Grilled Mediterranean Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce and Olive Tapenade
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.
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.
The flavors of this burger are reminiscent of a gyro, but meld just as well in burger format – if not better in my opinion.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grilled Mediterranean Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce and Olive Tapenade
- 1 cup Greek yogurt plain
- ¼ cup feta crumbled
- 1 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
- ½ bunch fresh dill finely chopped
- ¼ English cucumber peeled and grated
- kosher salt to taste
Kalamata Olive Tapenade:
- 1 cup Kalamata olives pitted
- 1 tbsp capers
- 2 anchovy fillets
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 cloves of garlic
- ½ tbsp fresh thyme
- ½ tbsp fresh oregano
- ¼ cup olive oil
- black pepper freshly ground, to taste
For the Burgers:
- 1.3 lb ground lamb
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion sliced
- 8 oz feta crumbled
- 4 brioche buns sliced in half horizontally
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tomato sliced
- ½ head butter lettuce
- dill pickles sliced
- kosher salt
- black pepper finely ground
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 4 balls, let rest at room temperature while you caramelize the onions.
- Preheat the griddle to medium low heat and add the oil.
- 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 of butter lettuce, the lamb burger, top with tzatziki sauce, onions, pickles, tomatoes and garnish with dill.
- Serve while lamb is hot.