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McDonald’s Feeds iPhone 6 Appetites

McDonald’s is taking good care of new friend Apple Inc. Representatives of the burger chain were up before dawn today to provide apple pies and apple slices (along with shirts, sunglasses and phone accessories) to early adopters lined up in the dark at Apple stores in Chicago and New York. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were going on sale when the stores opened at 8 a.m.

Mcd_Apple1McDonald’s hopes everyone snaps up an iPhone 6 since it announced last week that it will accept Apple Pay—the new mobile payment system that works with the new iPhone 6s and Apple Watch—at all U.S. restaurants beginning next month. Customers keep a finger on the iPhones 6’s Touch ID and hold their devices near a contactless NFC (near field communication) reader to pay for a meal inside at counters or at drive-thrus. McDonald’s says its operators “invested in the NFC technology for restaurant point-of-sale systems as part of the company’s digital strategy and commitment to customers’ emerging needs.”

“Apple Pay enhances our global digital strategy and is a win for McDonald’s customers who desire greater speed and ease,” Atif Rafiq, McDonald’s SVP-global chief digital officer, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “Apple’s transformative mobile payments service brings a new level of convenience to McDonald’s customers, allowing them to instantly pay and stay, or pay and be on their way. Our support of mobile payment options further demonstrates our commitment to be an influential leader in the retail digital space.”

In June, Rafiq, who previously had held senior posts at Amazon and Yahoo, opened a McDonald’s corporate office in downtown San Francisco, a move that raised eyebrows about its intentions. At the time, Rafiq told Ad Age that the office provided a way to recruit digital-skilled employees and “a way for us to be more plugged into the flow of ideas.” Especially those from Apple, with which it already had been in contact.

Rafiq told Mashable that McDonald’s is responding to a market need for faster service and easier transactions via smartphones, which 85% of the key Millennial audience own. “It’s the new expectation for consumers,” he told Mashable’s Todd Wasserman. “It’s frictionless and gives a lot more power to the customer.”

Wasserman, however, sees the potential for friction from Android smartphone users, who outnumber iPhone users two to one. Rafiq says McDonald’s system will be able to handle Google Wallet and other NFC payment plans.

It’s National Cheeseburger Day: Celebrate Wisely

NatlCheeseburgerDayEvery day is a good day for a burger, of course, but today is National Cheeseburger Day. Like my birthday, this isn’t being celebrated universally, but many burger joints have special plans to honor the day. Among them:

Bar 145's 10-pounder

Bar 145′s 10-pounder

Bar 145 in Toledo, Ohio, will serve a 10-lb. Americana Burger that serves 20 to 25. Advance orders were required. For those with just one friend, Bar 145 also offers a buy-one-get-one on its Stack Your Own burgers.

The Fuddruckers chain has a challenge, too: Finish its 3–lb. burger and 1–lb. side of fries (with bottomless Coke, of course) in one hour and you’ll receive two free meals, one free t-shirt and “undeniable respect.”

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar locations celebrate with a special $8 Combo: 1/3-lb. Backyard Burger, fries with Bad Daddy’s Sauce and a small Apple Pie Shake. As a special recognition of the day, Bad Daddy’s has agreed to share the recipe for its Buttermilk Fried Bacon with readers. Get it here.

Wayback's Triple Triple

Wayback’s Triple Triple

The 80-location Wayback Burgers chain hosts its Triple Triple Burger Eating Contest. That’s its famous nine-patty burger. Whichever customer polishes off its famous nine-patty burger fastest today wins $3,330.

Chicago’s Rockit Bar & Grill is serving a special Double Black Angus burger with Gouda, Matilda Beer Mustard and bacon sauerkraut on a pretzel bun, served with house-made Yukon fries and curry ketchup for $13. Sister restaurant Botttlefork serves its signature Bottlefork Burger with fries and a house-made soda for $20.

Classic Cheeseburgers are just $5 all day at Philadelphia’s PYT. Add a PBR for just $1. While you’re there, you also might want to sample PYT’s new Bacon Cheeseburger D’oh Nut. That’s a warm glazed donut filled with delicious bacon cheeseburger and topped with bacon sprinkles. Click here to continue reading It’s National Cheeseburger Day: Celebrate Wisely

Three-Unit The Rail Explains Itself on TV

Last October, interviewed Mike Mariola, an Ohio restaurateur who had opened a burger bar, The Rail, in Fairlawn, Ohio, and was working on two more locations (north Olmsted and Canton). Those three restaurants now are open and humming and The Rail on September 8 launched its first TV advertising.

Rail_LogoThe Rail is all about local sourcing and that strategy is featured in its three 30-second spots, especially the burger commercial. It opens with The Rail’s half-pound Local Yokel burger—labeled a “100% Ohio-Sourced Burger”—and works backward, deconstructing the burger and explaining the provenance of each ingredient. “Buns baked in Cuyahoga County.” “Bacon cured in Erie County.” “Eggs laid in Holmes County.” “Cheese cultured in Geauga County.” “Beef grown in Holmes County.” It closes with the concept’s “Where burgers come from” logo, having explained just that.

A beer spot promotes The Rail’s dedication to local beers, pouring 24 Ohio craft beers at the North Olmsted and Canton locations; 12 at the Fairlawn/Akron unit. That signature Nutella Crunch milk shake is made with milk and ice cream from Wayne County, as explained by the third commercial.

The spots air on cable stations in Akron, Canton and North Olmsted. Credits go to Los Angeles-based branding firm Hoofcase; Annie Yoder, who provided music; and production company Jugoe.

Umami Burger Arrives in Chicago

Umami_ChicagoSign1Umami Burger opens its first Chicago location on September 18, the 24th unit in what is quietly becoming a chain to contend with nationally and not just on the West Coast. The media mantra now is that the burger segment is losing customers, especially Millennials, to options like Chipotle, but concepts such as Umami Burger—with high-quality food, moderate pricing, sophisticated atmosphere, full bar and casual (not fast casual) service—can bring those consumers back to the burger category.

Paul Clayton, the former Burger King and Jamba Juice exec who joined Umami in July as its CEO, says there’s easily opportunity for Umami Burger to ultimately have 150 U.S. locations. After all, it has 24 units now but has barely begun expansion outside California. Two units are open in New York City; a third should debut by year-end. After that he sees the chain extending near-term to Boston; Washington, D.C.; and possibly Philadelphia. But the goal isn’t to see how many markets it can enter, Clayton says. Rather, Umami wants to enter a market and build enough units to establish a meaningful presence before moving attention on. Chicago—city and suburbs—could handle at least five units and perhaps as many as 15, says Clayton.

Umami's Calabrese Burger for Chicago

Umami’s Calabrese Burger for Chicago

The expansion strategy as it stands now doesn’t include franchising, at least not domestically. If Clayton and Adam Fleischman—the founder who continues as Umami Restaurant Group chairman—take the Umamibrand overseas, franchise partnerships might be possible. Clayton says Umami is at a point where the brand is evolving “from an entrepreneurial phase to being a meaningful restaurant company.” But he says that doesn’t mean it’s considering an IPO. That’s not a topic on the table, he says.

The core Umami menu includes a selection of classic burgers, including The Original (with a Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onion and house ketchup) and the double patty B.U.B. (with bacon, beer Cheddar, minced onion, pickles, mustard, house ketchup on a three-part bun). Additionally, each location features an exclusive build. In the Chicago location in the Wicker Park neighborhood, the special is the Calabrese Burger (calabrese sausage patty, truffle cheese fondue and Chicago-style giardiniera on the chain’s signature bun).

Also available, but not listed on the menu, are Umami’s “secret” cheesy tots appetizers, which are well worth remembering and ordering.

Umami also has offered an occasional “Artist Series” burger developed in conjunction with a performer or chef. The most recent was the Akron Burger, $1 from each of which sold went to The Black Keys’ Alfred McMoore Memorial Endowment Fund of The Akron Community Foundation. The next, available Sept. 23, 2014, is The Samberger by comic actor Andy Samberg benefitting The Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (CEID) in Berkeley, Calif. It will feature Umami Burger’s signature beef patty topped with sport peppers, roasted tomatoes, chopped Umami dill pickles, kombu relish, roasted garlic aïoli, poppy seeds and yellow mustard. Some in the series have sold better than others and Clayton says he wants these specials and their charity tie-ins to get a brighter spotlight so they’re not lost in the menu mix.

Johnny Rockets Planning Drive-in Movie Concept

Johnny Rockets Route 66 LogoJohnny Rockets announced a sweeping plan to reimagine itself with four new prototypes operating under the Johnny Rockets Route 66 name. Each is different, including a drive-in-movie concept, a drive-thru concept (with breakfast menu), a food truck and a mobile pop-up restaurant. Some of the first of these prototypes could debut by year-end.

Through a strategic partnership with USA Drive-Ins LLC, a film production and distribution company, Johnny Rockets said it expects to have the Route 66 drive-in concept as the food option at 200 new drive-in movie locations. The chain said the drive-ins will all present “family-friendly films and embody a nostalgic, all-American experience.”

The chain envisions the drive-thru version of the Route 66 brand as ideal for “high volume, regional travel plazas located off major freeways and highways.” The size can range from 1,800 square feet to 3,300 square feet.

JohnnyRockets_Route66Drive-In3“The drive-thru option will potentially increase our market share and overall sales, improving the economic model of our restaurant franchise,” James Walker, chief development officer of Johnny Rockets, said in a release. “Not only will these in-town and travel center locations offer high-quality food, including a breakfast menu, but they will also provide the Johnny Rockets experience through digital projections and signage. Guests can enjoy Johnny Rockets’ one-of-a-kind atmosphere from the comfort of their vehicles.”

The pop-up Route 66 also will be part of the USA Drive-Ins partnership. The combination theater-and-mobile-restaurant prototype will “create a dinner-and- movie combination in a myriad of venues,” Johnny Rockets said. The Route 66 food trucks will be available for current Johnny Rockets operators to buy and use for catering or event marketing.

Johnny Rockets has a history of fostering new ideas and designs and has been more active in rethinking its operations since it was acquired by Sun Capital Partners last year. In March, the chain bean offering a Build-Your-Own burger option.

Winning Burgers From Le Burger Week

Canada’s Le Burger Week continues to grow. In its inaugural year in 2012, 30 restaurants in Montreal took part. Last year it expanded to include Quebec City and Winnipeg. This year’s event, held September 1-7, involved 180 burgers across six Canadian cities. As an outreach to stimulate the restaurant business there, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, was included this year as well.

Jukebox Burgers' Southern Comfort

Jukebox Burgers’ Southern Comfort

In each city, diners voted for their favorite burgers, which evidence delightful diversity. As a source of burger ideas for operators everywhere, the Le Burger Week top vote getters are saluted below.


Le Gourmet Burger: #ShrinersBurger (Beef burger grilled on wood charcoal topped with a mushroom & caramelized onion cheese fondue, spicy chipotle and smoked BBQ sauces, garnished with fresh cilantro. $1 from each #ShrinersBurger sold went to the Shriners Hospital for kids)

Jukebox Burgers: The Southern Comfort (Corn-flaked fried chicken, candied bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, maple mayonnaise with a waffle bun)

Dilalloburger: Triple B Burger (Relish, mustard, onion, tomatoes, lettuce, capicolo, cheese, hot peppers and bacon)


Le Gourmet's #ShrinerBurger

Le Gourmet’s #ShrinerBurger

World Burger: Louisiana (Topped with Pulled pork, Swiss cheese, tangy coleslaw Chipotle mayo)

The Bacon Factory Burger Emporium: Major’s Black Garlic Burger (Beef patty on a brioche bun topped with Major Craig’s Black Garlic cream cheese, bacon jam, baby spinach, tomato and a crispy slice of double smoked bacon)

Backdrop Food & Drink: Jerk Wild Boar Burger (Fresh ground wild boar, house-made jerk marinade, greens, fennel slaw, marinated tomatoes, old Cheddar, house pickles)

Quebec City

Rideau Rouge: Le “Vice Caché” (A mixture of 100% Angus beef and chopped Canadian bacon, stuffed with bittersweet home “Arnold chocolates greedy” dark chocolate, topped with French onion red beer, confit Porto grapes homemade julienned Granny Smith apples, fresh and crisp lettuce, mayo Espelette pepper and foie gras on a wheat bun)

Le Fin Gourmet: Kamouraska Je T’aime (Chopped Kamouraska lamb, foie gras, 1608 cheese, pickled onions, salicorne and lemon mayonnaise and savory herbs)

Chez Victor: Burger Homard Tempura (Brioche, lobster tempura, leeks, cream and white wine, mayonnaise with lobster bisque and truffle oil, lettuce) Click here to continue reading Winning Burgers From Le Burger Week

McDonald’s Trademarks ‘McBrunch’

McDonald’s needs something attention grabbing, innovative and appealing, as is clear from the -2.8% drop in U.S. same-store sales for August reported this week. That need for something fresh and different may be why has learned that McDonald’s Corp. in July filed a federal trademark registration (application #86345988) for the term “McBrunch.”

The Massive McMuffin on McDonald's morning menu in New Zealand would be perfect for a McBrunch menu here.

The Massive McMuffin on McDonald’s morning menu in New Zealand would be perfect for a McBrunch menu here.

A McDonald’s spokesperson confirmed the application but cautioned, “We routinely file intent to use trademark applications as a regular course of business. We can’t share details at this time as to how the trademarks may or may not be used.”

It’s possible the company could just keep the trademark inactive in its back pocket. It does that. In fact, it applied for a trademark on “McBrunch” in 2001 but abandoned that application. But the brunch idea may be back under consideration more seriously this time, in part because of the continuing poor sales performance. McDonald’s has been showing increased interest in upscale morning fare: Earlier this year it tested breakfast pastries in San Diego and mini bundt cakes in Boca Raton, Fla., and Nevada.

Four years ago, Burger King briefly tested a brunch menu in Massachusetts and Florida. The menu included nonalcoholic mimosas, a BK Ciabatta Breakfast Sandwich and its signature Whopper burger. The brunch idea didn’t work, but Burger King in May launched a “Burgers at Breakfast” program with Whoppers offered in the morning.

So how might McBrunch work at McDonald’s were it to be launched? One path would be the route it has chosen in Germany, where breakfast hours are extended beyond 10:30 a.m. on weekends and major holidays. Breakfast already has been extended “backwards” through the “McDonald’s After Midnight” hybrid breakfast/dinner menu from midnight to 4 a.m. Brunch could be a weekend-only event with a special menu.

Chains are working hard to develop distinctive breakfast menu items, as evidenced by Taco Bell’s new Biscuit Taco and IHOP’s new “Waffullicious Waffles” with ingredients such as bacon and cheese baked in. To compete with breakfast options such as that, McBrunch would need something more than the current McMuffins and McGriddles. McDonald’s is leery of expanding the menu with new items, but here are 10 breakfast foods already on its menus around the world that it should consider for a McBrunch menu in the U.S.: Click here to continue reading McDonald’s Trademarks ‘McBrunch’

Hortons Deal Damages BK Consumer Perception

The home of the Angry Whopper is the focus of angry consumers. Burger King Corp.’s proposed $11 billion acquisition of Canadian chain Tim Hortons was widely characterized as a canny tax-saving maneuver as soon as it was announced. The combined entity’s headquarters would be in Canada where corporate tax rates are lower. But what Burger King might gain monetarily might not balance the ill will the merger has generated with customers who see the burger chain’s action as unpatriotic.

Burger King is feeling a different kind of whiplash than it two years ago when it launched the Whiplash Whopper in Canada.

Burger King is feeling a different kind of whiplash than it did two years ago when it launched the Whiplash Whopper in Canada.

According to the YouGov BrandIndex daily brand consumer perception research, Burger King’s consumer perception levels have dropped to its lowest in four-and-a-half years. The 30,000 respondents polled were asked, “If you’ve heard anything about Burger King in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”  Burger King’s Buzz score plummeted from a +13 on Aug. 20, 2014, to a -1 today. A score can range from 100 to -100 with a zero score equaling neutral, so Burger King’s Buzz is slightly more negative overall than positive.

It’s worth noting that Burger King’s -1 score ties it with McDonald’s Corp., which has been pummeled with reports about its wages in the U.S., the quality of its meat in China and the cleanliness of its stores in Russia.

Burger King’s Facebook page has been filled with negative comments such as this from David Villarreal: “You greedy, seditious, traitors! I was a lifelong BK customer and I will NEVER support your businesses again! You should loose the right to conduct business in the country that made you such a successful resturaunt [sic]. Enjoy Canada you greedy Traitors!”

Burger King has responded on Facebook that the chain’s headquarters will remain in Miami (however, the holding company will be based in Canada, which will yield some tax savings). On its page, the chain wrote, “We hear you. We’re not moving, we’re just growing and finding ways to serve you better.
“As part of the announcement made today, both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We’ll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world.
“The decision to create a new global QSR leader with Tim Hortons is not tax-driven – it’s about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes.
“We’re proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve.
“The WHOPPER isn’t going anywhere.”

Burger King Corp. should be reporting Q3 sales at the end of October. That will be the real measure of consumer anger over the proposed business combination.