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Burger Love: The Murray

The Solita Bar & Grill in Manchester, England, is celebrating Andy Murray’s triumph at Wimbledon with a Scottish-themed burger called The Murray, the Daily Star reports.

Aye, that’s the Murray.

It wouldn’t be Scottish without a bit of deep-fried haggis (traditionally assorted sheep offal cooked in a sheep’s stomach) but there’s more, of course. The Murray’s beef patty is 6 oz. of Aberdeen Angus. On top there’s Ayrshire bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and a barbecue sauce made with Scottish whisky and Irn Bru, a bright-orange Scottish soft drink. It weighs in at 1,100 calories.

See if Andy Murray’s picking up the check because the burger’s priced at £12.90 or $19.57 by itself. Mention it when customers tell you your prices are too high. And an extra £6.50 ($9.86) gets you a Murray Cocktail (whisky, Drambuie, lime and Irn Bru).

Said Solita Owner Franco Sotgiu, “The Big Manc is usually our biggest selling burger, but the Murray even outsold that on its first day. People are caught up in all the euphoria so we might keep it on for another week before we change.”

The Murray may be outselling the Big Manc because that burger’s priced at a whopping £15.90 ($24.90) That gets you two 6-oz. beef chuck patties with iceberg lettuce, house-made pickles, Monterey Jack and Big Manc sauce (ingredients undetermined).  Solita’s  £12.90 ($19.57) Man-hattan Burger boasts an “oven bottom roll” with pastrami, melted Lancashire cheese, panko-breaded fried black pudding (blood sausage), Lancashire Sauce and Coney Island mustard.

Farmer Boys Promotes “Farm-to-Table” Burgers

The world is catching up to Farmer Boys.

Farmer Boys added the third-pound The Natural burger last year.

When the Riverside, Calif.-based chain opened its first store in 1981, sourcing fresh local produce wasn’t the norm for QSRs. Serving breakfast all day was common at sit-down restaurants, but at Farmer Boys guests order at a counter and their food and drinks are brought out to them.

“We were fast casual before people knew what fast casual was,” says Ken Clark, president and COO.

Thirty years later, Farmer Boys has 72 restaurants in California and Nevada—two-thirds of them franchises—and the chain is accelerating its growth since the farm-restaurant connection is all the rage. After opening just one to three units a unit annually for the past several years, the chain will add six this year and is more aggressively eying the future. Clark sees enough room left in its two-state trading territory that the company is not looking for franchisees farther east.

But the chain is updating its image, menu and marketing to capitalize on the current interest in farm-fresh foods. Clark credits John Krueger and his Krueger Communications agency with developing the “Farm-to-Table Burgers” positioning that Farmer Boys has adopted.  “This is who we have always been; we’ve just never articulated it in that way and marketed it that way,” Clark says. “John said to us, “This is who you are, so let’s go tell people.’”

The Farmer Boys menu is large, with 75 entrées spread over the three dayparts. To better reflect that breadth, the chain’s logo, which for many years proclaimed “World’s Greatest Hamburgers,” now says “Breakfast, Burgers and More.” But that doesn’t reflect any change in emphasis. Customer traffic is equally divided across morning, mid-day and evening, Clark says.

  “We have a full-line fresh breakfast menu: Eggs any way you want. They’re not held under a heat lamp, they’re cracked when ordered and we make them how you want them. You’d have to go to a sit-down restaurant and spend more time and money for that elsewhere,” says Clark. “But we’re still known for our burgers; they’re still the most important part of our business,” says Clark.

Marketing emphasizes the farm-to-table theme.

Burgers are never-frozen quarter-pound patties. The Signature Farmer Burger is a double-patty build for $5.49. Last year Farmer Boys added The Natural, a third-pound patty of hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus beef that has done well. The chain is a frequent but not constant user of couponed newspaper inserts. The most recent offers include a $4.99 cheeseburger combo.

The “Farm-to-Table Burgers” positioning is backed by a quirky new TV advertising campaign built around a scarecrow that is the identified as the chain’s “director of security,” protecting Farmer Boys’ fresh produce. The scarecrow may not move but manages to evoke evoke the chain’s farm connection.

Clark concedes the unusual campaign has “led to a lot of talk,” but he’s fine with that. “Customers and employees are having fun with the scarecrow,” he says. “But it’s still all about the food for us, because it’s great, fresh food. What the scarecrow does is make that memorable.”

McDonald’s Japan Offers One-Day-Only LTOs

In Japan, McDonald’s is taking both the “limited-time offer” and “premium price” concepts to new extremes. The chain’s “Quarter Pounder Jewelry” promotion is three gem-stone-themed Quarter Pounder burgers, each of which is available for one day only. And the price for each burger is a McDonald’s record ¥1,000, or nearly $10.

You’ve already missed your chance the enjoy the first of these specials, the Gold Ring Quarter Pounder. It was available only on July 6. Its quarter-pound beef patty was topped with thick-cut bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a thick pineapple ring and barbecue sauce; all served on a kaiser bun.

There’s still time to get to Japan and get in line for the second special, the Black Diamond Quarter Pounder. Available July 13, its toppings are black-truffle sauce, Emmental cheese and grilled onion and mushrooms with a brioche bun.

On the menu on July 20 alone will be the Ruby Spark Quarter Pounder with pepper-Jack cheese, avocado, jalapeňo and slices of chorizo. This will be served on a French-style roll.

  TV spots support the Jewelry promotion, an extension of the ongoing “Bite!” campaign for Quarter Pounders. Regularly priced Quarter Pounder varieties on the menu are BLT and Habanero Tomato.

 McDonald’s isn’t the only chain trying on the upscale jewelry idea. In Switzerland, Burger King is promoting a new “Gold Collection” menu. This includes a Double Steakhouse Hot & Spicy burger with jalapeňo slices and a Double Steakhouse BBQ Cheese with bacon.

Touted as “grill luxury at its finest,” BK’s Gold Collection is being advertised with the latest in a series of seductive model photos by Manfred Baumann. A flashback nearly 50 years to James Bond and “Goldfinger,” this photo shows model Anna Hammel painted gold head to toe. But that paint job didn’t end so well, did it?

July’s Burgers of the Month: Gouda Eats

Happy July to you. This, of course, is the month of the “Red, White & Blue Burger” and there are several of those among the July Burger of the Month specials. See Blue Moon, Stuft and Teddy’s Better Burgers below.

The Gouda Burger takes center stage at 5 Star Burgers.

What was unexpected was that this suddenly would be the month that burger joints discovered Gouda cheese.  5 Star Burgers’ special burger is “The Gouda,” for example, and there are others. Milwaukee Burger Co. and My Burger both are featuring Gouda-topped burgers this month. At Hops Burger Bar in Greensboro, N.C.—where there’s a weekly special—the featured burger this week is The Smoke Ring, topped with smoked Gouda cheese, a fried onion ring, roasted red bell pepper and sautéed mushrooms. Deemer’s American Grill’s special last month was a Gouda Burger with smoked Gouda and herb aïoli. Why would Gouda suddenly be popular? Perhaps the spark was Burger King’s February launch of its Bacon Gouda Muffin breakfast sandwich. If you have a better explanation, share it with me, please.

Among those burger joints that didn’t go Red, White & Blue Cheese or with Gouda, several opted for Caprese-style burgers this month. And then there’s Slater’s 50/50, which breaks from tradition this month with a 100% ground-bacon patty. See details below.

Here is a selection of the Burger of the Month specials for July from burger joints across North America:

Blue Moon Burgers’ Red White & Blue special.

 5 Star Burgers, multiple locations, Southwest
The Gouda

Harris Ranch beef burger with shredded smoked Gouda cheese and garlic jam

8 Oz. Burger Bar, Seattle
Nikki Farms Water Buffalo Burger
With spinach, charred onions, blueberry marmalade, horseradish crème fraîche and marble blue and Jack cheese

B Spot Burgers, Cleveland
The Caprese Burger

Vine-ripened tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette

BGR: The Burger Joint, multiple locations

Fresh mozzarella, beefsteak tomato, a hint of basil and aged balsamic

Blue Moon Burgers, Seattle
The Red White & Blue Burger
A third-pound premium beef patty topped with a melted slice of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Flagship, house-made savory blueberry ketchup and caramelized red onion on a toasted brioche bun

Bobby’s Burger Palace, multiple locations
Mulberry Street Burger

Fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, basil ketchup and baby arugula

Buckeye Beer Engine, Lakewood, Ohio
Shrimp Gumbo Burger ($12)
A half pound of fresh ground beef, skewers of grilled andouille sausage and blackened shrimp, and a house-made Mache Choux gravy. Served with chips and a fried pickle.
Click here to continue reading July’s Burgers of the Month: Gouda Eats

Top 30 New Burger Joints of 2013’s First Half

A burger, beer and side at Hops Burger Bar.

How many more burger joints can there be? The question is continually asked and just as quickly answered by another opening. As in the past, I intended the “best new” list to be a year-end report. But the first half of 2013 saw so many noteworthy openings that it’s best to line them up now and then later scrutinize the best of the year’s second half, which promises to include the opening of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s B&B Burger & Beer at The Venetian in Las Vegas plus other high-profile debuts.

I use the word “noteworthy” purposefully because that is the definition of “top” for this list. These aren’t the 30 “best.” I don’t pretend to have visited and them all. Rather, each is highlighted for in some way exemplifying the state of the burger business.

Taps at Haystack Burgers & Barley

And the burger business is popular enough, watched enough that one of the most interesting new concepts of the year wasn’t real. LA Weekly reported on the opening of Golgugi, a burger restaurant that “has discovered a sixth gustatory taste called Golgugi.” Owner Trevor Mikel described it as “the sensation when the tongue feels fizzy with a hearty twinge.” The April Fools joke was clever enough to cause at least one blogger to add Golgugi to his list of hot new concepts. But only briefly. Really.

Burger at vegan Boon Burger Cafe.

In addition to welcoming many new concepts, the first half of the year saw several established burger brands open second locations. These include Boston Burger Co., Boston; Burger Joint in New York City; Chicago’s Butcher & the Burger (second opened in Boca Raton, Fla.); Kuma’s Corner in Chicago; Rounds Premium Burgers, Los Angeles, and more. Among those planning to open second locations in the summer and fall are Burger Republic, Nashville; Tasty Burger, Boston; Trueburger, Oakland, Calif.; and Worthy Burger, South Royalton, Vt. How many burger joints can there be, you ask?

Which brings us to the “Top 30 New Burger Joints of 2013’s First Half.” Several of them show that the second word in “burger bar” has gained ascendance. Craft beers and burgers have become great pals, at least where zoning and liquor laws allow. These new concepts also continue the trend to de-emphasize build-your-own burgers in favor of enjoy-these-wild-creations menus. Global flavors and ingredients are emerging. Local sourcing is becoming the norm. Non-meat alternatives are becoming more sophisticated and daring.

Enjoy the holiday. When you want some fun reading, click here to access the full Top 30 New Burger Joints of the First Half report.

Burger King Pairs Cocktails and BBQ in Tokyo

Burger King tomorrow will begin serving cocktails such as Mojitos and Pink Daiquiris to accompany new barbecued-rib dinners in three Tokyo restaurants.

The promotion begins June 28 and is quite limited in time and scope. It is just three stores and only 30 of the cocktail/barbecue meals a day between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. The promotion itself is a limited-time program.

Priced at ¥980 or about $10, the Broiled BBQ Ribs are marinated and finished with a barbecue sauce flavored with celery, thyme, garlic, cinnamon and allspice. It is served with fries, thick grilled-onion rings, a small salad and a cup of pickles. If that’s not enough, diners can purchase grilled chicken patties for ¥200 or about $2 each.

Cocktails go for ¥450 or $4.58 at current conversion. The lineup includes a Mojito, Sky Diving, Long Island Iced Tea, Pink Daiquiri, Cuba Libre and a rum drink Google translates as “Ram and Back.” The Burger King stores already offer Heineken beer but the cocktails are something new for the chain.

Burger King needs to spark sales in Japan. For the first quarter of 2013, the chain said comparable sales in its Asia Pacific region were up 2.7% thanks to strong sales in Australia and Korea that were “partially offset by weakness in Japan and New Zealand.”

Burger Chains Brew Iced-Tea Battle

This is the first week of summer, when temperatures and iced-tea consumption rise sharply. But with the noisy introductions of such recent entrees as Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, Sonic’s Pretzel Dogs and McDonald’s new Quarter Pounders it’s been easy to overlook the quiet race for iced-tea supremacy going on among the top burger chains. Like coffee, iced tea is a high-profit-margin item that sounds even tastier to operators when sales and customer growth is hard to come by.

In selected markets—including parts of Ohio and New York State—McDonald’s is offering a line of Fruit Tea Fusion drinks under its McCafé umbrella. The tea drinks are offered in Blackberry Raspberry and Peach Berry flavors and promoted as being hand-shaken. Prices may vary by market, but they are roughly $1.59 for a small, $1.89 for medium, $2.29 for a large.

McDonald’s is confident enough in the Fruit Fusions line’s potential to give it its own webpage.

Flavored ice teas are a gap in McDonald’s/McCafe beverage menu waiting to be filled. More it’s a gap that needs to be filled because many key competitors are quietly expanding their tea lineups. Iced tea and Sweet tea are McDonald’s only two summer tea offerings. McCafe boasts smoothies, frappes, Frozen Strawberry Lemonade and the Cherry Berry Chiller for summer days, but flavored iced tea is an opportunity it can’t pass up.

Burger King’s new Peach Iced Tea

Sonic’s Green Iced Tea

  Burger King added a peach iced tea as well as sweetened and unsweetened iced tea as part of the new menu it introduced in March. The following month, Sonic unveiled a new line of freshly brewed green iced teas “available in thousands of flavors” thanks to its flavor mix-ins. Sonic’s line includes a diet green iced tea flavored with Splenda and the chain is making its teas available for purchase by the gallon for parties, tea and otherwise. Wendy’s is promoting Strawberry Lemonade and Strawberry Tea.

The flavored-tea leader among burger chains is Jack in the Box, which expanded its tea line in 2009 with raspberry, mango and peach flavors. Some others, however, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Whataburger, Culver’s and many others offer only sweetened and unsweetened tea.

Starbucks is ahead of them all, of course, thanks in part to its ownership of the Tazo Tea brand. Its stores offer a variety of iced teas and iced-tea lemonades such as Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade.

The tea market isn’t as lucrative as coffee, but it isn’t insignificant either. In 2011, Americans drank about 3 billion gallons or 65 billion servings of tea, 85% of it iced, according to The Tea Association of the USA (TAUSA). Sales of ready-to-drink (bottled) tea were about $3.5 billion in 2011. Restaurants certainly would love to steal some of that business from supermarkets and it already has begun to do so: away-from-home tea consumption has been increasing by at least 10% annually over the last decade, according to TAUSA data.

Average Restaurant Check Shows Small Increase

Source: The NPD Group/CREST

Despite the gripes of consumers who feel that dining out is too expensive and getting more so, the latest data from NPD Group’s CREST research suggests Americans are doing better than diners in many other countries.

A comparison of average eater checks as reported by NPD since the first quarter of 2012 finds that spending may fluctuate quarterly but year-over-year it has not risen dramatically. The average U.S. per-person check in the first quarter of 2013 was $6.48, a 2.53% from $6.32 in the year-earlier quarter.

Canadians spent slightly more ($6.84 in Q1 ’13) but saw a smaller check inflation (0.9%) in the past year. According to NPD data, the average U.K. eater check in Q1 this year ($7.12) was actually 3% lower than it had been a year earlier ($7.34).

The most dramatic shift was for diners in China, where the average eater check jumped 46% from $2.76 in Q1 2012 to $4.03 in Q1 2013. Australian diners spent the most ($8.81) in this year’s Q1, just as they did a year ago ($8.44). Australia saw the second-largest (after China) percentage increase in average spend (4.38%) between the first quarters of 2012 and 2013.

All average checks are in U.S. dollars, based on conversion rates during quarterly reports.