Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
August 11, 2019

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The burger exemplifies the exciting world of foodservice innovation. Its format is familiar and popular, which, of course, is the basis for a lot of successful R&D. Today, chefs are taking many of the most impactful flavor trends and finding ways to stack them in a burger. Global flavor touches, inventive textural play, responsible sourcing, unexpected flavor combinations—all live within the friendly confines of the all-American burger.

The Kurobuta Pork Burger at Orlando, Fla.-based Yard House, a Darden concept, demonstrates the opportunity. It stars Kurobuta pork, spicy candied bacon, white American cheese, arugula and housemade blueberry ketchup. “This burger is a perfect example of how innovation comes to life,” says Carlito Jocson, Yard House’s corporate executive chef.

The burger features a unique blend of high-quality Kurobuta pork. “Because of its marbling, the blend has a sweeter and more pronounced flavor than regular pork.” He char-grills the burger to bring forward its richness, then relies on the cheese for good melt and creaminess.

“Our signature housemade blueberry ketchup is our sweet and tangy take on a refined barbecue sauce,” he says. “This burger has truly become a guest favorite.”

Beefing It Up

Brim House and Duende

(Top) the Burnt End Burger at Q39 in Kansas City, Mo., changes things up, combining sliced burnt ends and spicy pickle slaw and (bottom) New York’s Hall serves a decadent Double Washu burger, starring Washugyu beef and sansho sauce.

Beef in burgers is classic—creativity here is driving opportunity for menu differentiation. At Q39, a barbecue restaurant with two locations in Kansas City, Mo., the Burnt End Burger turns to Certified Angus Beef brisket and sliced burnt ends for a unique offering. “It’s one of our signature dishes,” says Rob Magee, executive chef and owner. “The meat is butchered and ground in house daily, and the burger offers layers of flavors with the sliced burnt ends, housemade spicy pickle slaw and our own Q39 Kansas City barbecue sauce.”

Chef Hiroki Odo keys into Japanese ingredients and flavors for one of his signature burgers at Hall, a Japanese bistro in New York. His Double Washu Beef Burger stars Washugyu beef, a crossbreed of Japanese Black Wagyu and Black Angus. The double patty sits between Japanese white bread buns with cheese, purple onion and sansho pepper sauce. Both Q39 and Hall target brand-specific flavor profiles while successfully making the patty choice part of that brand narrative.

Going Upstream


At Oceana, an upscale seafood restaurant in New York, Bill Telepan, executive chef, serves a Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon Burger

As seafood continues to find more inroads on American menus, it’s primed for a casual treatment in the form of a burger. At Oceana, an upscale seafood restaurant in New York, Bill Telepan, executive chef, serves a Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon Burger, and it’s one of the restaurant’s most popular lunch items. The burger is topped with pickled red onion and horseradish aïoli, and sits on a bed of arugula.

“We use coho salmon for this burger because it’s leaner, which makes it hold together better after going through the grinder and being formed into burgers,” says Telepan. “It’s a great way to enjoy a decadent cut of salmon in a more casual, sandwich form. The burger has turned into a customer favorite.”

On the Menu: Seafood Burgers

  • Salmon Burger with pistachio-crusted salmon, honey glaze, arugula, garlic aïoli, tomato, fennel, lime-ginger vinaigrette
    —Bier Garden, Encinitas, Calif.
  • Shrimp Burger with butter lettuce, Roma tomatoes, pickled red onions, Old Bay mayonnaise, sesame seed bun
    —Punch Bowl Social, based in Denver
  • Tuna Bloodline Burger with cheddar cheese, lettuce, mustard, pickles
    —Locals Oyster Bar, Raleigh, N.C.

Thoroughly Modern Burger

Ty McNulty for Merriment Social

Merriment Social in Milwaukee features the Let’s Talk Turkey Burger, a house turkey burger with fried onions, white cheddar, pickles, aïoli and lettuce

It’s fitting that a modern American restaurant specializing in comfort food and starring global flavor touches menus a burger that demonstrates a number of trending flavor and texture combinations. Merriment Social in Milwaukee features the Let’s Talk Turkey Burger, a house turkey burger with fried onions, white cheddar, pickles, aïoli and lettuce. “It is inspired by a sandwich that regulars would order at a country club I worked at when I was younger,” says Andrew Miller, chef/owner.

“We make the burgers in-house with crème fraîche and herbs, then garnish it with blanched-garlic aïoli, house pickles, crispy onion strings, aged Wisconsin cheddar and Bibb lettuce.”

He serves it on a housemade Japanese-style milk bun. “I like milk dough for burgers because it provides the unctuous quality of brioche, yet is sturdier and holds up to the burgers themselves while also providing a bit of sweetness.”

It’s a Smash

Brim House

A custom blend goes into the Smash Burger at Brim House in Toledo, Ohio. A pretzel bun and bacon jam up the appeal.

Some chefs swear by the smash burger, saying it develops a deeply satisfying browning and crisping. Classic American diners are famous for this method, so featuring a smash burger today provides a unique burger experience while tapping into powerful nostalgia. At Brim House, a modern American restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, executive chef Aaron Lawson serves a Smash Burger made with a custom blend of ribeye, short rib, tenderloin and chuck roast.

“The smashed burger was created to give tribute to all the small diner shops around town,” he says. “The burgers are smashed to create a crispy yet juicy and flavorful patty, paired with a tender pretzel bun, housemade whiskey ketchup produced with local grain alcohol, and butter cheese from Wisconsin, which has a very low melting point. Our bacon jam is created with caramelized onions and candied maple bacon pieces, and then we finish it with crispy spicy pickles that are made locally in Ohio.”

I’ll Have the Combo


Duende in Oakland, Calif., evokes Spanish cuisine with its lamb and beef patty and toppings of stuffed piquillo and tomato jam.

Chefs are playing around with meat blends, making that combination one of the leading markers of a signature burger. Blends can also provide a sense of place. At Duende, a modern Spanish restaurant in Oakland, Calif., Paul Canales, chef/owner, serves up a burger among the tapas-heavy menu. The Duende Burger is planted firmly in Spain with a patty of ground lamb and beef and a topping of a piquillo pepper stuffed with Campo de Montalbán and tomato jam.

“Lamb is well loved throughout every region in Spain, and many of the best preparations have Moorish roots,” says Canales. “That said, in a burger it needs to be cooked medium to medium-well, as lamb fat has a relatively high melting temperature. So adding a discreet amount of beef allows a rare to medium final temperature and a deliciously luxurious result.”

The grilled piquillo pepper is stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese and serves as a burger topping. “It is a classic Basque pintxo, so it’s the perfect reference point for a Spanish-Basque inspired cheeseburger,” says Canales.

Spanish rosemary plays a role here, too: It’s baked into the brioche bun and appears in the sweet and spicy tomato jam.

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