It's Burger Time: Make The Best Beef (Or Veggie) Burgers This Summer

Ensuring burger success doesn't mean marooning yourself on fun-sucking grill island -- you just have to take out a little insurance policy in the form of a panade.
Publish date:
July 6, 2014

It’s officially summer, and that means no food is going into my mouth without first hitting the grill: Sweet corn cooked right in its husk with nothing but butter; caramel-sweet, seared peaches on top of vanilla ice cream; tender-crisp asparagus laced with lemon and olive oil; and burgers. So. Many. Effing. Burgers.

While pan-seared and griddle-cooked burgers are obviously delicious, they don’t even come close to the nirvana that is a 1/4lb of pure beefy goodness fresh off the grill. Grills, whether gas or charcoal, are a burger’s soulmate.

The grates sear just enough crispiness into the burger’s exterior, while the grate’s gaps give enough room for excess fat and moisture to drain away. That fat trickles down to the hot coals and makes a smokey sauna, permeating the meat with a heady perfume that tastes like July.

Despite all that theoretical perfection, sometimes summertime burgers suck. Most of my backyard BBQ memories are of burnt, gristly disappointment. The typically distracted (read: drunken) revelry that comes along with grilling doesn’t always make for the best piece of meat.

Our lack of attention leads to overcooking, and overcooking means dry little hockey pucks on your bunz. But ensuring burger success doesn’t mean marooning yourself on fun-sucking grill island -- you just have to take out a little insurance policy in the form of a panade.

A panade is simply a mixture of milk and bread. It’s what makes meatballs and meatloafs tender, and it’s what keeps a grilled burger succulent. The milk brings extra moisture to the party, while the bread crumbs bind it to the meat. More than just keeping burgers juicy, panades create the Maillard reaction.

The Maillard reaction is to burgers what caramelization is to onions. Technically speaking, it’s a non-enzymatic browning process. In layman’s terms: The Maillard reaction is when the amino acids in your food’s proteins do the lambada (the forbidden dance) with sugars over high heat.

The resulting chemical reactions release intensely savory aromas and the toasty, malty flavors that make waffles delicious.

Some Maillard naturally occurs in burgers even without the addition of a panade (think: lovely crunchy grill lines), but meat is too low in carbohydrates to make much happen on its own. Adding the bread and milk boosts the sugar content just enough to maximize the proteins’ Maillard potential and make for an A+ burg.

Not into meat? The same principles can be applied to your high-protein veggie burger recipes. Grilling a “raw” veggie burger (for me, at least) always turns into a weird crumbly mess with more patty lost in the coals than found in my mouth.

Pre-cooking the burger, on the other hand, sets a solid patty but leaves a dehydrated brick once it hits the grill. The addition of a panade means your veggie burger can stand up to cooking twice, for a solid, but totally tender, patty.

My favorite recipes are below -- with some adaptations for vegan and GF folks.


While technically just milk and bread crumbs, I like to heavily season to my panade to make sure the flavors find their way into every corner of the burger.

  • ¼ cup milk -- I like to use buttermilk because it brings in a little bit of acid that helps keep the meat tender, but this is a great time to swap to a vegan coconut milk!
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs -- go store-bought or homemade; GF pals can substitute an equal amount of crushed rice square cereal (measure post-crushing!)
  • 1 tbsp steaksSauce -- check yer labels, if your diners have dietary restrictions
  • 1 tsp soy sauce or Bragg Aminos
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Patently not rocket surgery, dump it in a bowl and mix it together. It’ll be a little soupy at first, but will begin to form a thick paste in just a few seconds. Use right away.

Now your panade is made, check out these burgers.

Beef Burger

  • 1 batch of panade (recipe above)
  • 3 lbs 90% lean ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 buns - I tend to roll pretzel or brioche, but do you to the fullest
  • Your favorite burger toppings

Make your panade, ensuring that the mixture is very well blended. Gently knead the panade into the ground beef with your fingertips -- try to toss, rather than smash, to keep the mixture light. Incorporate well, but try not to over-mix. Smashing and over-mixing lead to tough burgers that even a panade can’t fix.

Gently divide into 8 patties, no thicker than 1½ inches. Season the exterior with salt and pepper. Immediately sear on a hot, well-oiled grill for 4-5 minutes on each side (flipping only once!) for a juicy but well-done burger with well-defined grill marks.

Veggie Burger

Veggie burgers are significantly more work than a beef burger -- and have to be made the day before serving -- but these are seriously amazing and worth the extra prep. I use my food processor to blend the panade and mushrooms, but you can do this by hand pretty easily by hand with a little patience and a huge cutting board.

  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 batch of panade
  • 2 tsp chia seed or ground flax
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 2 cups cooked lentils -- since this recipe is more labor-intensive, save yourself some trouble and grab the ready-to-serve packs from your grocery store’s refrigerated produce section.
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs in addition to what’s in the panade
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 buns
  • Your favorite burger toppings

Preheat your oven to 425°. Roughly chop the mushrooms and red pepper, toss with olive oil, and arrange on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Roast until the veggies start to brown and lose most of their moisture, which should take about 18 minutes.

In your food processor, combine the panade and chia (or flax) seeds, and let the mixture sit for at least five minutes. The seeds absorb some of the panade’s moisture and form a thick gel, making a vegan egg substitute that helps bind the patties together.

Add the mushrooms, red pepper, mustard, herbs and 1 cup of the lentils to the panade/seed mixture. Process for 10-15 seconds, until things form a chunky paste.

Transfer to a large bowl and fold in the remaining lentils and breadcrumbs until completely combined.

Divide into 8 patties, about 1½ inches thick, and place them on the same parchment-lined cookie sheet you used for the mushrooms and pepper. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes, flip, and bake for another 15. The first flip can be a little touchy. If they start to to spread or lose their shape, just tap them back into a round patty with the flat side of a spatula.

When they’re ready to come out of the oven, each side should have a noticeable golden-brown crust (wassup, Maillard!) and the burger, as a whole, should be a few shades darker. Allow the patties to cool to room temperature and store in the fridge overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, season the exterior with salt and pepper and cook on a well-oiled, piping hot grill until heated through and lined with crispy marks.

How do you take your burger? Share your favorite recipes in the comments!