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The Challenge: Creating the Perfect BBQ Burger

Jun 24, 2013 | 0 comments

My husband’s favorite burger is usually what I call my Whitney Burger – it’s very spicy, made with pepper jack cheese, roasted jalapenos, spicy guacamole, and seasoned heavily with chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. It’s damn tasty. After our last round of Whitney burgers, he said “Well, you’ve perfected that one…how about perfecting the BBQ Burger?”. By which, he means a burger slathered in yummy BBQ sauce. Many restaurants have their version, and the toppings vary pretty widely. Caramelized or crispy onions, various kinds of cheese, slaw, bacon, etc. So I decided to come up with three different burgers, make them as sliders, and do a side by side comparison.

Naturally, we couldn’t just have the two of us for this challenge — a few more taste buds would be mighty handy in the judging portion (aka eating) of the evening. So this past weekend, we had our best friends over for the big burger-off.

BBQ Sauce Ingredients

First thing was to make the BBQ sauces. I decided to make two…a bacon bourbon sauce, and a sweet and smoky sauce. The recipes for each one are below. I think the trick to any great sauce is to have the right ingredients…in this case, spices. Each had a base of ketchup, but the bacon bourbon sauce was built in layers, first with rendered bacon fat, then bourbon, then ketchup, and finally an array of good liquids and spices like worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, molasses, garlic powder and onion powder.  The sweet and smoky sauce started with the ketchup, and had quite a lot of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, liquid smoke, brown sugar, soy sauce, some celery salt, and onion and garlic powders. Again, details are below. Both were slow simmered to get a darker, richer taste.

Next, I prepared the various toppings – crispy bacon, caramelized onions, crispy onion threads, sliced various kinds of cheeses, and slaw seasoned with red wine vinegar, canola oil, salt and pepper.

Finally, the burger patties were made (1/6 lb of ground beef for each) with the beef, salt & pepper, and some onion and garlic powders, and all was ready to go. After the burgers were grilled and topped with the appropriate cheese, I assembled them to make the three different burgers, and the taste testing began. Here is the rundown on the three burgers:

  1. Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, and the bacon bourbon BBQ sauce
  2. Pepper jack cheese, crispy onion threads, and the sweet and smoky BBQ sauce
  3. White cheddar cheese, bacon, slaw and the bacon bourbon BBQ sauce

Whit w Burgers 2

We each took a bite or two from each burger, then went through them again to solidify our choices.


The smoky and sweet BBQ sauce was by far the preferred of the two (despite us all being firm believers in the phrase “everything is better with bacon”), which meant that burger took the prize. We all loved the crispy onion threads as well. The general order of preference was #2, #3, #1. The slaw on burger #3 was a hit. We also commented that the cheese didn’t make a huge difference since the sauces were so flavorful.

So there you have it. The near-perfect BBQ burger has been crafted, made, tasted and loved. I invite you to try your own combo and tell me how it turns out!

Sweet and Smoky BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 loosely packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp liquid smoke (+ more to taste)
4 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped + 2 Tbsp of the adobo sauce from the can
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp celery salt
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients until well mixed. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and partially cover (to avoid splattering). Stir every few minutes, and cook until color deepens slightly, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Bacon Bourbon BBQ Sauce

6 slides of bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup bourbon
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup loosely packed brown sugar
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dark molasses
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 Tbsp A-1 Steak Sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

In a saucepan, cook the bacon pieces over medium high heat until the fat is rendered and the pieces are just beginning to brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon or tongs, leaving the fat in the pan, and either discard the bacon or use for another purpose. Deglaze the pan with the bourbon, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes until darkened. Stir every few minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Crispy Onion Threads

1/2 yellow onion, halved and sliced about 1/4″ thick
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup flour
salt & pepper
canola oil

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl, and whisk in the milk. In a separate bowl, season the flour with salt & pepper. Pour enough canola oil in a  saute pan to be 1″ deep, and heat over medium high heat until hot and shimmering. Separate the onion slides into individual threads, and dredge the pieces in first the eg mixture, then the flour. Add to the hot oil and fry until crispy (you will want to do this in batches to not overcrowd the pan). Remove as they are cooked to a plate lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. Use while warm if possible.

Bon appetit!




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