Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Katie Ayoub
May 16, 2019

Chefs are always reaching for the stars when it comes to burger ideation. They push innovation hard to keep up with flavor preferences while delivering a familiar format that is a beloved American institution. Four restaurant brands share their pathways that have led them to burger glory. One landed on a menu hit through a practical joke that turned out to mean serious business. Another restaurant concept deliberated through various iterations, determined to add yet another burger to their already impressive repertoire—the results were fantastic. Read on for all of the burgerlicious details.

Skin Deep

A joke about putting fried chicken skins on a burger turned into a popular menu item at Lucky Rooster, where locally sourced Southern fare is served in a rustic environment. Fried chicken skins were on the bar-snack menu, but when local TV personality Jesse Blanco dined there one night, he thought he spotted chicken skins atop a burger. “First, I made fun of him,” says Chef/Owner Clayton Rollison. “But honestly, it sounded delicious.”

And so the Blanco Burger was born: two 4-oz. beef patties topped with smoked Gouda, Serrano pepper aïoli, lettuce, and fried chicken skins on a brioche bun. “We wanted something that was salty-spicy-smoky-crunchy—and this nailed it,” says Rollison. “The skins provide an irresistible crunchy bite with a little salt to cut through the richness of the rest of the burger.”

The Blanco Burger was unveiled as part of Sunday Burger Night, a promotion launched to boost winter sales. It was the most popular burger during the season. And although Burger Night ended, the Blanco’s success earned it a spot on the permanent menu.

Lucky Rooster hits the jackpot with its Blanco Burger, topped with fried chicken skins.

Overnight Success

Sure, The Cheesecake Factory didn’t need to add another burger to its impressive repertoire. But that didn’t stop Brandon Cook, Executive Chef of Culinary R&D, and his team from creating the Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger. “It shot right to the top of its menu category,” he says. “We sold over seven million burgers last year, and over one million of them were Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburgers.”

A charbroiled patty is topped with American cheese and cheddar, three strips of crispy bacon and two slices of brown-sugar/black-pepper glazed smoked bacon. The burger is finished with a secret sauce—“two very precise amounts of ketchup and our housemade rémoulade sauce,” says Cook. “We partially melt the cheese to maximize the flavors and textures—not too much and not too little. The crispy bacon holds up even in the center of the burger, so you can enjoy that crispiness in every bite. The glazed, smoked pork belly creates a layer of succulent decadence that is absolutely memorable.” The challenge came in the development of the sauce. “‘Too pedestrian, nothing special,’ were comments we heard while in development,” says Cook. “It was when we applied them separately—the rémoulade with the ketchup drizzled over it to achieve more peaks and valleys in the flavor profile—that was the magic moment.”

The Cheesecake Factory’s Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger features melted cheddar, American cheese, crispy bacon, slow-roasted smoked bacon, secret sauce.

Star Burger

You CAN have it both ways. That’s the message at SkinnyFATS, a fast-casual concept where the menu features categories divided into “The Healthy Side” and “The Happy Side.” In the “Between The Buns” section on The Happy Side, the indulgent Cherry Popper cheeseburger has resonated with guests thanks to a balanced flavor profile that brings savory flavors together with sweet and spicy notes.

A half-pound beef patty and pepper Jack cheese provide the expected elements of a cheeseburger. But then the burger takes flight with a spicy slaw that is balanced with the sweet heat of a pepper marmalade made with cherry and banana peppers. A fried egg adds a creamy finish. “When we first created the dish, it didn’t have a fried egg, but that was the final ingredient that really brought it together and took it to the next level,” says Executive Chef Marco Marquez. A Hawaiian roll gives the burger another dash of sweetness that doesn’t overpower. “Guests are always pleasantly surprised to find a burger on a sweet roll, which pairs perfectly with the savory notes found in the other ingredients,” he says.

A fried egg and spicy slaw finishes SkinnyFATS’ Cherry Popper burger.

Deli Darling

TooJay’s Deli sells more than 185,000 pounds of pastrami every year. It’s such a big seller that this New York-style deli celebrates National Pastrami Day every January. Two years ago, a limited-time offering called the Pastrami Burger, released as part of the celebration, was so successful that it became a permanent menu item.

“The inspiration for the Pastrami Burger was to create a gourmet burger with a unique New York deli twist,” says Brett Carper, Director of Operations. The burger smartly pairs two craveable classics—the pastrami sandwich and the burger—in a familiar format that reflects the concept’s New York roots. Hearty pastrami spice-rubbed sirloin is topped with hot sliced-to-order pastrami, caramelized onions, melted Swiss cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, crisp lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun.

“It is so flavorful and stays true to TooJay’s heritage of serving plentiful plates of traditional gourmet favorites, in this case a savory spin on a classic New York deli meat paired with our fresh burger,” says Carper.

TooJay’s Deli’s Pastrami Burger is an indulgent build of sirloin, pastrami, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, on a brioche bun.

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About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.