We Asked 8 Chefs to Turn Iconic Cocktails Into Burgers. It Worked.
You never know when a “Eureka!” moment will strike. Archimedes was in his bathtub. Isaac Newton got beaned while sitting under an apple tree. And I was in my kitchen staring glumly at a bowl of ground beef, wondering how to inject a little pizazz into my tried and true—and boring—habits of burger cookery. As I sipped the Manhattan I typically make for burger pre-gaming, I thought, “I wish I could make a burger that tastes like this cocktail.” That’s when the proverbial light bulb flickered on. Why not? I poured the remaining contents of the glass over the meat, let it marinate for an hour or so, and cooked it up, drizzling a bit of my second Manhattan over the patties for good measure. The result was surprisingly decent, considering I didn’t know what the hell I was doing: a little caramel sweetness from the vermouth, some corn and rye notes from the bourbon, and complexity from the bitters.
If I could wing a Manhattan-based burger and have it turn out not-half-bad, I could only imagine how real chefs were fusing cocktails and burgers. But after trawling the Internet for inspiration, I was surprised to find that while plenty of chefs had made plenty of burgers that paired with cocktails, nobody had made burgers that tasted like cocktails. And so the Cocktail Burger Project was born.
For this undertaking, we corralled chefs from all over the country and got them to play along. The rules were few. The burgers could employ whatever meat the chefs desired (alas, a veggie cocktail burger remains a pipe dream for now). They could use alcohol or not; simplicity did not matter. The only hard rule was that the finished product taste like a specific classic cocktail—no burgers based on a drink that the chef made up, or one that could only be ordered in one bar in Amarillo or something.
Who’d have thought that a Mai Tai or a Mojito could be replicated in burger form…and taste good, too?
Whiskey and burgers go together, so a Manhattan burger—one crafted by chef Neil Ross that easily bested my own—was an obvious choice. But who’d have thought that a Mai Tai or a Mojito could be replicated in burger form…and taste good, too? The proof is in the eating. We’ve provided step-by-step recipes for all the burgers; to follow them to the letter or cut a few corners is up to you. You don’t have to garnish your Margarita burger with cooked crickets like David Burke does, for example, but we can tell you that they do add flavor and crunch to the proceedings. And while enjoying a cocktail along with your cocktail burger may seem redundant, the drink can rightfully claim to have one crucial ingredient the burger cannot: alcohol. So don’t forget to hit your bar as you’re working your magic at the grill.
Created by Neil Ross of Little Giant in Portland, Maine
With ground beef, bitters-pickled onions, vermouth aioli, and fennel salt
"One of our favorite drinks to have with a burger is a Manhattan—it always plays well with the beef and really goes with any style burger you feel like making—so a Manhattan burger seemed like a no-brainer. This burger really hits all the flavors of the cocktail while still tasting like a great burger. Add a side of fries or tater tots, and you're in business."
Created by Mike Wajda of Proof on Main in Louisville, Kentucky
With ground beef, burnt orange cherry mustard, and bitters-flavored sesame seeds
“After sipping on an Old Fashioned, I was inspired to build this burger with some of my favorite flavors from the cocktail’s profile, like fresh coriander and burnt orange. The addition of a funky Raclette cheese with bitters-flavored sesame seeds makes this a modern day foil to a tried and true cocktail.”
Created by Nyesha Arrington of Native in Santa Monica, California
With ground beef, tomatoes, Nyesha's steak sauce, secret sauce, and "cocktail" onions
“The Bloody Mary burger is inspired by the ever-popular brunch cocktail. When crafting the burger, I wanted to touch on key components of the staple drink, like tomato, Worcestershire, and pickles. All packaged up with Flannery's dry-aged burger blend, and you've got a winning dish for brunch and beyond."
Created by Errol LeBlanc of Pamplonain Las Vegas, Nevada
With ground lamb, ground beef, citrus mint chimichurri, and rum glaze
“My restaurant’s number-one selling cocktail is the Mojito. When we first opened up I had a lamb brochette on the menu that was marinated in a citrus mojo and finished with a honey-mint glaze spiked with a touch of chili. I dissected the recipes a little bit and came up with a citrus mint 'chimichurri' that I thought would go well with a blended burger of lamb and beef. I have no shortage of rum hanging around the bar, so I went with Zaya for the base of a quick glaze, because of its smokiness and mellow aftertaste. The honey replaces the sugar cane and, with the rum, gives the burger a slightly sweet, caramelized flavor when grilled. The rum lingers a bit, so in combination with the mint chimichurri, it really synthesizes the burger with the Mojito.”
Created by David Burke of Woodpecker in New York, New York
With ground meat, slaw, guac, and cooked crickets
“A Margarita has a lot of acid in it. Acid helps digest the burger. So our pickled jalapeño and the acid from the lime juice is going to help you digest the burger, and it’s going to convey some of the spice and the flavor of a Margarita as well. And we’ve been playing around with crickets, so we used them for the burger. I made the rolls from cricket flour, and we use them as a garnish; you get the crunch from the crickets. My feeling is that you’ll start seeing insects on menus more—it’s a protein.”
Created by Naomi Pomeroy of Beastin Portland, Oregon
With beef, brandied onions, and Sidecar sauce
“My husband is a bartender, so it was pretty easy to talk through this one together. A Sidecar is brandy, lemon, and curaçao—and I wanted all those flavors present, though it had the chance of becoming sweet with all that citrus and orange liqueur. But what I ended up with was really balanced! This burger has a zesty citrus note and boozy onions, balanced by the zip of sherry vinegar and the tang of lemon juice. I think the sauce ended up being incredible on its own! Use it for dipping fries.”
Created by Richard Blais of Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta, Georgia
With ribeye, marrow bones, lobster, and vermouth onions
"There's no better, more timeless combo than a classic Martini and rich, dry-aged beef. This burger takes the signature flavors of a Martini—gin, vermouth, and olives—and balances them with the fattiness of the burger and richness of the melted cheese. The lobster meat takes the entire burger up a notch, making it the perfect, elevated dish to eat alongside your favorite Martini."
Created by John Currence of City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi
With ground lamb, ground beef, pineapple and roasted bell pepper relish, and lime-orgeat aioli
“When thinking about cocktail-inspired burgers, I was drawn to rum drinks. I know a lot of people feel inclined to pair red meat with whiskey (for the record, I do not participate in such notions). For this Mai Tai burger, I didn't mess with the rum itself. Instead, I'm playing with the fresh, tropical flavors—pineapple, lime, orgeat syrup, and mint. Of course, I had to serve them on toasted Hawaiian Rolls. One, they're delicious. Two, they just work better than anything I'm gonna make from scratch, and let's be honest, if you’re making a Mai Tai burger, you can't be holding yourself to some ridiculous and arbitrary highbrow culinary standard.”
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.