Grilled Mediterranean Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce and Olive Tapenade

Juicy lamb smash burgers with homemade tzatziki sauce, caramelized onions, feta and Kalamata olive tapenade.
lamb burgers on a wooden board

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I love a good burger. They’re straight-forward, hand-held, and can adapt to any situation no matter how casual or couture.

When grilling season hits, the same old burger can get mundane. That’s why we’re taking it up a notch with our Mediterranean-inspired lamb burgers.

These burgers are full of Mediterranean flavors and a cure for the regular burger-blues. Homemade tzatziki sauce and olive tapenade push this burger over the flavor edge and into taste-bud nirvana. Let’s dive in.

Why lamb burgers?

Lamb is consumed much more prevalently around the world than in the US.

“the per capita consumption of meat in the US is roughly .6 lbs per year.”
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Compare that to 26 pounds in Australia, and roughly 28 pounds in Greece. 

Lamb is a red meat, high in iron, zinc, selenium and vitamin B12. It is flavor-forward with a deep, meaty taste. Pasture-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished lamb has a taste that’s almost gamey but packed full of flavorful Omega-3 fatty acids.

Also a good source of protein, lamb can work itself into almost any carnivorous diet in moderation.

This recipe will do its part in driving the consumption of lamb in the US because it’s so delicious!

What is lamb meat?

Meat classified as lamb is from a sheep that is under a year old. It is naturally tender and has a mild flavor profile compared to mutton. 

ground lamb from silver fern farms
Grass-fed lamb is not only flavorful but also packed with Omega-3 fatty acids

Mutton is meat from a sheep that’s over a year old. Then there’s also yearling mutton which is a sheep over a year old but under two years.

Mediterranean flavors

The flavors of this burger are reminiscent of a gyro, but meld just as well in burger format – if not better in my opinion. 

tzatziki sauce and olive tapenade ingredients
Homemade tzatziki sauce and olive tapenade will bring a Mediterranean flavour to the burgers

Heavy on the dill, and accentuated with cucumber, feta and a hint of basil, these flavors come together in the burger for one tasty bite. 

We’ll be making our own tzatziki sauce, which may lead you to never using store-bought versions again. 

The tapenade is made with kalamata olives, olive oil, capers and anchovies giving the burger a tangy, citrusy hint. 

Make the sauces

Start by making the sauces ahead of time so the flavors have time to meld together. 

tzatziki sauce and olive tapenade
Allow the flavors to combine by making the sauces ahead of time
  • For the tzatziki sauce, combine the yogurt, feta, garlic, vinegar, dill and cucumbers. Season with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • For the olive tapenade, combine all the ingredients in a food processor, and run until all ingredients are well combined. Season with the black pepper to taste.

Make the burgers

With the sauces out of the way, it’s time to make the burgers.

Why smash?

There’s long been debate on whether to press down on burger patties as they cook. You’d often hear not to smash burgers when grilling, and that holds true when cooking on grates.

When you press down on the burger patty as it cooks on grates over an open fire, the rendered fats are pushed out of the burger and into the flames below. Not only can this cause flare-ups and grill fires, but it’s a perfect storm for a dry puck of burnt meat.

When cooking on a flat surface such as a griddle or frying pan, the rendered fat stays contained on the cooktop and has the opportunity to redistribute in and around the meat.

The juices cook up into the burger vs. dripping down through the grates on a grill. This keeps the burgers juicy and flavorful while still maintaining a caramelized, seared exterior. 

Check out what the founder of Smashburger has to say about the smashing technique.

Caramelize the onions

First, caramelize the onions. Preheat the griddle to medium low heat. While it’s preheating, cut the onion in half, then slice the halves from there. Toss the onions lightly in oil and a pinch or two of salt.

caramelized onions on the griddle
Keep an eye on the onions to make sure you don’t burn it

Once the griddle is to temperature, add the onions. The onions should turn golden brown, roughly 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on them so as not to burn. Remove the onions once caramelized. 

Cook the burgers

Meanwhile, split the lamb into ¼ pound portions and loosely roll them into balls. Turn the griddle to high heat and place the lamb on the griddle top at least four inches apart.

ground lamb rolled into balls in a plastic bowl
Portion the lamb into ¼ pounds balls and let rest at room temperature

Smash the meat down into the griddle preferably with a burger press, but you can use a spatula if need be. Use another spatula or other kitchen utensil like a wooden spoon to press the first spatula onto the meat so it smashes into the griddle. Hold the smash for roughly five seconds so it sears on the griddle top. Season with salt and pepper.

lamb burger patties cooking on a griddle
If you don’t have a burger press, you can use a spatula to smash the burgers

Let the meat cook undisturbed until you see juices running out of the top of the burgers, roughly 2-3 minutes. This is your queue to flip. Use a spatula to carefully scrape the seared burger from the cooktop, and flip it. Season this side with salt and pepper.

Add crumbles of feta cheese to the top of each burger, lightly pressing them into the meat.

lamb burger patties with feta cheese cooking on a griddle
Once you flip the burger, season it and add feta cheese on top

Note – if you want the feta to melt, place a small pile directly on the cooktop until it starts to melt. You can then top the melted cheese onto the burger with a spatula.

Let the burgers cook for another 2 – 3 minutes for medium. Take them off and tent with foil.

Toast the buns

Reduce the heat on the griddle to medium and wipe any pooled fat with a paper towel.

lamb burger patties with feta cheese, onion slices and brioche buns cooking on a griddle
At the end lightly toast the buns in the butter

Melt the butter on the griddle until bubbly, then add each bun cut side down into the melted butter. 

Lightly toast the buns until they’re golden brown. Roughly 2 minutes.

Build the burgers

Spread a thin layer of olive tapenade on the bottom of one bun. Place a leaf of butter lettuce next, then the lamb burger patty. Spread some tzatziki sauce onto the burger, add some caramelized onions, dill pickles, and sliced tomato. Garnish with a sprig of dill and serve.

Mediterranean lamb burger on a wooden board
Once all ingredients are ready, build the burgers and enjoy while the lamb is still hot

There’s a lot going on with this burger, but the flavors build on one another accentuating the lamb as the star of the show. This burger is a nice change of pace for the regular weekend grill session. 

lamb burgers on a wooden board

Grilled Mediterranean Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce and Olive Tapenade

Juicy lamb smash burgers with homemade tzatziki sauce, caramelized onions, feta and Kalamata olive tapenade.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Author: Phen Pavelka

Ingredients

Tzatziki Sauce:

  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup crumbled feta
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped fine
  • ½ English cucumber, peeled and grated
  • kosher salt

Kalamata Olive Tapenade:

  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tbsp fresh thyme
  • ½ tbsp fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Burgers:

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 8 oz crumbled feta
  • 1 onion, sliced and caramelized
  • 4 brioche split top buns
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • sliced dill pickles
  • kosher salt
  • coarse ground pepper

Instructions

Make the Tzatziki Sauce:

  • Combine the yogurt, feta, garlic, vinegar, dill and cucumbers.
  • Season with salt.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Make the Olive Tapenade:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a food processor.
  • Pulse to incorporate all ingredients.
  • Run processor until all ingredients are well combined.
  • Season with the black pepper to taste.

Make the Burgers:

  • Portion the lamb into ¼ pounds balls, let rest at room temperature while you caramelize the onions.
  • Preheat the griddle to medium low heat.
  • Cut the onion in half, then slice the halves from there.
  • Toss onions in oil and season with salt.
  • Add onion slices to the griddle and let caramelize to a golden brown, flipping occasionally, roughly 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Remove onions from griddle and turn to high heat.
  • Add the lamb to the griddle and smash down to create a nice sear, 3 – 5 seconds.
  • Season lamb patties with salt and pepper.
  • Let lamb cook undisturbed until juices run from the top, roughly 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Flip burgers and season top side with salt and pepper.
  • Add crumbled feta cheese to burgers.
  • Let cook for another 2 -3 minutes for medium.
  • Remove patties from griddle and tent with foil.
  • Wipe excess fat from griddle with paper towel.
  • Melt butter on the griddle until bubbly.
  • Toast buns in the butter until lightly toasted.
  • Remove buns from the griddle and build the burger.
  • Spread olive tapenade on a bottom bun, add one leaf butter lettuce, add lamb burger, top with tzatziki sauce, onions, pickles, tomatoes and garnish with dill.
  • Serve while lamb is hot.

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