The Factors To Consider While Choosing Lettuce For Your Burger

When you're prepping a juicy burger for dinner, the patty probably takes precedence over any toppings. That's just as it should be, but take care not to gloss over the trimmings altogether. The right toppings can elevate a burger from just tasty to truly memorable if you put a little thought into it. You're probably thinking to go straight for the high-octane options like deep-fried onions or a hit of a new barbecue sauce you've never tried on a burger. But try first perfecting the basics, and you may be satisfied with the simplicity. Case in point: lettuce.

Wait, why focus on something so bland and boring as lettuce? Not so fast – every kind of salad green has a culinary contribution to make, and some are particularly suited to burgers. According to Statista, the most common varieties in American grocery stores, in order of popularity, are iceberg, romaine, leaf (green or red), and butter (also called Boston or Bibb). These four lettuce types provide plenty of textural and flavor variety to add excitement and pizzazz to your patties.

When it comes to texture, crunch is king

It should come as no surprise that texture is the biggest factor in choosing a lettuce pairing for your sandwich. Since the best burger patties are tender and moist, you need your garnish to play contrasting notes to that softer texture. Iceberg lettuce wins big here since it's basically all crunch. If you like just a hint of crisp, use a single iceberg leaf; if you want a mouthful of crunchiness, try piling up some shredded iceberg atop your patty.

Romaine gets runner-up attention here since it certainly qualifies as crunchy. However, that's mostly the pale spine portion down the middle of each leaf, rather than the outer green leaf. Some may find the spine too thick yet the outer leaf too tough to be the perfect burger pairing. Since the leaf won't offer quite the crunch factor as the spine, this variability makes it lose out to iceberg's more uniform crispness. 

Now if you're opting for a healthy plant-based burger, you may prefer a tougher lettuce variety to offset the sometimes mushy texture of veggie burgers. Raw kale or green cabbage can provide an effective counterpart, both as whole leaves and in finely shredded form.

Subtlety wins in the flavor department

Now, no one is saying that lettuce is the reason you eat a burger in the first place. Its presence should contribute texture but really not much else. If you reach for a strongly flavored species — think radicchio, arugula, and frisée — you'll add unnecessary sensory competition to the pureness of your beef (or turkey or black bean) patty. Combining that classic crunch with neutral flavor is the way to win the burger topping game. And here again iceberg takes the trophy. Not only does its crunch factor reign supreme, but its flavor won't overshadow any of your burger's savory notes. 

Choosing lettuce with subtle sweetness can also help balance umami flavors throughout your burger. Best bets here are Romaine, butterhead (Bibb), and, again, iceberg. Burger enthusiast Kimberly Cornelison raved to MEL Magazine that butter lettuce offers "a nice crispness, but you also get that buttery bite." Buttery or sweet, lettuce acts as much more than just a nominal veggie. Indeed, from a nutrition standpoint, it's not topping the charts — it's 96% water, after all — but it's definitely an all-around winner in the burger world for texture and taste.