Kentucky-Style Turkey Burgers with Redeye Bourbon Onions and Aged Cheddar Recipe

The winds of change may be blowing but that can’t keep us away from the grill. Plus, National Cheeseburger Day is coming up on September 18 for goodness sake. So how can you make restaurant-style “fancy” burgers at home? First-class fromage helps—and a recipe from meat guru Bruce Aidells, who contributed this to Real Food. Bruce noted he has always loved slices of fried country ham smothered in redeye gravy, which is a pan gravy made with coffee and a little molasses. In this recipe, the gravy flavor complements the sauteÌed onions and adds juiciness to the burger. Because ground turkey can be lean, he has added some trimmings from country ham to the meat mixture. (So this is not exactly a low-cal turkey burger.) Use a well-aged Cheddar such as Cabot or Grafton from Vermont or some of the aged Cheddars from Wisconsin, Canada, or Ireland.

Kentucky-Style Turkey Burgers with Redeye Bourbon Onions and Aged Cheddar

Makes 4 servings

Redeye Bourbon onions
3 tbsp. bacon fat (or butter)
1 large onion (about 3 cups), halved and thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
14 cup bourbon
12 c. strong black coffee
2 tsp. low-sulfur molasses
12 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. cider vinegar, or more to taste

Turkey Burgers
1 14 lb. ground turkey
14 lb. fatty country ham trimmings, finely chopped (or smoky bacon, finely chopped)
1 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
14 teaspoon nutmeg
12 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 14-inch-thick slices aged Cheddar cheese
4 sesame-seed buns, toasted
4 leaves romaine hearts

For the redeye bourbon onions: Melt bacon fat in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a sprinkling salt and pepper. Cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are nicely browned and well caramelized. Pour in bourbon and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until bourbon is almost evaporated. Stir in coffee, molasses, Worcestershire, mustard, and vinegar. Stir and boil until liquid is nearly evaporated and onions are well coated. Add salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the burgers: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a fork, gently mix until fully blended. Divide into 4 patties about 34 to 1 inch thick and to match bun.

Grill over medium-high heat 4 minutes per side. Top with Cheddar. Cover grill and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until cheese melts. This will yield medium to medium-well burgers.

Reheat onions 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat. To assemble, place onions on bottom half of bun. Slather top bun half with mayonnaise and finish with a lettuce leaf. Place burger cheese side up and generously cover with onions.

Nutrition info (per serving): Calories 812 (470 from fat); fat 53 (sat. 18g); Chol 151mg; sodium 1360mg; Carb 30g; fiber 2g; protein 45g

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.