Burger Topping Week: Barbecue Bacon Burgers

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

I know, I know—bacon on a cheeseburger. And oh, what's that other super original topping you've got? Grilled onions, and, and barbecue sauce? Could you get more predictable? Even The Clown and The King would roll their eyes at you if you brought a barbecue-sauced bacon cheeseburger into their August presences.

But the flavors have got to be classic for a reason, right? And it's not just because someone had the bright idea that salty bacon and plenty of sweet, smoky sauce can rescue even a mediocre hamburger. No, it's because when each of the elements is perfect—the burger juicy and medium rare with a smoky char from the grill, the bacon thick cut, crisp, and lacquered in tangy sauce, the onion softened to a sweet, sweet tenderness—it's a flavor combination that's tough to beat.

Thing is, we rarely ever receive a perfect barbecue bacon cheeseburger. Here's how to do it.

The patty needs to be plenty thick to stand up to the robust flavor of the bacon and barbecue sauce. For burgers like this I like to go a full eight ounces (and share it with somebody if necessary). The best meat is a home-ground blend, but freshly ground chuck from the butcher counter will do.

The bacon must be ultra-thick cut. Ideally I'm talking 1/4-inch-thick, which means that if at all possible, you should start with whole slab bacon and have your butcher cut it for you (or just cut it yourself—bacon is remarkably easy to slice with a knife so long as it's well-chilled. Just make sure to remove the rind (that's the part with the nipples on it) if it's present.

Cooking the bacon low and slow is key to rendering all the fat out of it and getting it nice and crisp. I build a two-zone fire and cook the bacon over the cool side for a good 15 minutes or so to get the rendering process going. When my burger is a few moments away from finishing, I'll transfer the bacon over to the hot side to crisp up. The result is juicy, shatteringly crisp porky slices that you can bite off with your burger, instead of having the whole thing drag out with each bite.

Onions need low, slow heat and attention just like the bacon. They lose lots of moisture and structure as they cook so using thick slices is key. I go about 1/3rd of an inch thick, placing them right in the middle of the hot and cool sections of the grill and letting them cook for as long as the bacon, slowly softening and caramelizing, releasing sugars onto their surface that rapidly brown when you shift the onion over to direct heat right at the end.

The sauce can be whatever you'd like—either a homemade barbecue sauce, or your favorite store-bought brand. The important part is application: just like with barbecued chicken or ribs, you should brush it onto the burger patty (and the bacon slices!) only for the last few moments of cooking.

And fine, if you want to go extra crazy: add some avocado and fried pork rinds up in there. But don't say I didn't warn you.