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Burger "Fillers" & the Chowhound

Most discussions I have seen about the quality of burgers tend to stress Sirloin and/or Chuck, degree of doneness, thickness of the patty... maybe even condiments. It seems to me that there is a common consensus towards thick, all beef patties, cooked medium rare etc.,

I am sorry... but when I reflect back on my greatest burger experiences... its rarely the all meat patties that shine... its the patties with fillers! No, no... White Castle fans don't get excited, I am not trying to emancipate you - those - are still disgusting. What I am referring to is the various regional uses of Bread Crumbs, Bacon, Chorizo, Cheese, Pat of Lard, Sugary Condiments etc., to produce a far more tender, juice, intensely flavored burger.

People seem to get caveman like about the thick "juicy" patties... and I am sure there are some legitimate intentions regarding purity, quality & tradition... but I think alot of it borders on overcompensating. The reality is that most lauded, thick juicy burgers I have sought upon advice have been bland... the pink center in most of our American beef is pretty tasteless... also thicker bigger seem to lose a higher percentage of their mosture. In contrast, well thought out "fillers" seem to make big improvements from a purely gustatory perspective.

As an example... I will provide my wife's Turkey Burgers... yes Turkey. I don't remember where she got the recipe from (probably Food Network) but:

a) The bread crumbs keep the patty much more moist than any All Beef burger I've had

and the Chutney provides two functions

b) Speeds up browning of the patty, allowing for less cooking time & a more intensely flavored exterior (as long as you don't burn them!)

c) The complex fruit & spices in the Chutney seem to really bring out the flavor of the meat... in this case even boring, low fat turkey breast becomes mroe interesting than your standard USDA Choice ground Chuck & Sirloin combination.

Finally, there is the assertion that a good meat patty only needs S&P. Bull Pie I say! It may be ironic... but the careful addition of spices & umami actually brings out the flavor of the beef (and I think any accomplished Chef would back me up on this)... the whole S&P only idea comes from the fanatical fantasizing about purity & caveman grunts.

In conlusion,

1) Are there any other Chowhounders who find burgers with "fillers" generally superior to an all meat patty

2) Are there any other compelling "fillers" out there.

3) For the rest of you... let the flaming begin!

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  1. I recently got a recipe from the home cooking board for ground pork, chorizo and applewood smoked bacon burgers that were the best burgers I have ever had; I believe that they may have been a Suzanne Goin recipe. In fact, if it stops raining, I will be grilling them tonight! And I use to be an all beef patty kind of guy but these really opened my eyes!

    10 Replies
    1. re: bakerboyz

      Yes - those are absolutely amazing - the favoured burger in our house.

      1. re: MMRuth

        I would add though - I don't think of pork, bacon and chorizo as "fillers". When I make a beef burger - it's ground beef with a pat of butter in the middle.

        1. re: MMRuth

          True, but wouldn't the purists consider the inclusion of the chile de arbol and shallots as fillers? I believe that these are sooo good that if a purist were to try them, they would be converted!

          1. re: bakerboyz

            Ah - that could be, though I think of the quantities as being small enough that they are flavourings, not fillers. To me, bread crumbs are a filler. Though, given EN's definitions, so to speak, bacon and chorizo are fillers.

            1. re: MMRuth

              I see it the way you do. I view fillers as generally something cheaper that's high in carbohydrates (eg. breadcrumbs, oatmeal, mashed beans) to "stretch" out the meat.

              And I agree with those posters who say that once you add breadcrumbs, you no longer have a burger. You've got a meatloaf patty. It can also be delicious. Grew up eating meatloaf patties on buns as a kid. But I just can't call it a burger.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                Yes, ma'am - if I want a burger, it's gotta taste like a burger, but a grilled patty of properly made meatloaf mixture is about the best hot meatloaf sandwich you can have. I will have it on something other than a bun, though.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  "And I agree with those posters who say that once you add breadcrumbs, you no longer have a burger. You've got a meatloaf patty."

                  Not a lot of meatloaf or meatloaf patties in California (well unless you count Japanese Meatloaf)... so I have no basis to judge... but it seems to me that the small amount of breadcrumbs it takes to improve a burgers moisture doesn't at all make it meatloaf like to me (but again that is comparing to the very rare meatloaf dishes we see around this part of the world).

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    HOW long did you say you've been gone? There's loads of meat loaf around here, mostly in old-school coffeeshop/diners, but Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock sells a meatloaf sandwich that's even better than mine. (And Hill Street in La CaƱada makes one I wouldn't feed to a dog I hated.)

                    Back on topic here, the slightest trace of any sort of cereal substance in ground meat is to me instantly recognizable as soon as it's cooked, and it says MEAT LOAF really loud. As I said, that's OK as long as that's what I wanted...

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I never knew Meatloaf COULD be good until I had the Japanese version at Sawtelle Kitchen... perhaps that is why my antennae never picked it up... but its not like you can drop by at any of the classic L.A. restaurants (Traxx, Michael's, Water Grill etc.,) and order a Meatloaf right?

                      Anyways... I am picking up an anti Meatloaf vibe... ever since I had quality versions of Meatloaf... I can say that they can be superior to Burgers... so I wouldn't take that as an insult.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Japanese Hamberg steak is an epiphany when well prepared. Probably one of the most revered yoshoku dishes in Japan.

                        This is where I used to go to get my fix when I worked for Japanese on supply trips to the OC:

      2. One of my best friends has a burger recipe that calls for a number of fillers, among which are capers and worcestershire sauce. Personally, I enjoy my burgers fairly devoid of filler: only minced and grated onions and some heavy cream. However, I do find this combo much juicer and full of flavor than just plain beef.

        1. I seldom use any fillers, and when I do it's usually finely-chopped onion (suggested by J. Beard); to me, any kind of bread substance always makes it taste like meat loaf. But after reading an LA Times food article on burgers, in which they consulted with Nancy Silverton, I began following her suggestion of salting meat well in advance of cooking it, and it does make a huge difference in the flavor. I take the patties out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking them and give them a generous pinch of salt on each side, plus a bit of pepper, and lay them on a rack with a clean towel over. They don't come out tasting salty at all, just good and beefy.

          1. EN

            If you have read any of jfood's posts in the past you know he always pushes back on posts that take broad definitional license. In this case a patty made with turkey and chutney is as much a burger as the Silver Palate Salmon Croquettes that jfood likes so much. And jfood thinks you are the benchmark of Mexican cuisine, tradition and history so you also know that jfood is making this comment with the utmost respect. That ain't a burger, its a turkey patty. But, in fairness, it sounds really good.

            But onto the question of burgers. Jfood, like many, have tested many different ways to make a better burger. And what he has settled on is the following.

            80-20 beef; montreal seasoning, water (1/2 C per pound). The Montreal Seasoning enhance the flavor of the meat but you need to be real careful not to add too much or it will overpower, you are looking for background not tongue-whacking. The water really keeps the burger moist, even with 80-20 meat. Lastly is the method. High, hot, hot. You have to keep the temperature of the grill smokin'. Lastly is something jfood read on a package of Bubba Burgers. Leave them alone, Don't go messing with the burger while it's cooking and definitely DO NOT PRESS it.

            He does not like onions because he does not like raw onions on anything. He is thinking of dicing some caramelized onions and mixing in next time. All the other things he reads, i.e. cheese and butter and jalepenos and other things are just not jfood's vision of a burger with fried onions, cheese, bacon on a great brioche with Heinz ketchup.

            Give him a G
            Give him a R
            Give him a U
            Give him a N
            Give him a T

            What's that spell.....Burger

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              With the exception of Montreal seasoning (I make my own version), I make my burgers exactly the same way. Yum yum yum.

            2. nope, no fillers in my burgers, just chuck ground in front of me, taken home, and put on the roaring hot grill.

              Also a burger in my world, never consists of turkey, salmon, or some vegitarian version of a burger.

              Its gotta be beef, or buffalo for me.

              1. The reason I don't like fillers like egg or breadcrumbs is because it changes the texture to almost a mini meatloaf or meatball. If you like it that way, good for you, but its no longer a true burger in my book.

                If you do in fact get a pure 100% beef burger that is well seasoned and well cooked, I think its better than any burger with fillings. Same thing with a steak. Good quality (dry aged) meat, generous amounts of salt and pepper and the proper cooking method and time, and you do not need sauces, or chimichurris or anything. I view a burger the same way. Get good quality ground chuck/sirloin/brisket/short ribs/hanger, etc and apply the right methods and you can't beat it. If you start with high quality beef from the right cuts with the right amount of fat, and its cooked properly, I guarantee you it wont yield a tasteless pink center the same way a high quality steak cooked rare won't yield a tasteless pink (or red) center.

                There is still a place for non-beef burgers and the grilled meatloaf sandwiches but if I'm ordering a hamburger, I dont want filler. Heck, I even enjoy my own version of a blackened chicken "burger", but in my opinion we are talking 2 different things here, and one cannot replace the other.

                And if you want a good filler, I suggest you follow the lead of Prune restaurant in NYC and start mixing some ground lamb into your ground beef. Talk about a good burger (but please, drop the english muffin and use a proper bun).

                1. I have to say I generally prefer a crisp on the outside rare to raw inside, 90-10, but there have been a few real exceptions:
                  For beef or bison
                  blue cheese or Feta cheese inside in burger, then grilled
                  bourbon mixed into the burger before grilling and then topping it off after
                  Ground Turkey - BBQ sauce or Indian mint chutney before grilling
                  Same with ground chicken
                  I like any kind of meat with Jalepenos chopped or sliced
                  To me onions and bread crumbs make it a meatball

                  1. Although I wouldn't consider adding breadcrumbs, I do season the meat with whatever I am in the mood for. That makes it very tasty and moist, all the way through. I don't just sprinkle the seasonings on top, I actually add them to the meat and then make the patties.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: danhole

                      Eat Nopal, is the chutney in your turkey burger on the inside or the outside? I found a RR burger that looks interesting, but it was on the outside. Can you provide a link?

                      I confess, I once made a meatloaf with interesting crumbs and broth as the liquid, and decided to make burgers instead out of the mixture. They weren't half bad.

                      I still prefer ground sirloin with L&P and blue cheese on the inside, nearly raw.

                      1. re: dolores

                        This is one is on the inside... I will check with my wife about that link. BTW... blue cheese... my kind of filler.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          Here is the base recipe she uses:


                          Its a *shudders* Martha Stewart recipe dun, dun, dun (well at least its not Yum-Oh or contain "EVOO")

                    2. I mix in melted butter, hot salsa (not the chunky kind; I like Frontera); finely chopped onions & garlic, s&p, and maybe some parsley. Yum.

                      1. EN, your suggestion of chorizo as a filler for burgers propelled me into action tonight. I browned about 2 oz.of Ole brand chorizo (cheap stuff- 12 oz for $1.59) I folded it in with 8 oz of 96% lean burger meat and crafted 2 burgers. Grilled them, slice of cheese, served on toasted buns with thin slice of red onion, lettuce, a few strips of nopalitos.
                        Boy, did they ever suck. Never again, and I expect I'll pay later. Mixing beef and pork is like....like any outfit Rodney Dangerfield wore in Caddyshack.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Veggo

                          It's still an intriguing idea to me, though I wouldn't do it the way you just did. I plan on partially freezing the chorizo so that I may cut it into tiny cubes (maybe 1/4") and then mix it into the raw beef (80/20). Once grilled I will give it the totra treatment- mayo, avacado, jalapenos, bean spread, onion maybe some cheese.

                          It's just another 'style' to me- I like 'em done lots of ways, I'm not set in stone on any one particular archetype of burger. It all depends on the mood, really. If it's gonna be crazy, let it be crazy, if it's gonna be caveman style, well, I can get into that too.

                          1. re: TongoRad

                            TR, I experiment a lot. Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug. My concern is that while I like burgers medium rare, chorizo is not ever meant to be eaten medium rare. If you stumble on an approach that works, please advise. I'll add that in my batch of 4-1 beef/chorizo, which was probably closer to 8/1 by the time all the water was reduced out of the cheap chorizo, the chorizo was still the overpowering flavor. I'm thinking now of chorizo on a burger more as "bacon bits" sprinked on top. I think it will be a challenge to meld the meats. Please e-mail me if you hit on a success even a year from now!

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Try making your own chorizo using beef or any other type of flesh you feel more comfortable having med rare. I think Dive Fan published a recipe.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Yeah- this seems to be the sort of burger where you have to cook it pretty well done. Still, if the fat content is up there it should still be juicy.

                                That's a good point about the ratio of beef/chorizo, it can definitely become dominant (I've made that mistake before in a pot of refried beans, what I thought would be a flavor accent became a bit much when all was said and done). I'll try to record what I do in case I need to make adjustments.

                                Maybe, though, it would be best of all to just add chorizo seasoning to some ground beef and make some sort of sausage/patty thing like Eat Nopal suggested. I'll report back with whatever I end up doing.

                          2. I grew up with burgers made from ground beef, (defrosted frozen) spinach, eggs and seasonings. I absolutely adore the spinach in the burgers. YUM.

                            1. No fillers, but I do like to add a touch of ground pork (just a touch) to the burger mix.

                              1. EN

                                What specific addition (filler?) do you use to bring in the umami?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: johnb

                                  Any of the following Worcestire, Pork Lard, Maggi, Tamarind, Ancho Chiles, Mushrooms, Huitlacoche, Barbacoa drippings etc.,

                                2. I have a knack for making things come out tasting oddly Italian (probably mostly a question of technique). That said, when I make burgers, which isn't often, I tend to treat them as an odd form of something else. So if I feel like treating it as a bistecca, a little olive oil and lemon goes in the patty, it gets brushed with oil before and after cooking, and gets a squeeze of lemon at the end.

                                  Or, I'll make a pestino of chopped parsley, garlic, and maybe some capers and tarragon, sautee that, then mix it into the meat so I get the same transfer of flavors into the meat that I would if I were cooking more normally in a pan. Red wine is good, too. [edit: oh and anchovies! Sometimes you take things for granted to the point that you forget to mention them]

                                  The third, totally different suggestion I got from a friend whose family is from S Asia. Mango pickle burger. Chopped up, mixed in the patties, it's amazing. Sacralicious.

                                  1. I love all variations of meats, vegetarian substitutes and added ingredients. I get a lot of inspiration from Rachael Ray's wild doctored up burgers like the spanikopita burger and the cordon bleu burger.

                                    But at the end of the day, I still feel that these creations are only "burgers" in shape and that the true test comes in how well you can make burger with nothing in it but beef.

                                    1. i think that finely minced onion family (garlic, onion, shallot, scallion), s&p, small amts of chili are acceptable flavor additions to a beef or bison burger.

                                      breadcrumbs, beans, other vegetables are fillers-- though sometimes they result in deliciousness. i like fine-minced/pureed mushrooms mixed into the beef sometimes.

                                      when making a "burger" (or a burger-type object made from not beef/bison), you can get downright kooky with "fillers" and flavor additions and not piss me off though. i will try any veggie burger once. . . i love salmon-caper burgers.

                                      1. I've never really been too into fillers, but I did just make the best burgers of my life the other day. I used prime chuck flap meat and hand cut it into 3/8" chunks. Then I tossed with transglutaminase and formed patties. After two days the patties were set and we cooked them on the grill to medium rare. There is no better description than to call then perfect steakburgers. They ate like burgers, had a but of crumble to them, but also ate like tender steak at the same time. And they tasted fantastic. So I guess my burger filler is Activa RM.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: almansa

                                          Excuse my ignorance, but what is Activa RM? Or transglutaminase for that matter. And where would you get that?

                                          1. re: danhole

                                            It's a living enzyme that binds protein to protein. You can get it at http://lepicerie.com.

                                        2. With regards to the Hounds stating that bread crumbs and other fillers etc., don't make it a Hamburger... I can only tell you that you are on the wrong side of History.

                                          Putting a Ground Beef patty in a Bun with commercial condiments was a bastardization to start with... or was it an evolution that resulted in an improved dish?

                                          A) If you are inclined to call fillers a bastardization than have some integrity... I want to see you eating raw ground beef with fixings and hush.

                                          B) If you are inclined to see it as evolution than realize that most Hounds are admitting superior deliciousness... put one in your mouth & keep quiet!

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            Now, by fillers, are you only talking about breadcrumbs or things like that, or are you including some soy sauce, or worchestershire, or other liquids, along with seasonings?

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              i'd clarify: "bread crumbs and other fillers. . . don't make it a hamburger"

                                              actually i think that what the majority of folks are saying is that "bread crumbs and other fillers. . .make it **not** a hamburger." i don't think anyone is saying "bastardization"--- i think people are saying--- "now we have/are talking about something else, with its own merits."

                                              i would never put bread crumbs in any ground meat mixture i intended to sell to my customers, unless i was calling it "meatloaf." it would be unethical imo. as i have stated, also imo, the onion family is an acceptable flavor addition, about 1 med minced onion, plus some minced garlic, for every 10-12 lbs ground grassfed beef. if you have great, flavorful meat you do not need a lot of nonsense thrown into the mix to attempt to conjure some fake flavor. a burger should taste like the **land,** not like fermented soybeans or anchovies. the burgers btw are equally popular with the harley set (who i know from experience are a lot more a> intelligent b> discerning wrt good food, esp *great roadfood* than some people may give them credit for), and hoity toity art professors, newspaper editors, and theater gurus. oh and chefs. chefs love the burgers too.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                And what I am saying is that is bull... somebody put a Hamburg Steak in the middle of two pieces of bread and still called it a Hamburger.... what I am predicting is that a couple of decades from now... quality Burgers will have things that we currently label as fillers... and no one will bat an eyelash or call it something different.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal


                                                  Jfood is sure you have read this article but just in case:


                                                  Lots of interesting data for both sides of the breadcrunmb argument.


                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    I really ENjoyed it... thanks... I was familiar with some info...but that was extremely comprehensive... who can not bow down before someone who connects the Burger with Ghengis Khan?

                                                    In any case... my interpretation of all that info is that its okay to put breadcrumbs and other stuff in the patty and still call it a Burger. Do you disagree?

                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      Yes and no

                                                      The breadcrumbs were the GK raw flat patty and it seemed to have a distinct path and an ending. The hamburger itself seems to have a commencement in the mid- late 1800's in the midwest US. The idea that those folk knew of GK and the raw-burger seems like a long putt.

                                                      But historically there is a point of reference that bread crumbs (even through the Jewish migration) had a historical spot (although almost coincidentally) to the current genesis of the hamburger does change the line in the sand to a dotted line in the sand in jfood's mind.

                                                      Remember jfood placed the link on this thread so you can teach an old dog new tricks, even self-taught.

                                                      (btw the "ENjoy" was fat fingers but when jfood saw it and your handle he could not resist keeping it, he almost changed it to EN-Joy).

                                            2. Well. for me there are home made burgers, restaurant burgers, and fast food burgers, aka "drive thrus" (you think I want anybody to see me sitting in McDonalds? It's tinted windows and drive thru!)

                                              For the best home burgers, I go to my USDA Prime butcher shop and buy "hamburger." I don't want ground chuck. I don't want ground round. I want traditional butcher's grade "hamburger." It is made from all of the trimmings from the tenderloin, the porterhouses, the standing ribs, the best cuts and the small amount of trimmings from the cheap cuts to make the most succulent blend of great beef possible. And anyone tries to put fillers in it will get their fingers chopped off...!!!

                                              Restaurant burgers depend on the restaurant. I don't much care for the "100% Angus Beef" bull. It's almost always dry and tough. So generally, I will only order a burger in one of two types of restaurants: Those that grind their own beef, or those that have kobe burgers on the menu. And if they won't seve them medium rare, I order something else.

                                              For drive thrus, if I go to McDonald's, it's those little burgers they put in Happy Meals. They''re the ONLY burgers that have those tiny little diced onions. But I special order by asking them to make it fresh and DON'T PRESS DOWN ON THE MEAT WHILE FRYING! Well, unless I'm in a terrible hurry, and then I order a fruit with yogurt thingie. I used to prefer Whoppers from Burger King, but they just don't have that original charcoal flavor any more. Here in Plano, Braum's has pretty good burgers. But actually, really good drive-thru burgers seem to be a thing of the past since medium rare was banned.

                                              As for "fillers," that's what the bun is for..! '-)

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                I highly doubt McDonalds is following your request to not "press down on the burgers", the McDonalds I have seen use two sided griddles that cook both sides at the same time.

                                                1. re: swsidejim

                                                  All I can tell you is that when I request "unpressed" burgers, the burgers delivered to me are far juicier than the ones delivered when the request isn't made. I don't normally go into a Mc D's kitchen, but I can't imagine a "double press" griddle being the only kind they have in any store. But not worth arguing about. As long as I get what I ask for, I'm a happy camper. '-)

                                              2. What about a little fish sauce to add umami?

                                                1. Paraphrased recipe from America's Test Kitchen

                                                  Well-Done Grilled Hamburgers

                                                  from the Episode: Drive-In Specials

                                                  Ground beef that has a panade (a paste made from milk and bread) added to it, creates juicy burgers even when they are cooked to well done. In order to cook burgers that end up flat, the center of each burger patty should have the center depressed slightly with your fingertips before cooking.

                                                  Serves 4

                                                  1 large slice of good quality white sandwich bread. Remove and discard crust, dice bread into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
                                                  2 Tbs whole milk
                                                  3/4 tsp table salt
                                                  3/4 tsp ground black pepper
                                                  1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
                                                  2 tsp steak sauce, such as A-1
                                                  1-1/2 pounds of 80 percent lean ground chuck
                                                  Vegetable oil for cooking grate
                                                  4 hamburger buns or rolls

                                                  Using a fork, mash milk and bread in a large bowl until fully mixed. Mixture should equal about 1/4 cup. Mix in salt, pepper, garlic and steak sauce.

                                                  Crumble raw beef into small pieces and add to bread/milk mixture. Lightly mix, with your hands, until meat/milk/bread mixture is uniformly mixed and will hold together when forming a patty. Divide meat mixture into four equal portions. Using your hands, form each piece of meat into a loose ball. Carefully flatten into a 3/4-inch-thick patty that is 4-1/2 inches in diameter. Using fingertips, press down center of each patty, forming a depression, until it is 1/2-inch thick.

                                                  Using paper towels held with tongs, dip paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe the barbecue grate. Cook burger on hot side of barbecue grill, uncovered, until seared on first side. About 2 to 4 minutes. Flip burgers with a wide metal spatula and continue grilling second side. Cook second side 3 minutes for medium-well done or 4-minutes for well done.

                                                  1. Just posted this to another burger thread (topics/738008) and figure it belongs here too.

                                                    In my experience, a little (very little, not enough to fill out the volume to any great extent) bit of quick oats helps a burger to stay moist, by absorbing and retaining the juices which otherwise would cook out. Does not affect the final flavor, no meatloafy-ness...

                                                    A few splashes of Worcestershire or Maggi Seasoning (the dark liquid, not soup mix or some such) boosts the flavor with a touch of umami, without masking the fundamental beef taste.

                                                    And minimal handling (this includes no squashing during cooking) keeps the burger from toughening up. Dimpling the center can indeed help a burger come out evenly shaped.

                                                    That being said, I sometimes will add other seasonings, but they are definitely flavor-changers, to my palate the result is no longer a true "basic" burger. Some that have worked well (individually, of course, not all at once) for me:
                                                    Teriyaki sauce
                                                    chipotle peppers
                                                    Montreal steak seasoning
                                                    Cajun seasoning
                                                    blueberries (don't laugh, it works surprisingly well)
                                                    and yes, even that standby of yesteryear, the much maligned pouch of Lipton onion soup mix

                                                    And for the real purists with an eye towards a custom mix of beef, here's a link to Alton Brown's
                                                    "Burger Of The Gods":


                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                      I don't usually add anything at all, but chopped fresh jalapeno and gorgonzola is pretty nice.

                                                    2. That turkey burger sounds like Donald Trump's/Oprah's... It is good.