Vail Valley burgers: How to jazz up summer’s favorite patty |

Vail Valley burgers: How to jazz up summer’s favorite patty

Vail Daily staff report
Vail, CO Colorado
Natalie Fandrey/Special to the Vail DailySweet Basil's lamb sliders were a hit at this weekend's Gourmet on the Gore in Vail, Colorado, proving that there's always room for burgers.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Summer might be on the home stretch in Colorado’s Vail Valleu, but there’s still plenty of grilling time left. Farmers’ markets are brimming with late-season harvests, and tossing some veggies together can make you feel philosphical about the big, meaty burger that’s sizzling over the open flame. This week, former Vail resident Ryan Slabaugh writes to us about getting out of his culinary rut.

Dear Wren

Other than a slice of grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce, what’s another way to liven up a hamburger? Barbecue season’s a little longer out in Tahoe, and I’m getting bored …

Ryan Slabaugh, Lake Tahoe

Dear Ryan,

Burgers are so universal, we’ve got not one but two chefs with some good advice for you.

This weekend Sweet Basil was one of 28 restaurants and vendors that participated in the fledgling Gourmet on Gore, a food and wine festival right in the center of Vail Village. Executive chef Paul Anders served up lamb sliders with a definitive African flair. With a couple of simple twists, he managed to reinvent the American standard without making it fussy or over the top.

He recommends jazzing up the patties internally with spices rather than externally with a lot of toppings. He chose Colorado lamb and used a coarse grind for it, enabling it to have a better texture when cooked. He threw in a Merguez spice blend, which can run the gamut of ingredients but usually includes cayenne and sumac. It’s common in such places as Tunisia and Algeria. He also added fresh cilantro and onions.

Anders has the advantage of a whole kitchen crew, so of course they had house-made quick pickles (sweet and crisp), a homemade bun and a delightful harissa-crema, which could be seen as a stand-in for traditional ketchup. It can be made by adding the traditional spicy red sauce to creme fraiche or even sour cream.

But if you don’t want to change your burger meat from the standard beef, there are still plenty of ways to get some excitement between the buns. Richard Beichner, executive chef for Sonnenalp Resort, is a big fan of the backyard barbecue. With almost a quarter century of profesional cooking under his toque, there aren’t too many scenarios the classically trained chef hasn’t seen.

He recently changed the Sonnenalps’ famous Bully Burger by adding sauteed onions and garlic, and a whole mess of fresh thyme, to the meat. And if you like a little kick, just a teaspoon of Tabasco can make a world of difference.

But when he’s at home, Beichner opts for some chopped chipotle chiles in the mix. Because they’re smoked jalapenos, they lend a smoky flavor even if you’re grilling over gas. From there you can just keep throwing in layers of flavor, like cilantro.

No matter what you add, the thing to remember is not to overmix the meat. The more you mix it the more uniform the consistency gets. So sprinkle the seasonings over the meat evenly and almost fold it in.

Good luck and happy grilling,


Send your own cooking, technique and ingredients questions to

Support Local Journalism