Easy, Gourmet Stuffed Burgers: Beef and Vegetarian

By Charleen - May 31, 2020

As the weather warms up, there is nothing more satisfying than grilling burgers to be served with a variety of grilled, pickled or fresh vegetables. Years ago, I started making a cheese and bacon stuffed burger, which became the only burger my kids liked to eat. Efforts to create vegetarian burgers typically resulted in tasty, but fragile patties that squished out from between the buns. Inspired by Green Burgers by Martin Nordin and the website, yet lacking ingredients due to the pandemic lockdown, I created a delicious bbq veggie burger -- hardy enough to grill alongside my traditional stuffed hamburgers.
Beef burger stuffed with bacon and white cheddar
Veggie walnut-brown rice-pea burger, topped with mushroom crisps, greens and flowering chives

Jump to gallery of Favorite Restaurant Burgers

Easy Burgers for Home or Camping

What can be more classic than a burger with lettuce, tomato and onion? Yet, hamburgers were not a major part of my childhood. Even on the rare trips to McDonald's, my parents favored Filet-O-Fish® sandwiches paired with the iconic thin-cut tallow french fries that, sadly, no longer exist. It was not until a beach camping trip on Hammocks Beach State Park with friends that I learned how to make my first burger. The ground beef was simply seasoned with a pack of Lipton's Onion Soup and Dip mix, and placed on the grill with cheddar cheese melted on top. Sublime... with the ocean breeze, white sandy dunes and soothing rhythm of the waves. 

Bacon-Cheese Stuffed Beef Burgers

Years later, when my son was 10 and my daughter was 5, I started making a cheese and bacon stuffed burger, which became the only burger my kids liked to eat. I got the general idea from a Williams-Sonoma recipe card for Burgers Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Bacon, which involved fussy onion caramelization, excess salt and proprietary seasonings, all of which I omitted. 

The procedure involves forming balls out of the meat. Like making a clay pinch-pot, push into the ball with your thumbs and pinch out the sides to make a cavity large enough to hold the bacon and cheese. Pull the edges together and pinch closed around the filling. 

Stuffing veggie burger with cheese

Depending on tastes, the burgers can be further customized by omitting the bacon, or subbing cooked spinach for the rare individual that dislikes cheese. All of this is decided in advance, leading to a more relaxing experience in front of the hot grill.
Bacon-cheddar and bacon-blue cheese piles

Because not everyone likes blue cheese, I often substitute sharp white cheddar for some of the burgers. But then I needed a way to distinguish the different cheeses. After creating the cheese-filled ball, it is pretty easy to flatten them not only into circles, but also into blunt-cornered triangles or squares. 
Stuffed blue cheese burgers and triangular cheddar burgers

Sometimes grilling for family and friends can feel chaotic as everyone waits eagerly for the food to come off the grill. Stuffing the burger is the simplest way to produce a juicy, tasty burger that does not need any additional sauces or fuss. Kids can be picky about textures and flavors, but they all love the idea of a surprise within the patty. 
Blue cheese bacon stuffed burgers with spinach, arugula, broccoli sprouts, tomato, onions. Served with grilled asparagus and corn.

Favorite Restaurant Burgers

The second burger revelation in my life, was a perfect, tender beefy patty made by my housemate's boyfriend. He was a minimalist, handling the ground chuck as little as possible to form patties without any seasonings. The flavor was all in the beef, with a garnish of salt and pepper added just before serving. To this day, some of my favorite restaurant burgers are quite simple, but done well.

Perhaps that accounts for the popularity of Five Guys burgers, served with mounds of handcut potato fries. I usually order the Little Bacon Burger with its two slices of applewood-smoked bacon and topped with crisp lettuce, fresh tomatoes, grilled onions and mushrooms, pickles, fresh green peppers and hot sauce. Despite it's name, this burger is more than enough, especially when it was under $5. It is 'Little' only because it has one patty like most burgers, instead of two.

In the past 5-10 years, the humble burger has gone from an inexpensive, satisfying stand-by to form a class of gourmet dinners on its own. Restaurants and chains have opened up centered on the burger, although often these burgers lack restraint, with over the top ingredients that don't always get along. That being said, I have had some memorable craft burgers, both in chains and in little diners tucked across the globe.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Walt Disney World.

The burgers at this fun restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios exemplify both sides of the perfect burger equation. Back in 2012, I had a fantastically well-executed, if simple, Angus Chuck burger with bacon, cheddar, lettuce and tomato. Later on, they updated their menu adding the Beef and Blue burger featuring onion marmalade, bacon and blue cheese on a brioche roll. The cucumber salad has also been consistently delicious, as are the milkshakes.

Bad Daddy's Vegetarian Cantina Burger, North Carolina.

I had this amazingly flavorful black bean burger in the Charlotte Airport, and it rivals the California Pizza Kitchen's Original BBQ Chicken Pizza as my go-to lunch during layovers between flights. A mix of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses ooze off the edges of this generous black bean patty, topped with green chiles, slices of fresh avocado and chipotle ranch dressing. Priced at $9.25 back in 2013, it is now $13.19.

Can't get to North Carolina? Never fear, the recipe for these delicious house-made veggie patties is available from this video, along with the Spicy Garlic Ketchup featured on the Pittsburgher. It's got black beans, panko, green onions, roasted garlic pepper, ancho chili powder, diced onions, yellow and red peppers, chili sauce, sour cream and roasted corn kernels in it.

The Works Burger from the Thirsty Pig, Picton, New Zealand.

I regret two things on our walk back to the cruise ship from kayaking Queen Charlotte Sound. Both relate to ordering failures. First, the fish and chips at this pub is out of this world -- but you have to read the fine print to realize there really is only one piece of fish in the base price. Granted, it is a good sized, perfectly battered and fried piece with a wonderful flavor.  But if you were hoping to mooch an extra piece off of your husband's plate...  

Secondly, get The Works Burger -- especially when it is listed at a special price on a placard at the table. My son ordered this burger and kindly offered me a bite. It was amazing -- possibly because of the addition of beetroot and pineapple, which I had never seen on a burger before. In addition to the beef pattie The Works comes with tomato, lettuce, carrot, onion, beetroot, egg, pineapple, bacon and cheese and comes with chips (fries).  All for NZD 21.

Bachi Burger, Las Vegas - Black and Green Burger and Kiki's Burger

This is the burger joint that I would most like to re-visit. Everyone says that Vegas has great food, and they are not wrong. After landing, we were looking for a quick dinner before a long drive into Death Valley over the Christmas Holidays. Bachi Burger was on our way, and I am so glad we stopped there. The Black and Green Burger was my first taste of wagyu beef. Served with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, roasted garlic, caramelized bacon, Point Reyes blue cheese,  it might be the best burger bite I have ever had. I ordered Kiki's burger, Angus beef with sautéed shiitake, enoki and eryngii mushrooms, caramelized bacon, gruyere cheese, sweet onion marmalade, garlic chili aioli. Unfortunately, both branches of this "American burger joint with an Asian twist" as featured on Food Network closed in 2019. 
Kiki's burger

Looks like I need to find myself a good recipe for onion marmalade!

Exploring Veggie Burgers

Fortunately, I won a copy of Green Burgers: Creative Vegetarian Recipes for Burgers and Sides by Martin Nordin, which was published in 2018, from an Eat Your Books contest. Instead of imitating beef burgers, this stunning book provides a huge array of flavorful and exciting combinations. Many of the ideas for toppings, pickles, sauces and sides are fully crave-worthy and equally at home topping creative veggie-based or meat burgers. 
Beer-marinated aubergine burger with miso-fried carrots and deep-fried sage

Although I have not yet ventured into making my own burger buns from the 3 or 4 scrumptious looking recipes near the back of the book, one of the first burgers I made consisted of sliced eggplant marinated in beer and topped with miso-glazed fried carrots. I ended up baking the eggplant slices and then charring them in my wok for a similar smoky effect because it was snowing outside. 
Using the wok to add char to baked eggplant slices.

Looking through the recipes, you find that burger patties can be made from green peas and batter-coated zucchini twirls, in addition to the more common mushroom-panko-egg and bean-based options. Plus there are some scrumptious sides and toppings, including quick pickled cucumber ribbons and mushroom crisps. When sprinkled with a bit of chipotle powder or smoked paprika, these thin-slices of fried mushrooms take on a decidedly bacony quality. 

Cheese-stuffed walnut-rice-pea burgers

After Memorial Day, we broke out the grill to make stuffed burgers again. However, my daughter prefers mostly vegetarian meals for environmental reasons. I planned to make BBQ portobello patties, featured in three different burger combinations from Green Burgers, but our curbside pickup grocery shopper substituted a small amount of browning white button mushrooms for our portabello order. We were also out of beans, but I did have 6 cups of cooked brown jasmine rice.

Why did I have so much rice? In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, I had subscribed to MasterClass for half-price. I picked Gordon Ramsay for my first two classes, and can still hear him in my head rhapsodizing about ingredients and the need to keep and reuse liquids leftover from cooking various ingredients. "You can't buy flavor like that." So after my husband made his white bean chicken chili, I found myself with two cups of aromatic pot liquor (potlikker), which I used to cook an extra large batch of Instant Pot rice.

So I searched the internet for a vegetarian burger patty using rice, instead of beans, as the main ingredient. I found the answer on the website, with a "grillable" vegan black bean-rice burger moistened by barbecue sauce. Although I did not have the black beans called for, I noticed that the binders used in Green Burgers for their bright green pea burger were similar to those used for their black bean patty. So I pulled a cup of frozen green peas out of the freezer, microwave thawed and drained them, spreading them out on a dishtowel to dry further.
The leftover honey harissa sauce from the fried chicken takeout dinner at Casbah needed to be used up.  Given how sweet the sauce was, I completely omitted the coconut sugar, and subbed smoked chilis and garlic powder for the Tex-mex chili powder.
Although I planned to roast the walnuts in a dry pan, I forgot about this and started pan-frying the mushrooms. Grinding pan-fried walnuts in a spice grinder resulted in a paste rather than a fine powder, but the combination of walnut paste, rice and smashed peas yielded a beautifully malleable texture. It was actually stickier than the ground beef, so I went ahead and stuffed the patties with cheddar-jack cheese. 
The rice and pea patties cooked in about the same amount of time as the beef burgers, stuffed simply with sharp cheddar as we had no bacon. Smoky chipotle mushroom crisps, stirfried yu choy instead of lettuce, and wok-seared chives and chive blossoms (another Gordon Ramsay influence) elevated both beef and veggie burgers to another level.

The best part?  I had enough veggie patties leftover to try pan-frying them for lunch the next day!

For printer-formatted recipes, click here.

Love2Chow Stuffed Beef Burgers                                            July 12, 2009
For 4 patties:
3 slices of thick cut bacon
1½ oz (w) of sharp cheddar, blue cheese or cheddar-jack
1-1½ pounds of 80-90% lean ground beef
Toppings as listed below.

1.     Prepare charcoal for grill. Meanwhile, cook bacon until browned and drain on a cooling rack. Chop or crumble into small pieces
2.     Slice or crumble cheeses into small pieces. Divide into piles (~1/3 oz per burger) along with bacon (1/2 a thick slice or 2/3 a thin slice per burger)
3.     Divide hamburger meat into 4 portions. Roll into a ball. Using thumb, make indentation in ball and gently pinch the sides to open up the center (like making a pinch pot of clay).
4.     Place a pile of bacon and cheese inside. Pinch shut on top and then use palms to flatten the ball into a ¾-inch thick patty. If some cheese or bacon sticks out, pull off a little extra meat from the edge and cover it up. If using more that one type of cheese, shape patties into circles, blunt cornered triangles or squares so you can tell them apart.
5.     Prepare toppings as described below. Grill burgers until cooked to your liking, 5-7 min for medium; 7-8 to just get rid of the pink. Meanwhile, warm buns on side of grill if desired.
6.     Serve warm on buns with toppings and desired condiments (Dijon mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise). These are great with grilled marinated zucchini and portabello mushrooms.

Love2Chow Stuffed Walnut-Rice-Pea Burgers                    May 29, 2020
For 4 patties:
1 cup raw walnut halves or ¾ cup raw walnut pieces
½ medium onion, finely diced (1/2-3/4 cup)
1 Tbs chipotle powder or smoked Spanish paprika
½ Tbs garlic powder
½ Tbs cumin
½ tsp each kosher salt and ground black pepper
1¼ cup cooked beans or thawed peas, rinsed, patted dry
¾-1 cup leftover cooked brown rice
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tbs barbecue sauce
1.5 oz of sharp cheddar, blue, jalapeno-jack or Gouda cheese, broken into ¼-½ inch pieces.
Toppings as listed below.

If rice has not yet been cooked, try using the aquafaba (liquid left from canned beans) or pot liquor from cooking dry beans as all or part of the cooking water (See last Tip, below).
1.     Heat wok or heavy skillet over medium heat. Dry toast the walnuts for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Remove a piece to a plate, break off a little and taste to ensure the “raw” mouthfeel has been replaced by a pleasant toasted flavor.  Set aside and allow to cool.
2.     Re-heat wok or skillet until a tiny drop of water evaporates in ~1 sec. Add 1-2 tsp of neutral cooking oil and saute onions for 3-4 minutes until translucent.  Set aside and allow to cool.
3.     Place walnuts in large spice grinder or food processor with the spices, salt and pepper. Process into a fine sticky meal.
4.     Smash beans or peas in a large mixing bowl using a fork until only a few whole legumes can be seen. Add walnut-spice mix, onions, rice, panko and barbecue sauce. Mix thoroughly. Adjust texture using bbq sauce or panko. Taste and adjust seasonings.
5.     Form into 4 equal size balls. Divide cheese into 4 piles. Using thumbs, press an indentation into each ball and fill with cheese. Pinch closed on top and flatten into patties. Place in refrigerator to chill while preparing the remaining ingredients and heating the grill.
6.     Grill veggie patties 3-4 minutes per side, covered. Brush tops with oil before flipping. Grill bun halves, if desired. Alternatively, the patties can be pan-fried, covered, in 1-2 Tbs of oil for 3-4 minutes a side, or until browned.
7.     Serve with buns, toppings and extra barbecue sauce.

Toppings for either type of patties:
Lettuce leaves (e.g. redleaf, arugula, romaine, watercress)
Red onion
Large handful of fresh mushrooms (for 4 burgers)
Green onions or chives (even better if there are flowers), cut into 3-4 inch segments.
Appropriate number of sourdough, challah or honey wheat buns, sliced in half horizontally

1.     Wash lettuce, shake or spin dry, and wrap in dishtowel. Wash and slice tomato and red onion.
2.     Slice mushrooms thinly, in a direction to maximize the size of the slices. Heat the same wok or skillet over medium heat. Add oil or butter. Lay mushrooms out in a single layer and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until browning. Stir and allow to cook longer until the juices are evaporated and mushrooms start to crisp. Sprinkle on chipotle powder or smoked paprika and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.
3.     Add a bit more oil or butter, if needed, and saute green onions or chives until starting to brown. Break chive florets off the head and sprinkle on top. Remove from heat.

🐾 Make the vegetarian patties first, and chill while preparing everything else for grilling. This helps maintain a firmer texture. 

🐾 Be sure the grill is oiled before adding meat or veggie burgers. The veggie burgers may cook faster, so place them in cooler regions of the grill. Before flipping the veggie patties, brush a bit of oil or melted butter on the top. 

🍃 Replace all or part of the rice cooking water with flavorful and nutritious fluids saved from other cooking activities. I used the pot liquor leftover from cooking dry beans for white bean chicken chili to add a bonus protein punch to the burger patty. You can also use tomato juices squeezed out of whole canned plum tomatoes for a form of red rice, the liquid left from soaking dried mushrooms (filter through a cotton cloth first), or the liquid leftover from cooked vegetables. 

Just add the flavor boosting liquid to a measuring cup and then bring it up to the desired volume with water. In an Instant Pot, the ratio is one cup rice to one cup fluid. On the stove top, it is usually 1 cup white rice to 1.5 cups liquid, or 1 cup brown rice to 2 cups liquid. 


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