Walk into any Labor Day cookout, and you're likely to find burgers on the grill—few foods are as synonymous with grilling in the US. At its heart, a great burger is an exercise in simplicity: All you really need is beef, salt, pepper, and fire. Once you've got that base down, though, it's time to start experimenting, with toppings like pimento cheese and jalapeños, teriyaki sauce and scallions, or Spam and pineapple.
To get your cookout going, we've rounded up 19 of our favorite grilled-burger recipes, including some meat-free options for vegetarians and vegans. We've also thrown in a few skillet-friendly burgers, for those of you making use of your stovetop as well.
Check out our guide to the holiday for more winning Labor Day recipes, including other grilled dishes, desserts, drinks, and sides, or consult our guide to grilling for recipes and tips to help you master backyard cooking.
Thick and Juicy Home-Ground Grilled Cheeseburgers
The best way to upgrade any burger is to ditch the store-bought ground beef and make the patties yourself. Taking the grinding into your own hands gives you much more control over the texture and flavor of the finished burger. My preference is to start with short rib, brisket, and sirloin and grind it up pretty fine to make flavorful burgers that stay juicy on the grill.
Barbecue Bacon Burgers
Our ultimate bacon cheeseburger is packed with flavor, but it's not particularly grill-friendly. For a Labor Day cookout, we recommend these bacon burgers instead, which we infuse with smoke by grilling the bacon, burgers, and onions. Not just any old bacon will work here—you'll want to use slab bacon cut into meaty slices, about a quarter inch thick.
While it can't solve all our problems in this divided nation, this hybrid burger may just help us broker peace in the McDonald's-versus-Burger-King debate. It crosses party lines by combining the Whopper's flame-broiled patty, the Big Mac's special sauce, and both fresh and dehydrated onions.
Quadruple Chili Cheeseburgers
This fiery burger starts off like a classic green chili cheeseburger, but kicks up the heat by incorporating three extra varieties of hot peppers. We throw chilies onto this burger in just about every form we can think of: pepper Jack cheese, pickled jalapeños, and chipotle mayo in addition to the roasted Poblanos. (If you can find ever-elusive Hatch chilies where you live, use those instead of Poblanos.)
Pimento cheese might not be your first choice for topping a burger, but once you see how rich and creamy it gets as it melts onto the patty, you'll realize what you've been missing. We use our standard pimento cheese here, but add slices of pickled jalapeño for extra heat.
While it's traditionally a glaze for fish, teriyaki sauce is tasty slathered on all kinds of meats—in this case, a hearty grilled burger. Homemade teriyaki sauce is a must here, as store-bought versions are invariably inferior in flavor and texture, and you'll want to wait until the burgers are almost done to brush on the sauce so that it doesn't burn. Shredded cabbage gives the burger some crunch.
Grilled Black-Olive Burger With Japanese Vinegar
These burgers are a riff on the famous green-olive burger from way over Wisconsin way. The burger patty gets spiked with Japanese black vinegar, or kurozu, and topped with melty Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, the buns get a healthy slathering of mayo that's been mixed up with briny chopped black olives.
Grilled Korean Bulgogi Burgers With Kimchi Mayo and Pickled Daikon
These burgers are glazed with a flavorful sauce inspired by bulgogi, the marinated and grilled meat that's one of the highlights of a meal at a Korean barbecue restaurant. To double down on the Korean-inspired theme, we mix up a spicy kimchi mayo and slide a couple slices of pickled daikon under the buns.
Cajun Burgers With Spicy Rémoulade
Purists might tell you that burgers need to be 100% beef, but we see no problem in grinding up some spicy andouille sausage with the chuck to make extra-flavorful patties. We keep the Cajun theme going by topping the burgers with bell pepper, onion, celery, and a spicy rémoulade. Blue cheese isn't Cajun, but the little bit of funk it adds here doesn't hurt.
Sichuan Peppercorn Burgers With Chili-Ginger Mayo and Cucumber Pickles
Looking for a truly unexpected burger offering? Try these burgers seasoned with a spice blend of cumin, red pepper flakes, fennel, star anise, and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. A chili- and ginger-spiked mayo keeps the heat coming, while crunchy pickled cucumbers prevent the burger from being too hot.
Cemita Burger With Refried Beans, Chipotle Mayo, Avocado, and Oaxacan Cheese
New York–style cemitas are filled with lots of meats that aren't traditional in their Pueblan counterparts, so why not throw a hamburger patty in the mix, too? Make sure your guests come hungry, though—loaded with refried beans, avocado, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a Mexican herb called papalo, these burgers aren't for the faint of stomach.
Hot Hawaiian Burgers (Spam, Pineapple, Swiss, and Sriracha Mayo)
Say what you will about Spam, but I love the salty pork product, especially when it's grilled and paired with sweet, acidic pineapple. We use both to top these burgers, along with sriracha mayo and melted Swiss cheese. English muffins may not be particularly Hawaiian, but those nooks and crannies are perfect for catching all the juices from the meat and fruit.
Argentine Asado Burgers With Seared Provolone and Chimichurri
Even if you've never been to an asado—a type of epic grilling feast native to the mountains of South America—you can still make and enjoy this Argentine-inspired burger at home. A juicy patty of lightly packed and shaped beef is topped with a griddled slab of provolone cheese and spoonfuls of sharp, garlicky chimichurri, then sandwiched between two pieces of crisp bread.
If you're lucky enough to have easy access to your stovetop during your Labor Day party, you can't go wrong with ultra-smashed cheeseburgers. To make them, we smash ground beef firmly into an ungreased pan, resulting in a super-thin, super-crisp burger. Ideally, each guest will get two patties on their bun, with a slice of gooey melted cheese in between.
The Best Lamb Burgers
Lamb is one of my favorite meats, but I usually steer clear of lamb burgers, which too often come out dry. By grinding your own meat and working it gently, you can make lamb burgers that are perfectly moist. Be sure to cook the patties at least to medium-rare—lamb fat tastes best when it gets hot enough to melt.
Homemade Vegan Burgers That Don't Suck
A good homemade vegan burger shouldn't be a subpar beef replacement; it should allow you to really taste the vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that make it up. This burger fits the bill thanks to a long list of components: beans, barley, nuts, and lots of veggies. Not only is the patty tasty enough for vegans and omnivores alike, it also cooks just like ground beef.
Really Awesome Black Bean Burgers
This black bean burger gets a meaty texture from partially dehydrated black beans, chopped cashews, and panko bread crumbs, and a Southwestern flavor from sautéed onions, garlic, and Poblano peppers. It's a vegetarian recipe, but not a vegan one—we use egg as a binder, plus mayo and Cotija or feta cheese for extra moisture.
Salmon Burgers With Rémoulade and Fennel Slaw
Most salmon burgers are dry and lacking in flavor, but not these. They're juicy and crisp, with a medium-rare interior that could go toe to toe with the best beef hamburger out there. The key is eliminating breading and other binders from the burger mixture altogether; instead, we coat the patties in panko, which gives them a lightly crunchy exterior while protecting the delicate fish inside.
Mini Pineapple-Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon Burgers With Avocado
If you're hosting a big group for your cookout, these little salmon burgers make the perfect snack. The moist salmon patties are glazed with a pineapple-infused homemade teriyaki sauce, then stacked high with seared fresh pineapple, lightly mashed avocado, and peppery watercress.