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Labor Day Grilling Round-Up + Burger Tips

Portobello blue cheese burgersPortbello Blue Burgers from

If there’s a holiday fit for juicy, over-the-top burgers, it’s Labor Day.

Although I would swear that we just saw the opening of community swimming pools, the calendar says that it is, indeed the winding down of summer. Schools have already started here, and our city is settling into its fall routine of increased commuter traffic and end-of-the-season festivals. (I just found out that our city’s spectacular Oktoberfest will feature George Takei as Grand Marshall and leader of the World’s Largest Chicken Dance. Awesome!)

But, before imbibing in Oktoberfest’s Bavarian pretzels, beer [and generally too much food to be fessed up to here], there’s a weekend of good grilling and good company to enjoy. Labor Day is a big deal in Cincinnati, beginning early Sunday morning with a day-long party downtown, peaking with the legendary Rozzi fireworks show over the Ohio River Sunday night, and mellowing out with smaller, more intimate backyard cookouts on Monday.

For today’s post, I wanted to gather up some of the fabulous cookout fare I’ve had over the last few years (none of these have been featured on before) — just looking over this list is making me ravenously hungry!

But first, I’d like to share some of my best tips for preparing ground meat burgers:

  • If you can, buy whole cuts and grind the meat yourself (if you have a Kitchen Aid standmixer, the grinding attachment is awesome and economical). The difference is definitely noticeable. Cooks Illustrated once did a blind taste test of beef burgers using freshly ground meat vs. pre-ground meat: 100% of tasters chose the freshly ground.
  • Handle the meat as little as possible. Form patties by gathering clumps of meat and pressing them together to form a patty. Don’t pick up a palmful and squoosh-squoosh-squoosh it together like a meatball, flattening it with your palms. That’s a recipe for tough burgers!
  • If you’re using add-ins, like bacon crumbles or chutney or small cheese cubes, I recommend spreading out the ground meat on a rimmed baking sheet, and sprinkling or spooning the add-ins evenly over the meat. Then form the patties as described above, catching up the add-ins as you go.
  • Add ground seasonings on top of the formed patties, don’t work it in with your hands, because it’s inevitable you’ll overdo it, producing tight, meatloaf-textured burgers. If you’re using good quality meat with gentle handling, you’ll need just a pinch of salt and pepper on each side for awesome burgers. But for an extra special touch, I love this seasoning mix, courtesy of one of Cincinnati’s famous burger joints, Terry’s Turf Club.
  • Press a crater into the center of the burger. This will prevent the burger from puffing up like a beach ball during grilling.
  • Place the formed burgers in the fridge for a half hour, or in the freezer for 10 minutes, before grilling. This will let the gently-formed burgers hold together during grilling and transfer.
  • Resist that American-ingrained temptation to press down on the burger with your spatula as it’s cooking. All that does is squeeze out the juices that keep the burger from drying out.
  • Cook the burgers to the proper temperature for the meat you’re using, but don’t overcook them. When they reach the correct temperature, remove them from the grill. If you have someone at your party who insists on the scorched puck, make it to-order for that guest.

Now, on to the recipe inspiration!

Caramelized Onion Cheeseburgers from

labor-day-caramelized-onion-cheeseburger-recipe_xlgPhoto from

Everything is better with caramelized onions, including this traditional cheeseburger — sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Pimiento Cheese + Bacon Burgers from Bobby Flay

labor-day_Pimiento-Cheese-Bacon-Burger-Recipe_s4x3_lgPhoto from

A Southern delight, pimiento cheese is a guilty pleasure for this Northern girl. (I remember eating store-prepared pimiento cheese out of a container with a spoon as a kid.) A natural fit for burgers, Bobby Flay’s burger recipe includes pimiento cheese made from scratch (no worries – it’s easy!).

Cheddar-and-Onion Smashed Burgers from


This is my go-to method for preparing burgers indoors. It’s a no-fail process that produces super juicy, onion-infused burgers every time. For outdoor grilling, use a grill pan made for fish or vegetables, so you don’t lose the onions when you flip them. (Photo at right from Food & Wine.)

Tip: Apply a light layer of mayo to the insides of each bun, and grill to toast. Awesome.

Miami Burger from Bobby Flay

labor-day-burger_Flay_miami_r1_s4x3_lgPhoto from

Fans of the Cuban sandwich (me!) will love this burger-y take. The addition of roasted garlic is amazing (do note the comments in the recipe – I found them to be spot on in recommending using less dijon mustard, but more roasted garlic).

Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burger from


Turkey burgers are difficult beasts. Often dry or bland (or both), it’s the rare recipe that creates a tender, super-flavorful turkey burger. I’ve had a lot of turkey burgers in my life, and no recipe comes close to this one. The addition of mango chutney was inspired.. For your guests avoiding beef and used to the disappointments of poultry burgers, this burger will make their night. (Photo at right from

Chipotle Portbello Mushroom Burgers from

One of my favorite recipes from grillmaster Steven Raichlen. Portbello mushroom burgers can be iffy – oddly squishy and squeaky – or amazing, deeply succulent and {yes} meaty. This one lands firmly on the side of the latter, so full of flavor, thanks to the chipotles and balsamic vinegar. The vegetarians at your cookout will lavish you with promises of artisan beer and car detailing if you serve these.

Shrimp Burgers with Roasted Garlic-Orange Aioli from

Food52Photo from

A most lovely alternative to beef and poultry burgers. I’ll be honest, though: the shrimp burgers are da bomb, but it’s the aioli that totally makes this recipe rock the party. Don’t skip out on it – it’s worth it.

Paella from

labor-day-paellaPhoto from

Finally, if you’ve overdone the whole burger thing this summer, consider going completely non-traditional: think Paella! This magnificent Spanish dish is a crowd-worthy spectacle that can be prepared on the grill. See Martha’s step-by-step slideshow for a visual guide to making this class saffron-scented dish. (The awesome red-handled paella pans are available in many sizes to fit your party – try online at

Enjoy this last holiday of summer!

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Julie @ Texan New Yorker

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

Great post! I haven't yet decided what I'm doing for Labor Day - burgers, or ribs?? Tough decisions...

I'm familiar with so many of those burgers you posted, they're on my to-make list, which may be tipping the scales for burgers this weekend. We shall see! :)

Rocky Mountain Woman

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

So that pimento cheese burger is on the list for the weekend - I haven't had that in years and now I have an excuse to go buy some...


Monday 26th of August 2013

Oh man, you're killing me - especially with that Miami burger.

How is it Labor Day this weekend? If I don't acknowledge it, will summer last longer?


Monday 26th of August 2013

Shrimp burgers? O_O I love that idea. And I'm so jealous about all the great events you get to attend. George Takei alone would be worth a trip. Thanks!