How to make the perfect meal out of a burger

Potentially Controversial Statement Alert: Burgers are the most perfect food.

Let me finish

Burgers are delicious. They are portable. Ground beef is relatively affordable in terms of meat. It takes less than 10 minutes to cook a burger on the stove or grill. Children and adults like them alike.

Most of all, they are infinitely adaptable. Burgers are the main course’s vanilla ice cream: great in itself and also a perfect canvas on which to build your culinary masterpiece.

The problem is, since burgers are ubiquitous in the fast food world, they sometimes have an unfair reputation for being unhealthy. Not so! Sure, a drive-thru burger isn’t the healthiest food in the world. It’s also nowhere near the worst. Either way, there are ways to have a simple burger and make a healthier meal.

It’s time for burgers to rise to their rightful place in the food hierarchy – at the top, of course. However, let them light up a little first to make sure they are as nutritious as possible.

5 steps to a healthier, tastier burger

1. Drop the bun

Primitive humans already know this, but it has yet to be said.

A few years ago, ancestral diets were called a fad. Nowadays every restaurant from fast food to fine dining offers salad wraps like that isn’t a big deal. What a shift! Iceberg lettuce is the most common bun substitute, but don’t stop there. Try red romaine or chard. Collard greens are my favorite. Try blanching them to make them softer and less bitter (see below).

Bun lovers can make grain-free buns, of course, but who says you have to eat burgers with your hands? Cheeseburger salad is the best way to enjoy a burger if you ask me.

How to Blanch Collard Greens:

  1. Bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a wide, deep pan. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
  2. Cut out the thickest part of the stem from each cabbage green. Try to leave the leaf mostly intact, but you will likely end up with a 2 to 3 inch slit in the leaf.
  3. Let the heat simmer. One at a time, dip Collard Green in the water for 1 minute and then add it to the ice water.
  4. Pat the leaves dry with a clean kitchen towel. You are now ready to use.

Burger recipes to try:

Keto Bison Burger

BBQ cowboy burger

Avocado and Egg Burger

2. Increase your beef

Mark hit the drum on grass-fed beef and why it’s superior to CAFO meat while MDA is around. However, this isn’t the only way to upgrade your burger.

From a nutritional standpoint, the best thing you can do is add organs to your burger. Coarsely chop a few ounces of heart, liver, or kidney in a food processor and mix into a pound of ground beef before cooking. You won’t be able to try it, and neither will your children, wink wink.

Pro Tips: Quickly fry the liver or kidney before grinding for better texture. Heart can be raw or cooked. Your butcher might even be ready to grind it for you.

Don’t limit yourself to beef either. Bison is bred almost exclusively on pasture, has a little more protein and less fat, and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids compared to beef. Lamb also makes excellent burgers. Bison and lamb are usually more expensive than beef. So try a 50/50 mix to stretch your dollar. Poultry is not as nutritious as beef, but a turkey or chicken burger should be on the menu every now and then for a change.

3. Increase your spices

Iffy condiments are usually the biggest blow to restaurant burgers, especially mayo or mystery sauce, which are likely made from soybean oil. I happen to know of a source for mayo, ketchup, mustard, and other condiments made only with ingredients that the primitive community would approve.

If you are eating out, be ready to be that person – the one to ask for their spice-free burger to be wrapped in lettuce and then pull a bottle of ketchup or barbecue sauce out of their pocket when the food arrives.

4. Add the avocado

Not only are avocados a delicious source of mostly monounsaturated fats, but they also provide prebiotic fiber to support a diverse microbiome. They can also help reduce postprandial inflammatory responses to your meal.

Yes, I know there is an extra charge for this avocado. Its worth it.

5. Stack on top of the toppings

One of my favorite things about burgers is that you can transform them in myriad ways by adding different toppings. Balsamic glazed onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese? Yes, please. Blue cheese and buffalo sauce? I don’t mind if I do!

Use burger night as an excuse to add a variety of brightly colored vegetables to your plate. Think outside the classic lettuce and tomato box:

  • Hatch or poblano chili peppers
  • Pickled vegetables – not just pickles, but also sauerkraut, kimchi or curtido
  • Coleslaw (made naturally with avocado or olive oil mayo)
  • Sprouts or microgreens
  • Add fresh herbs with chimichurri sauce or make a Greek burger with lamb and mint tzatziki.

You can even mix vegetables right into your ground beef for variety and flavor. Try finely chopped mushrooms or shredded carrots or beets. This is also a great way to use beet or beet greens if you don’t want any waste.

Don’t worry, carnivore, I haven’t forgotten you. Double or triple your burger by stacking up corned beef, pastrami, bacon, eggs, or even pulled pork. Cannot say this makes your burger healthier per se, but tasty? Absolutely.

The top of this post is a bit cheeky, but seriously, I’m struggling to think of another food that ticks all the boxes: adaptable, tasty, portable, primarily friendly and child approved. Tell me why I am right or wrong in the comments!

About the author

Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is Senior Author and Community Manager at Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach and co-author of three keto cookbooks.

As the author of Marks Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance community, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the what, why, and how of a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her Masters and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and educator.

Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sport-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping and game nights. Follow @theusefuldish on Instagram as Lindsay tries to balance work, family and cardio while maintaining a healthy balance and, most importantly, enjoying life. Visit lindsaytaylor.co for more information.

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