The aroma fills the neighborhood and that distinctive sizzling sound can mean only one thing – it’s grilling season. But while you’re enjoying those burgers, be mindful to keep your meals healthy for your heart. A burger doesn’t always have to be fattening or even made of beef.

Here are seven heart-smart choices along with tips for better-tasting burgers.

Grass-Fed Beef: Less fatty than corn-fed beef and the meat of pasture-raised cattle produces a lean hamburger with a clean, mineral flavor. You can add a bit of fat, such as olive oil, to your blend for more flavor. Choose ground round or sirloin–they’re lower in fat.

Bison is one of the leanest meats and very high in protein. But it is the amount of protein you get in bison meat, without the saturated fat, that makes this a great alternative to regular beef. Bison is a great source of nutrients: zinc, niacin, iron, vitamin B6 and selenium. Because bison meat is leaner than beef, it can easily become tough, if you overcook it. Adding a marinade can help keep the meat moist. Try marinades with ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh rosemary or soy sauce, garlic and ginger. 

Chicken and Turkey: More supermarket space is now devoted to ground turkey and chicken. The trick is finding the lower-fat versions to make burgers. Some ground turkey breast can be 99% fat free. In addition, ground poultry breast can have fewer calories than a typical ground-beef burger. When buying chicken or turkey for patties, ask the butcher to grind boneless, skinless breast meat. Some prepackaged ground turkey and chicken may contain dark meat or skin, which can increase the amount of fat.

Soy: Made with soy protein, these patties are great-tasting meat substitutes. Although no meat is in soy burgers, they can still have a beefy flavor. Soy burgers are lower in saturated fat, calories and cholesterol than beef patties–plus they often provide fiber. Because the texture isn’t the same as regular burgers, try dressing them up with flavorful condiments.

Veggie: Often a mix of brown rice and other grains, vegetable patties won’t necessarily taste the same as grilled meat. However, a veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with a slice of tomato and cheese is a nutritional powerhouse. Some veggie patties can be a mere 90 calories, meaning they’ll satisfy appetites without expanding waistlines. Unlike some other on-the-bun options, veggie burgers can also supply fiber. Opt for mustard, which adds additional flavor without many calories.

Portobello Mushroom: This thick, hearty mushroom is about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, conveniently sized for a bun. It has a firm texture that feels similar to a beef burger. However, portobello mushrooms won’t have the same char-grilled flavor as meat. Zero fat and incredibly few calories–only seven calories per ounce–make this mushroom a great choice. Marinate mushrooms in a low-fat Caesar or Italian salad dressing for a few hours to add flavor. Grill for about five minutes on each side.

Venison: Deer meat can be a lean option for grilling season as well. Because the meat is low in fat, it may taste drier than a beef patty. Some people also experience a “gamey” flavor from this meat. With about half the fat of a beef burger, venison offers about the same amount of protein. Because venison may seem a bit drier than ground beef, mix in some tomato or barbecue sauce to moisten the patties.

Additional tips for making just about any burger more heart healthy.

1. Use caution with toppers. If you’re trying to reduce fat and calories, stick with veggie additions like tomato, lettuce, mushrooms and peppers on your burger. Use low-fat cheeses and spreads such as mustard, ketchup and barbecue sauce. If you want bacon on your burger opt for turkey bacon.

2. Choose whole grains. By using a bun made with whole grain, you can easily fulfill one of your three daily servings of whole grains.

3. Trim patty size. Think thin and small to keep calories down.

4. Mix meats. If you crave the taste of ground beef in your burgers but want a healthier option, mix half ground sirloin beef and half turkey breast.

Forming A Burger

Don’t pack the meat too much: overworking it can cause the burger to become overly dense and tough. Gather the meat into a loose ball and set it on a work surface. Curl the palms of your hands around the sides of the patty and work it back and forth in a rotating motion so that the sides of the patty flatten slightly. Then gently press down on the top of the patty with the flat of your hand.

An ice cream scoop is a great tool for perfectly sizing the burgers into healthy portions.

Thick burger patties tend to puff up in the middle while they cook. Making a depression in the top of the patty using the back of a measuring spoon or your thumb, helps a burger hold its shape.

Keep the meat cold (it helps to wet your hands with cold water) and handle it as little as possible when shaping patties. Over-handling “bruises” the meat and compressing the meat too much will lead to dense, dry burgers. Make the burgers a few hours ahead of time and chill them on a plate covered with plastic wrap. This firms up the burger and helps it hold together during grilling. Leave them in the refrigerator until the last minute or place them on a sheet pan over another sheet pan filled with ice.

 

Grilling A Burger

1. Build a medium-hot charcoal fire (the coals are ready when they’re fully ashed over but are still hot enough that you can’t hold your hand an inch above them for more than 2 seconds).

2. For Gas Grill: Heat your grill to high heat, about 450°F or until you can hold your hand an inch over the grate for only two seconds.

3. Lightly brush the burgers on both sides with oil just before grilling. This helps prevent sticking and adds an extra layer of flavor. You’ll also need to practice good grill hygiene by heating, scraping and oiling the grill’s grate prior to grilling.

4. Do not press on a burger with a spatula while it’s grilling, All this does is squeeze out the juices onto the fire.

5. After about two minutes on the grill, give the patty a quarter-turn to get grill marks. After that, aim to flip the burger only one time. When the edges begin to brown or you see a few little pearls of blood bleeding through the top, the meat’s ready to turn over.

6. Do not overcrowd the grill. Follow the Steve Raichlen’s “30 percent” rule—leave 30 percent of your grill free of food. That way, if you get flare-ups, you have a place to move the burgers if they start to burn.

7. Make sure your burger’s cooked. While rare burgers may be tasty to some, you don’t want your burger to make you sick. 

8. Let the burgers rest, off the grill grate, for a couple of minutes before serving. This allows the meat to “relax,” giving you a juicier burger.

The Basic Burger

Yield: 8 burgers

  • 3 pounds ground beef of choice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 8 hamburger rolls, split, toasted
  • Cheese and condiments
  • Classic Burger Sauce or Spicy Ketchup or Blue Cheese Onion Topping , recipes below

Directions:

1. Combine beef, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Gently blend with a fork. Use moistened hands to form 8 3/4-inch-thick patties (about 6 ounces each). Brush the burgers well on both sides with olive oil.

2. Heat grill and grease the grilling grates. Grill burgers over moderate heat (about 5 inches from heat source) on one side for 4 minutes. Carefully turn and cook on other side for about 4 minutes for medium-rare burgers. Serve on warm buns, topped as desired.

Classic Burger Sauce

Makes About 1/4 Cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons lowfat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Mix all ingredients and chill.

Spicy Ketchup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

Directions:

Mix ketchup with prepared horseradish and 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or more to taste. Serve chilled.

Burger Blue Cheese Onion Topping

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Directions:

To make the onions: Heat butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Add vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until onions are slightly caramelized, about 7 minutes more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Top each burger with 1 oz. of blue cheese and continue to cook until just melted, about 2 minutes. Divide cheese-topped burgers between toasted buns, top with onions and serve.

The Caprese Burger

  • 1 recipe Basic Burger, above
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups packed basil leaves (about 4 oz.), plus 8 large leaves for serving
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 8 slices
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 hamburger rolls, split, toasted
  • Pesto Mayo, optional, recipe below

Directions:

Prepare burgers as recipe directs and refrigerate patties until ready to cook.

Place pine nuts and garlic in a food processor. Add oil; pulse to chop. Add 4 cups basil leaves, Parmesan and salt. Process until finely chopped, stopping and scraping sides of bowl once or twice. (Makes 3/4 cup pesto.)

Grill or broil burgers as recipe directs. Top with mozzarella during the last minute of cooking time.

Spread buns with pesto. Place burgers on buns and serve topped with a slice of tomato and a large basil leaf, assorted toppings and Pesto Mayo, if desired.

Pesto Mayo

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lowfat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon prepared pesto
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Directions:

Mix mayonnaise with prepared pesto and lemon zest. Chill before serving.

Parmesan Bison Burgers with Balsamic Ketchup

Serves 4 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground bison
  • 1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1/4 cup)
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted
  • 1 cup baby arugula
  • 4 thin slices red onion
  • 4 tablespoons Balsamic Ketchup, see recipe below

Directions:

1. Preheat grill to high heat.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Divide bison mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press a nickel-sized indentation in the center of each patty.

3. Place patties on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

4. Place bottom bun halves on plates. Top each with 1/4 cup arugula, 1 onion slice and 1 patty. Spread 1 tablespoon balsamic ketchup on top half of each bun; place on top of burgers.

Balsamic Ketchup

Refrigerate extra ketchup in an airtight ­container for up to a week or freeze in small batches.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 pounds small tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

2. Combine oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and tomatoes in a large bowl; toss gently to coat. Arrange tomatoes, skin side down, on a wire rack set inside a jelly-roll pan. Bake for 3 hours. Cool slightly; peel. Discard peels.

3. Combine tomatoes, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Chicken Caesar Burgers

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut up
  • 12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut up
  • 1 medium onion, cut up
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 2 anchovy fillets, drained and patted dry (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 romaine lettuce leaves
  • 3 medium roma tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 6 ciabatta rolls, split and toasted
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup homemade or bottled reduced fat Caesar salad dressing

Directions:

In a food processor combine chicken breast halves, chicken thighs, onion, grated Parmesan cheese, parsley and, if desired, anchovies. Cover and process with several on/off turns until coarsely ground and slightly sticky. Shape into six 4-inch patties. Cover and chill for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Brush both sides of each patty with oil; season to taste with salt and pepper. For a charcoal or gas grill, grease grill rack of a covered grill. Grill patties directly over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until 165 degrees F, turning once halfway through grilling.

To serve, place a lettuce leaf and tomato slices on the bottom of each roll. Top each with a chicken patty. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese. Spread roll tops with salad dressing. Place roll tops, dressing side down, on burgers.

Note: The internal color of a burger is not a reliable doneness indicator. A chicken or turkey patty cooked to 165 degrees F is safe, regardless of color. To measure the doneness of a patty, insert an instant-read thermometer through the side of the patty to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

Grilled Portobello Burgers

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 large portobello mushrooms (4 to 4-1/2 inches), stems removed
  • 6 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette, divided
  • 4 slices red onion
  • 1 cup roasted sweet red peppers, drained
  • 4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 4 kaiser rolls, split
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise

Directions:

Brush mushrooms with 4 tablespoons vinaigrette. Grill mushrooms and onion, covered, over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side or until tender. Top mushrooms with red peppers, onion and cheese.

Grill, covered, 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Grill rolls, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes or until toasted.

Spread roll bottoms with mayonnaise and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Top with mushrooms; replace roll tops.

Glazed Salmon Burgers

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen skinless, boneless salmon fillets
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (2)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons chili sauce (hot or sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus extra for grilling
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage with carrot (coleslaw mix)
  • 6 sesame seed hamburger buns, split and toasted
  • 1 cup thinly sliced seedless cucumber

Directions:

Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place salmon, half at a time, in a food processor. Cover and process until finely chopped.

In a large bowl combine egg, green onions, salt and black pepper. Add chopped salmon; mix gently until combined. Using damp hands, shape mixture into six 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine mayonnaise and 3 tablespoons chili sauce. Cover and chill until needed.

For slaw: in a large bowl whisk together 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Add shredded cabbage toss to coat.

Lightly brush both sides of salmon patties with additional canola oil.

For a charcoal or gas grill, place patties on the greased rack of a covered grill directly over medium heat. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes or until done (160 degrees F).

To serve, spread cut sides of buns with mayonnaise mixture. Fill with salmon burgers, slaw and cucumber slices.

Bulgur Veggie Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup walnuts (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed parsley sprigs
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 4 slices multi-grain bread, toasted

Directions:

Cook 1/4 cup onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add bulgur and water and cook, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in beans and soy sauce.

Pulse bulgur mixture, walnuts, garlic, parsley, turmeric, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and remaining onion in a food processor until finely chopped.

Form rounded 1/2 cups of mixture into 4 (3 1/2-inch-diameter) patties. Chill at least 10 minutes. Uncooked patties can be chilled, covered, up to 4 hours.

While patties chill, stir together mayonnaise, zest and lime juice.

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas). Put a perforated grill sheet on grill and preheat 10 minutes.(Or use heavy duty foil and poke holes in it with a large fork at regular intervals.)

Brush patties all over with olive oil.

Oil grill sheet or spray foil with cooking spray, then grill burgers on grill sheet or foil, covered, carefully turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total.

Serve burgers open-faced on toast with lime mayonnaise.

Heavy Duty Foil Sheet

Grill Pan

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