The Humble Burger Goes Glam

Just in time for Independence Day, whether Memphis Blues, to tuna or black bean, here are a few avant-garde recipes for that ultimate American sandwich: the hamburger.

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Moist, juicy, grilled burgers are a paean to summer, a fundamental American culinary right, and an ode to all that is sacred about ground meat (or bulgur or beans). Okay, that's overthinking it. But there is something about a burger that makes people really happy—millions of people will attend a Fourth of July barbeque and say, "I'm totally craving a burger." No one will say, "Wow, I would kill for a piece of trout right about now."

The idea of turning a burger into a gastronomic tour de force is a well-trodden path. In 2001, Daniel Boulud shocked the world with his short rib-, foie gras-, and truffle-stuffed burger, which still resides on the menu for $32. That was quickly followed by another New York entry, the Olde Homestead Steakhouse Kobe beef burger, priced at $41. On the other side of the globe, the Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta serves a hamburger with various toppings, including foie gras, and that sells for (wait for it...) one million rupiahs! OK, that's US$96, but it's so much more dramatic to say ONE MILLION RUPIAHS!

“You always hear people saying, ‘I'm totally craving a burger,’ yet rarely do you hear, ‘Wow, I would kill for a piece of trout right about now.’”

A great burger is a thing of beauty, even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you're in the "if it isn't beef, it ain't a burger" camp, and that’s fine; but the real beauty of burgers is that there are so many ways to go. Salmon, crab, veggie (and all of the subcategories therein), tuna, beef, lamb… virtually any protein is a burger waiting to happen, and weekend bar burgers are an affordable luxury in this economy; For a few extra dollars, and a little bit of TLC, burgers can elevate to a pretty snazzy level. Here are five proper options.

Memphis Blues Burgers with Mustard Sauce by Gina Neely and Pat Neely The Neelys offer the very appealing option of shaping these into mini-burgers, and if there's a more crowd-pleasing treat than a mini-burger, please do let us know what that is. Three more words: Spicy Mustard Sauce.

The Best Tuna Burger by Jamie Oliver For starters, I will say that I read Jamie Oliver's instructions to "toast your buns lightly on the hot griddle pan or barbecue" a few times, wondering if perhaps there was some flirtiness going on. But that was clearly stupid. The flavors in this burger are clearly sexy, though. Tuna, basil, mint, coriander. Yes, yes, yes.

Lamb Burgers with Yogurt by Steven Raichlen Grilled ground-meat patties are a constant on the world’s barbecue trail. The type of meat varies from region to region. Greek grill masters use ground lamb instead of beef, as do those in the Balkans, Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Central Asia. These lamb burgers buzz with Greek flavors—garlic, oregano, and mint. A refreshing tzatziki—yogurt cucumber dip—is the sauce. To complete the Greek theme, the burgers are served on pita bread instead of buns. For an interesting variation on these burgers, tuck a piece of goat cheese or feta cheese in the center of each before grilling.

Spicy Black Bean Burgers by Sally Sampson Less than a decade ago, eating a veggie burger was somewhat akin to rolling oneself in hemp and singing "Let the Sun Shine In." But now, we may all enjoy bean and veggie burgers with impunity. A little bit like a black bean taco, these burgers happily take to the same kinds of garnishes: lettuce, tomato, guacamole, salsa, jack cheese, and sour cream.

Turkey and Emmentaler Burgers by Laura Werlin Turkey is the new beef. Or whatever. If you can find dark meat, you'll be guaranteed a moister burger, though once you melt a slice of Emmentaler—or the cheese of your choice—on top, happiness is pretty much guaranteed either way. These are served up on English muffins, which is a nice little twist.

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Katie Workman is the editor in chief and chief marketing officer of Cookstr.com, a Web site devoted to great, tested recipes from chefs and cookbook authors. Katie is on the board of City Harvest, and actively involved in Share Our Strength. She lives in New York City with her husband her two boys, ages 6 and 9.