Apple Butter-Cheddar Better Burgers are the cable-knit sweater of fall grilling

Photo: John Carruthers

Summer in Chicago gets all the press, but fall around here is the real ass-kicking season. It’s got all the outdoor fun of summer combined with the hibernation-prep comfort foods of early winter. Porch drinking and chili weather? Those festival-scheduling pagans knew what was up.

To get you and your seasonal vest into the fall grilling spirit, we’re bringing something a little different to the table. I turned to that most autumnal of toppings: apple butter. The combination in this recipe comes via my soccer-writing friend James Tyler, a Brit who lives in a part of Pennsylvania filled with aggressive neighborhood turkeys and, as he puts it “a time machine to a era of butter churning and more pumpkin patches than your kids could possibly feign interest in.” He stumbled across the burger on a restaurant menu during a recent family jaunt, squinted at the toppings, tried it anyway, and loved it. Then he shared the secret with the most beef-filled Midwesterner he knew. Thanks, buddy!

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Photo: John Carruthers

One of the best things about burgers is finding the occasional roundabout way to a complete, balanced, satisfying result. Apple butter and horseradish together seem a little counterintuitive, but with the salty bass guitar of crispy bacon driving things forward, the combination absolutely kills. The onion is my own addition, and it gives some additional heft and balance to the overall effect. Some greens will add crunch and form a protective bottom layer for the bun.

Don’t just take my word for it—I served these burgers to three very skeptical individuals with little advanced warning and the meal was a resounding success. The one ingredient everyone was a little leery of—apple butter—ended up being their favorite addition. And whatever terminology you choose to use for harvest-time beers, a cold märzen is just a perfect match.

So with our remaining days in the sun, I implore you all to give this a shot. Once upon a time, peanut butter seemed like a bad fit for a burger and now cosplaying as Fat Elvis is one of my favorite things. Why not go Mennonite for a few trips around the grill this year?

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Photo: John Carruthers

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Apple Butter-Cheddar Better Burger

  • 22 ounces ground beef, divided and formed into four equal patties
  • Eight slices cooked crispy bacon
  • Four slices horseradish cheddar
  • Field greens, to top
  • Sweet onion, halved and super-thinly sliced, to top
  • Apple butter, homemade or store-bought
  • Four fresh bakery buns

Set up your grill for two-zone, high-heat grilling and season your burger patties generously with salt and pepper. (For apartment dwellers and leaf-phobes: I would be remiss to not mention that this topping combo works phenomenally with two 2.25-oz. griddled smashed patties. It’s just missing that char-grilled essence, but still tastes pretty great. Get at it.)

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Scrape and oil your grill grate and cook burgers over high heat for 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. If they go up in flames, move them to the indirect zone. Add the cheese and close the grill for the last 30 seconds.

When your burgers come to temperature (125º Fahrenheit for mid-rare, 160+ to wreck it), remove to a wire rack in a warm oven. Rest for 5 minutes.

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While your burgers rest: Grill, griddle, or toast the inside of your buns until golden brown.

When the burgers and buns are ready, apply a healthy schmear of apple butter to both sides. Add the greens to the bottom bun, then the burger patties, bacon, and onion, if using.

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