For years now, the super thin, golden-crusted smash burger has dominated the burger discourse, leaving the bigger, beefy boys largely neglected and unloved. And while I appreciate a good thin patty (or patties), layered with American cheese and shredded lettuce, I cannot deny the occasional primal craving for a thick and juicy steak-like burger. I’m not above a turkey burger either, provided it’s moist and juicy—and we have a strategy for ensuring they always are.

Cook your burger like a steak

Steak is a construct, a presentation, as is the burger. A burger and a steak are made of the same thing—beef—and treating your burger like a steak just makes sense. It starts with the sourcing. Use a high-quality beef with a fat content of at least 15%, and grind it yourself if you can. (Chuck is great, but try mixing it with short rib, brisket, and sirloin.) Once you’ve got your meat sorted, take your cues from your favorite steak recipe and sear it in a cast iron pan, preferably with butter.

Plain salted butter is lovely, but miso butter really ups the umami. To make it, just blend equal parts miso and softened butter. That’s it. Whether you’re using a compound butter or not, use 2 tablespoons of butter for 1½ pounds of meat, which makes four good-sized patties. Heat ½ tablespoon of butter in a skillet, add the patties and after they’ve browned well, about 3 to 4 minutes, baste with the remaining 1½ tablespoons of butter. To complete the steak effect, cook some thinly sliced shallots in the remaining butter and seasoning after you’ve removed the burgers from the pan.

You can give your burger even more steakhouse flair by mixing Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, and rosemary directly into the meat, like we do in our Garlic-Rosemary Burgers with Taleggio Sauce. These fancy burgers call for fancy cheese. We combine cream and taleggio to make a rich, melty sauce that’s far more flavorful the usual American or cheddar slices. Finish with pickled onions to balance the richness.

If you’re really looking to stick it the smash burger hardliners, we have a few other thick offerings for the truly adventurous:

  • Cuban-Spiced Burgers: Cumin and smoked paprika add warm depth. Partially freezing the ground beef before mixing in the spices prevents the meat from becoming compacted during mixing and shaping, but it's still important to use a light touch when handling the beef. The burgers can be cooked immediately after forming, but we found refrigerating them overnight let the flavors develop and meld.
  • Pita Burgers with Crisped Cheese: For this gloriously frico-laced burger, we season the meat with yellow mustard for spicy tang and dill pickles for brininess. We then fill pita halves with the mixture, forming a thin layer, along with sliced onion and cheese. Cheese hits the skillet when the sandwiches are pan-fried, crisping and developing flavorful caramelization, and creating an irresistible layer that contrasts deliciously with the juicy patties.
  • Sara Moulton’s Det Burger: Milk Street Radio’s very own Sara Moulton first had this burger at Del Rio in Ann Arbor, where she went to college in the mid-1970s. The Det Burger, the best-loved item on the menu, was invented one slow day by bored cook Bob Detwiler, who proceeded to name it after himself. Meaty mushrooms, Mediterranean olives, and green chiles are mixed right into the meat, which is then shaped into patties, steamed in beer, and finished with sharp cheddar cheese.

Pork burgers are underrated

Avert your eyes, beef purists. We’re making burgers with ground pork—all of which come together in under half an hour. “Moist, sinfully delicious and just the right amount of heat,” is how one reader described our Smoky Chili-Garlic Pork Burgers. We mix Asian chili-garlic sauce and a little brown sugar into the ground pork, and smear the buns with a chili-garlic mayonnaise. Pillow-soft, subtly sweet buns are a particularly good match for the tender, juicy burgers—we especially like potato buns or rolls. Serve with lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles or any of your favorite burger toppings.

For extra juicy, tender patties, we mix ground pork with generously-seasoned yogurt to make our Indian-Spiced Pork Burgers. The lactic acid and calcium in the yogurt interfere with the how the proteins bond to each other, loosening their structure for an extra succulent bite. Serve with Masala-Spiced French Fries.

Often referred to as “Chinese hamburgers,” rou jia mo are small, round flatbreads stuffed with pork belly that’s been braised with soy sauce and spices, then chopped to small bits. Our ultra-easy, rou jia mo-inspired sandwiches are made with quick-cooking ground pork and dark, thick hoisin sauce, so it wouldn’t be wrong to think of them as Chinese sloppy Joes. The baking soda may seem like an odd ingredient, but it keeps the pork tender by lowering the pH.

Turkey, shrimp and salmon make great burgers too

For truly moist turkey burgers, you have to treat them like meatballs. For our Parmesan and Herb Turkey Burgers, we start with a panade—a hydrating binding mixture of dairy and breadcrumbs—combining creamy mayonnaise, crisp panko, a trio fresh mint, cilantro and scallions, and finely grated Parmesan for extra savoriness. Finish with herby lime mayo to tie it all together. And make sure to grab dark meat turkey—this is a burger, after all.

Pescatarians deserve burgers too, and we have two flavor-packed options. Our Salmon Burgers get a big flavor boost from kimchi and gochujang, two Korean powerhouse ingredients that I always have on hand. Turning flaky fish into a burger that keeps its shape can be tricky, but we developed a technique that works: Process half of the salmon until smooth; this puree helps bind the remaining roughly chopped salmon and the kimchi. If you like, coat the patties with panko breadcrumbs before cooking to create an extra-crispy coating, but the results still are delicious without.

And finally, our Curried Shrimp Burgers come together in 20 minutes, thanks to the food processor. We whirr together shrimp, mayo, and crunchy panko breadcrumbs, then combine the mixture with curry powder, hot sauce, and fresh cilantro before pan frying until golden. For the best flavor and texture, look for shrimp that are free of sodium tripolyphosphate, a preservative that affects texture and adds salinity.

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest.

And if you're looking for more Milk Street, check out our
livestream cooking classes with our favorite chefs, home cooks and friends for global recipes, cooking methods and more.