14 Secret Ingredients That Will Take Your Burgers To The Next Level

Whether you're looking for the perfect cheeseburger or the ideal chicken burger, there's a lot of opinions out there on how they're made. The truth is that there are also a lot of secrets that chefs aren't telling you. While some folks swear by their burgers containing no more than meat, salt, and pepper, those who are in the know are aware that there are dozens of secret ingredients that can make burgers unimaginably enjoyable.

Secrets ingredients can help your burgers pop in more ways than one. Some of them work to improve the texture of your burger patty, giving it added tenderness or helping the meat hold its shape more capably. Others amp up your burger's flavor profile, either by deepening the meaty tastes in your patty or by adding in brand-new flavor elements that will delight your guests. Your secret ingredients don't have to go into your meat mixture, either. Some additions can be added to the outside of your burger, or can top your patty, introducing some excitement to your regular old sandwich. Ready to be inspired? Let's go.

1. Add fish sauce for some extra umami

We're huge advocates for putting fish sauce in as many things as possible, and that includes your burgers. This fishy ingredient will take your burger to the next level by hitting it with a pop of intense umami, the savory flavor inherent to red meat, as well as mushrooms, cheese, and tomatoes. Its umami-ness is thanks to the sauce's concentrated nature, which is also what gives it its funky, slightly overpowering smell. Don't let that put you off including it in your burgers, though, as when it's cooked, that smell mellows out significantly and you're left with deep-tasting, moreish meat.

To use fish sauce in your burger, it's best to go for less instead of more. Adding too much can overpower your meat and introduce fermented flavors into your meal, which you're probably not looking for. Use a few drops for every pound of meat, remembering to take into account that the sauce is often ultra-high in sodium, so you may want to hold back on adding salt elsewhere. You should also always check your fish sauce brand to see what ingredients it has. Ideally, you want as few ingredients as possible, with the sauce having nothing more than anchovies, salt, and water. If you notice that it has monosodium glutamate (or MSG) or anything else, it's likely a poor-quality brand that may introduce artificial-tasting notes into your burger.

2. Brush your burgers with butter for added silkiness

Sometimes, secret ingredients aren't brand-new foods that have just been unearthed, but classic items that you might not think to add to your burgers. This is the case with butter, which adds a huge amount of flavor to your patties instantly, and which is one of Gordon Ramsay's favorite ingredients for hacking his sandwiches. Ramsay brushes melted butter onto his burger patties after they've been cooking for a few minutes and roughly two minutes before they're meant to come off the grill, which gives them a silky coating and an improved mouthfeel. Although Ramsay's perfectly happy with regular butter, you can also use a compound butter to give them even more flavor.

It's important to remember that brushing butter on the outside of your burgers shouldn't come at the expense of proper fat content in the meat. If you don't have enough fat in your meat mixture, your burgers will shrink and become tough. Having said that, you don't have to just use butter on the outside of your patties — you can add it inside, too! Adding grated frozen butter to your meat blend can infuse your burgers with added richness and make every bite totally delectable.

3. Throw in celery salt for a savory pop

You can't make a burger without salt (well, you can, but honestly, you wouldn't want to — it'd taste terrible). However, regular sea salt isn't the only type you can use with your patties, and if you want something even more special, celery salt is the secret ingredient you should be sprinkling on your burgers all summer. Celery salt is made from a combination of ground celery seeds and table salt. The celery seeds give the meat a lightly savory, grassy, slightly herbal flavor that melds perfectly with beef and deepens the impact of every bite.

It's best to mix celery salt directly into your meat mixture, where it can diffuse and flavor every bite equally. Simply replace your regular salt content with celery salt, swapping it at a 1:1 ratio. If you want a bit more intensity, you can also sprinkle it directly onto the outside of your patties while they're on the grill. Celery salt can also be incorporated into your sauces, where it can create a more complex flavor instantly — just mix a pinch into your chosen sauce and spread it on your bun.

4. For amazing veggie burgers, throw in some mayo

Veggie burgers have come a long way since the grainy, mealy patties of yesteryear. At home, though, they can still be pretty difficult to make. That's why, if you want flavorful, structured veggie burgers, mayo is your secret weapon. Mayonnaise adds both moisture and bulk to your burgers, and works as a binder, keeping all of the ingredients together and preventing them from drying out. Because it is made primarily from eggs and oil, its high fat levels give an injection of juiciness to veggie burgers, which can often be dry and listless, with its emulsified nature making it tacky and robust.

Mayonnaise also, crucially, adds flavor. Its tangy, savory taste helps to deepen the flavor of any burger, but as veggie burgers are often made up of fairly neutral-tasting ingredients like beans and pulses, here it delivers some much-needed punch. Simply add a few tablespoons to your regular veggie burger recipe, or swap your eggs out for a ¼ cup of mayo. Make sure not to add too much, though, as this can make your burgers too squidgy and stop them from frying or grilling properly.

5. A splash of mustard will lift your meat's flavor

The best burgers are a combination of many flavor elements, with savoriness provided by the meat and tanginess usually supplied through the sauce and toppings. So, what if we told you that there's another way to capture that tangy factor? You can do this by daubing mustard directly onto your patties as they're cooking. This is a technique used by In-N-Out for their animal-style burgers, with the chefs brushing mustard onto the burgers as they cook.

Doing this has several functions, with the first being to add a huge amount of flavor quickly. As well as the mustard's vinegariness complementing the meat, it also provides sweetness and saltiness, unlocking brand-new flavor compounds in every bite. That sweetness also helps your burgers caramelize more effectively, deepening their taste. While yellow mustard is generally the best option here, you can use pretty much any type of mustard you like. Whichever one you use, though, make sure you don't put too much on, as you'll moisten your grill too much and ruin your burger's ability to develop a deeper color and char.

6. Add Greek yogurt to your chicken patties

Chicken burgers are hard to get right. When they're good, they're the perfect combination of a light flavor and tender meat — but when they're bad, they're dry, chewy, and virtually flavorless. One of the best ways to prevent dry chicken burgers is with Greek yogurt. Because ground chicken is generally pretty low in fat and water, Greek yogurt amps up both elements, helping to keep the patties well-formed and full of moisture in every bite. The yogurt also adds a slightly tangy note and some hints of creaminess that work to add complexity to the burger's flavor.

Greek yogurt is particularly good in burgers that lean towards Mediterranean flavors, and pairs flawlessly with oregano, garlic, cumin, paprika, and other herbs and spices. However, it's just as good in more simple burgers, seasoned with just salt and pepper. You can use low-fat or full-fat Greek yogurt, but if your meat blend is particularly low-fat, we'd recommend going for the latter. While one of the benefits of chicken burgers is that they're lighter than beef, you still want your patty to be flavorful — and the quickest way to do that is by adding fat.

7. Throw in some onion soup mix for immediate seasoning

Seasoning levels can be hard to get right when it comes to burgers, and all too often, your patties can end up tasting underpowered or unbalanced. So, if you want to make life easier for yourself, skip adding a million different seasonings, and use onion soup mix. While onion soup mix might sound a strange ingredient, it adds immediate savory depth to meat thanks to its concentrated onion flavor. Its salt content, meanwhile, helps to intensify every bite.

Onion soup mix can also frequently contain cornstarch, which can improve your meat's texture and hold the blend together more capably. This gives your meat a supreme smoothness, which is contributed to by the lack of raw onion chunks (sure, you can add chopped onion too, but thanks to the soup mix's flavor, you won't need it). Bear in mind, though, that this cornstarch works to soak up moisture, and therefore if you're not adding some more to balance it out, your burgers run the risk of becoming dry and chalky. Add a tablespoon or two of water or an extra egg to keep things juicy.

8. Use steak sauce in your meat mix to boost its flavor

Burgers and sauce go hand-in-hand, but the sauce is normally added at the end of your preparation process, and just before you chow down. Some sauces, though, can be added before your burgers even make it onto the grill. This is the case with steak sauce, which is a key ingredient in Ina Garten's Blue Cheese Burger recipe. Garten adds 3 tablespoons for each 3 pounds of meat (she uses a mixture of ground chuck and sirloin), with salt and pepper to season things further.

The inclusion of steak sauce gives these burgers an immediate rich, developed flavor. Steak sauce is a combination of tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and onion and garlic powder, with a dash of hot sauce included in some formulations. This combo of tangy, earthy, and salty ingredients adds depth to your beef, rounding out its flavor profile and making each bite taste deep and layered. The steak sauce also adds a smoothness to the mixture, and some much-needed moisture content to keep everything well-lubricated. While Ina Garten likes to add blue cheese on top of her steak sauce-infused patties, any cheese will do.

9. Combine your fish burgers with pickled red onions

Sometimes, it's not what you put in your burger that counts; it's what you put on top. When it comes to fish burgers, though, toppings can be tricky to figure out — beyond the regular smear of tartar sauce, what else do you add? Well, Martha Stewart has a secret ingredient you'll love. Pickled red onions provide all of the acidity of tartar sauce, with a freshness and crunchiness that contrasts the soft, pillowy fish patties excellently. They also give you a hit of salt and a vibrant pink color that makes your burgers look pretty darn good.

You can use jarred pickled red onions on top of fish burgers, but if you're anything like Martha, you'll want to make them yourself. To do this, you simply have to combine sliced red onions with sugar, salt, and vinegar, leaving the flavors to meld for a few hours before serving. Your onions will quickly turn to a rosy pink color and soften. If you don't want to wait too long, make sure you slice your onions thinly, which helps them absorb the flavors of the brine more quickly. ‌

10. Pop cream cheese in your burgers for added richness

In our humble opinion, a burger is nothing without cheese. The type of cheese you use, however, doesn't have to be the same every time. So, if you're sick of the taste of American or cheddar, step outside the box and smear some cream cheese on your next burger. Cream cheese works as a cross between a cheese and a condiment, giving your burger a velvety mouthfeel and a tangy, slightly sour taste. Because it is slightly thicker than mayo and other sauces, it will also soak into your bun less, leaving your bread intact and (if toasted) crispy.

It's not just on the outside of your burger that you can use cream cheese, though. For a surprise, stuff some cream cheese inside your patties. Put some small rounds of cream cheese onto a baking sheet, and then freeze them for 30 minutes, making them nice and solid. Then, place them inside a palmful of your meat mixture, and cover with more meat. When you cook the burgers, the cream cheese will soften, giving each bite a deliciously gooey consistency. If you want to be really fancy, you can also stir extra ingredients into your cream cheese, like jalapeños, bacon bits, or even other types of cheese.

11. Coat your burgers in a Jack Daniel's glaze

The marriage of whiskey and meat is well-known. Not only is whiskey a secret ingredient in the perfect steak marinade, but it can also boost the flavors of sauces designed for beef, pork, and lamb. It also goes tremendously well with burgers, and with an easy-to-find bottle of Jack Daniel's, you can make a burger glaze that rivals the famous T.G.I Friday's Jack Daniel's sauce, and gives your patties a generous dose of smoky, peaty flavor.

To make the glaze, combine Jack Daniel's with pineapple juice, soy sauce, teriyaki, brown sugar, and lemon juice, with extra aromatics in the form of onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Top the whole thing off with some water and then simmer. The actual cooking process is simple: You just have to let everything boil slowly, until the glaze is thick and sticky-sweet. Once it's ready, cook your burger patties, and then brush the glaze onto each one when they're about two minutes away from being completely cooked. Finish things off by adding a small smear of glaze onto the bottom of each bun, and then eat to your heart's content.

12. A little heavy cream will transform your burgers

One of the most common complaints when it comes to burger patties is dryness; all too often, burgers can come off the grill tasting chalky and grainy, and falling apart before you take your first bite. One unlikely ingredient that can help to prevent this is heavy cream. Heavy cream gives your burgers a boost of fat, which keeps the meat moist and flavorful, and its silky texture makes each bite delicious. Its deeply creamy flavor also helps to mellow out your burgers' flavors, and stops one flavor note from becoming too dominant.

Heavy cream also helps to bind your ingredients together, preventing your burgers from separating. If you need any more convincing of heavy cream's potential to make your patties great, it's worth noting that it was a key ingredient in culinary legend James Beard's favorite burger recipe. We're not gonna argue with that seal of approval! Make sure you're not adding too much cream to your burgers, because if you do, things will just get way too moist. A teaspoon of cream per pound of meat is a good ratio to aim for.

13. Add some dried basil for extra fruitiness

Herbs and burgers aren't the most common pairing, but we think they should go together more often. When used sparingly, herbs can provide a subtle lift to each patty, and underpin them with a floral fruitiness that stops the meaty flavors from dominating. While you can use pretty much any type of herb you like, we'd suggest using basil, as it has a pepperiness that complements the red meat excellently.

Because dried herbs are more intensely-flavored than fresh ones, it's good to be careful with how much you add. If you want your basil flavors to be punchy, add around a tablespoon per pound of beef; if you like things a little more subtle, then add about half that amount. Bear in mind that adding basil will push your burgers into a more Mediterranean flavor universe, so make sure your condiments and toppings reflect that. Instead of using ketchup and mayo, try brushing pesto or marinara sauce on your buns, and sprinkling them with grated mozzarella. If you don't like basil, oregano can be a good substitute.

14. A drop of liquid smoke will bring immediate barbecue flavor

Everyone likes their burgers smoky, but what do you do if you don't have access to a grill? If you're making burgers on a stovetop, that smoky flavor can be harder to achieve — unless you add in a little liquid smoke. Liquid smoke (which is made smoky by essentially extracting pure smoke flavor from the residue left by burning wood) gives any food a charred, woody flavor instantly. When added to burgers, it rounds out their flavor considerably, and makes them taste as though they were cooked over hot coals.

When adding liquid smoke to your burgers, however, you have to be very careful. It is incredibly potent, and even a tiny bit too much will make your food near-inedible. If you're using it for the first time, aim for around a ¼-teaspoon of liquid smoke per pound of beef. If you're feeling brave, you can add a dash or two more. Ensure that you balance your smoky flavors with a creamy element, like cheese or a generous dollop of mayo, so that it doesn't completely overpower your sandwich.