To top it off: complementing your perfect burger | Chef Dez

Aug 23, 2017

For the final piece in my three-part series on perfecting homemade burgers, this week I will focus on burger toppings and bread selection. If you missed either of my previous columns – one on meat selection and another on ingredients to add to your burger mix – visit or email me at

When building a burger from scratch, many people tend to be scant with the toppings in order to minimize the amount of prep. But, they are missing the best opportunity to complement the patty they proudly created. Going without complementary toppings is like having mashed potatoes without the gravy, or apple pie without the ice cream.

Mayo, mustard, relish and ketchup are obvious additions. Another classic way to top a burger is with the traditional lettuce, tomato and cheese, but there are many others to consider: bacon, onion – fresh or sautéed – mushroom, pickles, etc.

The main thing to remember is that when adding vegetables, such as lettuce and tomato, make sure you season them with salt and pepper. This one step will dramatically enhance the flavor of your finished burger.

The toppings don't have to stop there. There are countless others that could crown your masterpiece, but there is not enough room in one column to list them all. They could be hot sauces, ethnic sauces, different types of mustards, salad dressings, dips, spreads, olives, sundried tomatoes, and an assortment of cheeses, for example.

The type of bread or bun you choose could be based on many factors. Maybe you are creating a burger of a certain ethnic cuisine, such as an Italian burger. In that case, I would use an Italian type of bread, like a ciabatta bun, for example.

Or perhaps your burgers are quite messy because they are dripping with toppings. In that case, I suggest a denser type of bread or bun that will remain firm when it comes to eating the burger. Try to stay away from the plain, generic, small, white burger buns, as they are just so ordinary and boring. Also, toasting your buns on the grill always adds extra texture and flavor to your finished burger. Just brush the bread lightly with oil and place it directly on the grates of your barbecue until lightly charred and toasted.

One last note: if you’re using a meltable cheese, be sure to place it on top of the burger patty in its final moments of cooking on the grill. Melted, gooey cheese is more appealing in not only taste but presentation, as well.


Dear Chef Dez,

Someone once mentioned to me that there is a proper order to assembling a burger or sandwich for best flavor. Is this true, and if so what's the secret to doing this?

– Michael, Chilliwack, British Columbia


Dear Michael,

Yes, there is a proper order for assembling a sandwich or burger. The rule I tend to follow is this: strong flavors go below the protein and lighter creamier flavors go above the protein.

So, you should put onions, ketchup, relish and mustard, for example, on the bottom half of the bun, below your burger patty. Layered on top of your protein should be ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, etc.

I have been told that because different taste buds at different locations on our tongues pick up different flavors, this is the best way to experience the finest a burger or sandwich has to offer your awaiting palate.

If you don't believe it, assemble it as I have suggested, take a bite, and then take a second bite with it upside down. The first bite will taste better.


Gordon Desormeaux aka Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host serving the Pacific Northwest. Visit him at Write to him at or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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