 cup flat parsley leaves, roughly chopped

For the Burgers

2 pounds ground lamb

½ cup chermoula (recipe included)

¼ cup to cup unseasoned bread crumbs (optional)

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 soft burger buns, sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

2 large tomatoes, sliced


Quickly marinated cucumber

(recipe included)

To make the “pickles,” combine the first five ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the sliced cucumber in a non-reactive bowl. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

To make the chermoula, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined but still with quite a bit of texture. This will yield ¾ cup. Let the chermoula sit at room temperature for about an hour to let the flavors develop.

Prepare the grill for direct grilling over a hot fire (about 600 degrees). A cooler zone will also be needed for toasting the buns.

Mix ½ cup of chermoula into the ground lamb. Work the sauce into the meat by hand. Test form a patty. If the mixture is too “loose” to hold together on the grill, mix in some bread crumbs. Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts and form 6 patties. Recess the centers of the patties so that when they puff up on the grill they will turn out flat. Season the patties with salt and pepper. (I normally recommend brushing the outside of burger patties with olive oil before grilling, but these patties have a lot of olive oil already mixed in so it is not necessary to add more.)

Brush the cut side of the buns with olive oil and season with salt.

Grill the burgers over the hottest part of the fire for about 4 minutes. Turn them over and brush the tops with the remaining chermoula. Continue cooking, until medium-well (160 degrees internal temperature) with a nice crust on the outside, about 4 minutes more.

Lightly toast the buns on a cooler part of the grill or on the warming rack. Serve the burgers on the buns with lettuce, tomato and your homemade pickles on the side. Serves 6.

Per serving:

632 calories; 31 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 48 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 114 mg cholesterol; 499 mg sodium; 39 g protein; 4.5 g fiber.

Grilling tips

■Have a hot grill.

■Oil the cooking grate.

■Quickly place all the patties on the hot grill and close the lid and wait about 2 to 3 minutes.

■Use a metal spatula. Test to see if burger easily lifts from the grate. If not, keep grilling until it does.

■Flip all of the patties, close the lid and continue grilling for another 2 to 3 minutes.

■Check patties again to make sure they have released from the grate and flip one more time. Continue grilling until juices from the burgers run clear and the patties have a solid feel.

■Remove from grill and check to make sure they are cooked through by using a fork to pierce through the center.


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