Try a Burger Buffet for Feeding a Group

By JeanMarie Brownson | May 17th, 2023

’Tis the season for gather-’round-the-grill entertaining!

A burger buffet of burgers, tomatoes, toppings, buns, etc. This burger bar proves flexible when guest count fluctuates.

A burger buffet creates a fabulous set-up for entertaining any size of group, including those with a diversity of food preferences. Three recipes from JeanMarie Brownson provide a rich base for your burger bar: Salt and Pepper Grilled Burgers, Bacon-y Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms, and Roasted Garlic Mayo. From there, let your creativity loose – or even invite your guests to bring a favorite topping or condiment!

No matter the weather, we fire up the grill over Memorial Day weekend. Many years, that entails thick sweaters and rain gear. We jump at the chance to launch our gather-’round-the-grill style of entertaining.

Since I prefer to spend time with guests, rather than the labor in the kitchen, I work in advance.

A burger buffet proves flexible when guest count fluctuates. Condiments and side dishes can be prepared in advance. Ditto for snacks and desserts. The only cooking to do with guests at the ready is to reheat some bacon-heavy caramelized onions and cook the burgers.

Choose a ground meat that appeals to your audience. I opt for delicious, rich ground wagyu beef or bison for the majority of the burgers. Use ground turkey (not just turkey breast) for more flavorful turkey burgers. Vegetarian burger patties, such as Beyond Meat’s Cookout Classic, are on-hand as well; cook them from the frozen state (and do your best to avoid cross-contamination with the meat patties).

To shape burgers from ground meat, employ my local butcher’s trick: Place 1/4 pound seasoned ground meat into a small round deli container. Pat it into an even layer, then compress the patty into an even shape by placing a second deli container inside the first. Gently shake the patty out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. The result is an even, ½ inch thick patty. Refrigerate the patties; covered with parchment paper for up to a day.

Burger buffet

A basket of assorted buns adds to the build-your-own burger appeal. Brioche buns, pretzel rolls, and sesame rolls mimic our restaurant favorites. Offer gluten-free and whole grain rolls to cover all the bases. Toast the buns in advance, if desired, just be sure to keep them covered to prevent drying.

Whip up a batch of roasted garlic mayonnaise as the signature condiment of the day. I add a spoonful or two of black garlic when it’s on hand. The fermented garlic adds a funky note that pairs especially well with beef burgers. Miso or fermented Korean paste also works. Or, just add a couple more cloves of roasted garlic to the spread. Set out ketchup, a couple of flavors of mustard, as well as a platter of sliced tomatoes and lettuces for finishing up the burgers.

Other creative additions to your burger buffet

  • Sliced onions
  • Caramelized onions
  • Jalapeño slices, pickled or fresh
  • Pineapple slices or bits
  • Guacamole
  • Cheese (cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, American, bleu, etc.)
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Bacon
  • Pickles

For side dishes, set out bowls of chilled potato salad, a room temperature pasta, broccoli salad (think color), and sliced melons or bunches of seedless grapes.

For dessert, offer do-it-yourself mixed berry shortcakes. Sweeten frozen mixed berries (thawed in a bowl) with agave syrup and put them out with a bowl of sweetened whipped cream and sliced pound cake or halved fresh biscuits.

The night before a big party, I pile soft drinks in one cooler and beers in another. Then, an hour or so before guests arrive, we dash out for bags of ice to chill down the beverages and we are good to go!

Salt and Pepper Grilled Burgers

Makes 8 burgers


2 pounds ground wagyu beef or bison (or ground turkey)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4.teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
8 slices smoked gouda cheese, optional
8 burger buns, split, toasted
Roasted garlic mayo, see recipe
Bacon-y caramelized onions and mushrooms, see recipe
8 small ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 cups baby arugula leaves
Dijon mustard, optional


  1. Put ground meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Use clean hands to mix gently. Divide into 8 even portions.
  2. To shape burgers, put 1 portion meat into a 4 1/2-inch round pint deli container. Pat it into an even layer, then compress the patty into an even shape by placing a second deli container inside the first. Gently shake the patty out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate the patties; covered with parchment paper for up to a day.
  3. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Or, prepare a charcoal grill and when coals are hot and white, spread coals in an even layer. Preheat the grill grate.
  4. Grill burgers directly over heat without turning for 4 minutes. Carefully flip burgers and cook 2 minutes more for medium-rare. Add cheese and cook 1 minute. Remove carefully.
  5. Put burgers on bottoms of toasted buns, top with a dollop of roasted garlic mayo, a spoonful of onions and mushrooms, slices of tomato and arugula leaves. Spread top of buns with mustard if desired. Put top buns in place over burgers.

Bacon-y Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Make about 2 cups


  • 4 slices (5 ounces total) uncured Black forest or hickory-smoked bacon
  • 1 each, halved, thinly sliced: large white onion, large red onion
  • 1/2 pound thinly sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: thyme, oregano, freshly ground black pepper


  1. Slice bacon crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide batons. Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove crisp bacon to a small plate. (Wrap in foil and refrigerate for up to several days.)
  2. Add sliced onions to bacon drippings in pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until onions are soft and golden, about 20 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, salt, thyme, oregano and pepper. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Refrigerate covered for several days.
  3. Reheat in a large skillet or microwave-safe dish. Reheat crisp bacon on a plate in the microwave for 30 seconds. Serve onions warm sprinkled with the crispy bacon.

Roasted Garlic Mayo

Makes 1 cup

Note: Black garlic can be found online or in specialty markets. Squeeze the pulp from the bulb to use in the recipe.


  • 6 large bulbs garlic in their peel
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons black garlic pulp, optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup organic mayonnaise
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives


  1. Put garlic cloves (still wrapped in their peels) into a small, heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium-low heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides and soft when squeezed, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Peel the garlic, then put into a small bowl and mash completely with a fork. Stir in black garlic pulp, salt, and pepper, Stir in mayonnaise and chives. Refrigerate covered for several days. Use at room temperature.

JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel, and dining for more than four decades.

© 2023 JeanMarie Brownson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Also from JeanMarie Brownson, this recipe for a satisfying meatless burger. Really!

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