Summertime means grilling time, and we all know what that means: burger season. We love a good juicy burger just like the rest of 'em, but we'll be the first to admit that ladlefuls of mayo and barbecue sauce aren't always the healthiest choices. So we've scoped out all sorts of healthy options to grill up instead—whether you're a fish lover, a vegetarian, or a good ol' carnivore, these healthy recipes will fill your burgery needs all summer long.
Tips for Making a Healthier Burger
Whatever type of burger you make, keep these tricks in mind to amp up the flavor and health benefits of your meal.
- Swap plain, protein-rich Greek yogurt or smashed avocado in place of mayo for a healthier spread.
- Use whole-wheat breadcrumbs instead of white or try ground nuts (such as hazelnuts or almonds) for a healthier filler that's also gluten-free.
- Add fresh herbs to your burger for a healthy flavor-booster.
- Sneak an extra serving of veggies into your day by tossing chopped spinach or other leafy greens into the burger mixture. If that's not your style, add them as a topping.
- Choose healthy spreads and condiments from this list. Some of our favorites: mustard, homemade ketchup, or even homemade ranch.
- Go easy on the cheese. Skip the fat-free stuff, because "no fat" means it won't melt easily. Instead, choose a small portion of your favorite kind, fat and all. If you've got a block of cheese instead of thin slices, try grating it for even coverage.
- Make your own bun with whole-wheat flour—you'll avoid preservatives and get a fiber boost to boot. Or go bunless and serve a burger in a lettuce wrap, on top of a salad, or even between two slices of zucchini.
Beans and Legumes
The mango avocado pico that tops this burger will probably be one of the most magical things you'll ever taste, but the burger itself isn't half bad, either. With fresh cilantro, mango, and a light base of lentils and veggies, it's the light and summery burger we've been dreaming of.
This burger is just as much veggie as it is bean. Peppers, onions, and carrots join chickpeas and herbs for a nutritionally dense (and vegan!) patty. Ground flaxseed—known for its high fiber and omega-3s—stands in for an egg to hold the ingredients together.
With sun-dried tomatoes, an ample amount of garlic, and fresh basil, this burger pays homage to the margherita pizza. But because it skips the cheese and uses almond meal instead of breadcrumbs, this baby is vegan and gluten-free.
It's not always easy being green, but this burger makes it look effortless. It gets its verdant hue from ingredients such as scallions, spinach, tarragon, chives, and parsley. Oats and tofu provide the base, while mustard and lemon juice add a citrusy tang.
This veggie burger is packed with all sorts of good stuff, including oats, beans, squash, quinoa, and corn—and that's just the base. The ingredients lend well to whatever fresh or dry spices you have on hand (the recipe suggests any combination of cumin, tarragon, coriander, and chili powder).
Earthy mushrooms, meaty lentils, and salty Kalamata olives combine for a burger you can sink your teeth into. But the star here is the sauce: It's creamy, garlicky, and super easy to make (just soak cashews, then dump them into a food processor), and you'll want to make extra to put on sandwiches and salads all week.
A falafel burger is essentially just a chickpea burger, but the addition of the right spices and a tahini dressing make this taste just like the Middle Eastern classic. Since it's pan fried instead of deep fried, though, it's a bit healthier. Win-win.
We're huge fans of Sriracha. Come on, who's not? This spicy patty gets in on the (hot) action—it's made mostly from black beans and oats, but is seasoned with garlic, cilantro, and Sriacha (of course). A creamy avocado on top cuts the heat just enough. Who could say no?
Chicken and Turkey
Half Vietnamese and half French, banh mi sandwiches generally include a meat of some sort as well as cilantro, chili peppers, and pickled carrots. Lean ground chicken, tons of veggies, and an egg make this banh mi-inspired burger a healthy, well-balanced meal. Plus, a runny yolk makes for a hassle-free condiment.
Though it may sound sinful to separate a burger from its bun (the shame!), this turkey version gets sandwiched between two slices of chargrilled zucchini. Not a bad way to up the day's veggie servings!
This burger is easy peasy to make—just be sure to remove the red chili pepper seeds or your tongue may lose all feeling for the remainder of the meal. If this is your first introduction to fish sauce, you can find the savory liquid (made from salted, fermented fish) near the soy sauce in the grocery store. Or, if you're ambitious, you can make this vegan version instead.
Mangos strike again! This time it's in the form of a slaw that can easily be made healthier by subbing in plain Greek yogurt for all or half of the mayo. As a bonus, the burger itself packs in fruit too—chopped apple adds a tartness we crave long after it's gone.
Ohhhh yeah. Gooey Brie, crunchy and tart apple, and rich caramelized onions make this burger a total winner. Plus, lean ground turkey makes for a protein-packed lunch or dinner!
Fajitas? In a burger? Pass it over! The idea is simple—this burger's got all the fixings of your standard fajita (turkey, onion, bell peppers, and jalapeño), sans the steaming hot skillet. If you think this sounds like the perfect home for a scoop of guac, you'd be totally right.
These chicken burgers are smoky and sweet, with pineapple rings as the featured topping, and paprika and chili powder as seasoning. Pro tip: A thin layer of pepper jack cheese balances the sweet pineapple perfectly—and helps keep it from sliding out of place.
Turkey burgers can be pretty blah, but this one is far from it. Crumbled feta stuffed inside the turkey makes these burgers downright exciting, and chargrilled red pepper and arugula add a little bite. Don't forget to check out the simple tutorial for charring!
Think outside of the bun and stuff your burger with cheese rather than haphazardly tossing it on top (jeez, who does that anymore?!). And by the way, we'll totally forgive you if you slather this peachy barbecue sauce on every food item in the fridge. Because we totally did too.
Veggies, Nuts, Grains, and Seeds
This burger marries every healthy and delicious thing e-v-e-r. Fine, that's an exaggeration. But it does include sweet potato, roasted garlic, protein-rich quinoa, chipotle chiles, lime juice, sharp cheddar, AND homemade avocado-ranch dressing. While this burger requires a little more prep work than some of the others, the end result is nothing short of mouthwatering.
Quinoa, oats, mushrooms, and hummus make up the base of this burger, so it's just as hearty as you'd imagine. The food processor does most of the work mixing it all together, and since these freeze really nicely, you can stretch that work out to last all week.
Shredded beets, known for their pumped-up antioxidants, add a touch of sweetness to these patties. Even cooler: The beets turn the burgers bright red. The addition of lentils, quinoa, rice, and oats makes every one of these guys a nutritional powerhouse.
This burger is all healthy thanks to seeds, quinoa flakes, and (of course) broccoli and pistachios (two of our favorite green superfoods). Honestly, it makes us kind of excited to eat broccoli. Weird, we know.
The meaty mushrooms make for a hearty texture in these burgers, and fresh thyme and dill brighten up the flavor just enough. The real secret ingredient here, though, is hemp—hemp seeds and hemp protein powder both pack a ton of protein and fiber to make this burger as filling as its beefy cousin.
Brown rice and oats add a healthy dose of protein to this hearty burger, and a medley of nuts (pecans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, yum!), amp up the protein content in a big way. It's not the crispiest veggie burger out there, but we promise the flavors more than make up for it.
Shredded carrot makes up the bulk of this burger (boring orange ones will work just fine if you can't get your hands on the rainbow variety), but quinoa is added for heft and tahini for flavor. They're topped with a nutty, homemade cabbage slaw and a perfect tzatziki sauce—both of which you'll be tempted to eat on their own. Fair warning.
Aptly dubbed the "veggie burgers for the carnivore in your life," these patties employ mushrooms as their base, a plant-based alternative that offers a slightly meaty flavor when cooked. Brown rice and oats add filling fiber and keep the chopped 'shrooms from falling apart. For a healthier spread, try combining fig preserves with goat cheese instead of mayo.
There's no mixing and no getting your hands dirty in a bowl of mushed-up stuff for this burger. Portobello mushrooms serve as the actual patty, while red bell pepper and sprouts add color. And the flavor? That's in the drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Beef, Bison, and Pork
This burger has a whole bunch of intense flavors going on. Apple and sage are stuffed right in the burger, while a jalapeño-sage pesto and crumbled smoked blue cheese go on top. Whoa. To keep the burgers (or any meat-based burger, for that matter) from getting tough, be sure to avoid overmixing the ingredients.
The spinach and feta both go right inside this burger—mix 'em in with the beef before grilling them up. You'll need to be extra careful when flipping since the added ingredients make these patties a little more likely to fall apart. But it'll be worth it in the end.
There's so much going on here but we love it all. First, cilantro gets mixed in with the beef for a fresh-flavored patty. Second, pineapple gets charred and smoky on the grill before going onto that patty. Third, smashed avocado gets pilled on top of the pineapple, and fourth, even more pineapple gets turned into a sweet barbecue sauce. YUM.
If you've never dabbled in bison, it's time to get cookin'. Bison meat generally has less fat than beef, plus it boasts a higher protein content. This specific burger gets jazzed up with slow-roasted tomatoes and wine-sautéed onions, both of which compliment the bison beautifully.
What makes this burger worthy of a German pilsner? It's topped with sauerkraut, whole-grain mustard, and caraway seeds—the earthy, citrusy spice used in rye bread (and tons of other German staples). For a healthier rendition of this burger, swap the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt.
This quick-to-prepare meal gets a spicy kick from shredded pepper jack and diced green chiles (feel free to use fresh ones, or find prepared, canned chiles in your supermarket's Mexican food section). For so little effort, you get a lot of flavor.
While apples are a more typical fruit accompaniment to burgers, the blueberry sauce on this beef patty is sweet and tangy in a delicious—albeit different—way. Add Brie, bacon, and arugula to the mix, and you've got an intense flavor combination that screams summer.
Swapping ground almonds for flour adds a major nutritional boost to these burgers—a 1/4 cup serving of almond flour provides 35 percent of the daily value of vitamin E as well as 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It's also a healthy choice for all the gluten-free folks out there.
This recipe goes the extra mile with homemade buns. For that special touch, you can do the same, but picking up your favorite premade, whole-wheat version from the store works too. And as a side note, we'd use this super delicious avocado-yogurt dressing on just about anything!
Yep, there's more mango in this—we just can't get enough. This time, sweet mango chutney gets mixed into a simple pork patty for an awesome flavor. Tip: For super-lean pork, head to a butcher and choose a pound of ground tenderloin.
This burger uses two parts extra-lean ground beef and one part lean—a great way to add in just the right amount of fat to maintain the juiciness of a good burger without going full-out on the calories. To cut down on more added calories and fat, choose sun-dried tomatoes that are not packaged in oil. The meat itself lends plenty of flavor without it!
Even horseradish haters should like this one—the sauce is more creamy than spicy, and the horseradish flavor is subtle. A solid slice of cheddar cheese cuts the sharpness even more, making these guys all-around addicting.
These burgers have it all: Salty feta and pomegranate seeds fill the bison patty for cheesy pleasure in every bite. Then it's topped with caramelized onions, a dash more feta, pomegranate sauce (um, yum), and watercress for a colorful and gourmet meal that's easy to make and loaded with flavor.
Sound like a lot of weird ingredients thrown on one burger? You're right. But fried mozzarella, caramelized peaches, and balsamic vinegar go surprisingly well together, and we're here for it—100 percent.
Booze with a meal and in a meal? Yes, please! While it's less than a cup (and likely not buzz-inducing), the wine adds a nice flavor to the caramelized onions. With just a few (healthy) ingredients, the burger itself couldn't be easier to prep.
Venison, Veal, and Lamb
This burger goes bunless to capitalize on the flavorful meat and slight nuttiness from the hazelnuts. If you really want to eat it on a bun, you should just do it. Otherwise, top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (our go-to healthy condiment base) and a few sprigs of fresh dill.
This veal burger borrows its flavors from parmigiana, the classic Italian dish loaded with cheese and tomato sauce. Since the veal is so flavorful on its own, everything else is kept simple—a little garlic, basil, salt, and pepper is all it takes.
This burger is suuuper simple. It's just venison (held together with egg and breadcrumbs) plus sage, red pepper, and mushrooms for a little crunch and flavor. If you're looking to ditch the mayo, try Greek yogurt or even an avocado spread instead.
While prosciutto isn't exactly the healthiest burger topping in existence, a little goes a long way—just a slice for each burger will do. Still, if you feel like you need to up the health factor, choose whole-wheat breadcrumbs or nut flour (such as hazelnut or almond) to bind the ingredients.
This veal burger is pretty simple, so it gets jazzed up with some sun-dried tomatoes. And if you're up for the challenge, the homemade rosemary onion rolls totally make the meal.
Blue cheese is great on venison burgers. But blue cheese inside venison burgers? That's to die for. Adding spinach to the meat mixture makes these a bit healthier than your typical burger, while the cheese makes everyone forget the spinach was ever there at all.
Lamb can be higher in fat and calories compared to beef, but some cuts—such as loin, shank, and leg—are healthier. It may be worth your while to ask a butcher to grind your preferred cut. Once you have that, yogurt, cucumber, and mint create a Greek-inspired topping that pairs nicely with the lamb.
This is definitely not your average chain-restaurant fair. The burger itself includes capers, minced pickles, and apple cider. On top of that, crumbled goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, and baby arugula make for festive-looking (and healthy!) toppings.
These patties feature a dollop of summer with a salsa made from vitamin-rich watermelon, along with onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice. The burgers themselves are a simple mixture of fish, breadcrumbs, egg, mustard, garlic, and spices.
This budget-friendly burger uses canned tuna and panko bread crumbs as its foundation. To flavor the meal, add a good amount of lemon juice, fresh parsley, and chopped green onion, and some minced, good-for-you garlic. Top with sour cream or plain yogurt for some tang!
Green onion, cilantro, and garlic make for a fresh fish patty. On top of that, the sauce doubles down on the traditional Asian flavors with ingredients like red curry paste, lemongrass, rice vinegar, and yuzo (if you can get your hands on it).
Salmon is one of the best kinds of fish you can eat, and these burgers make for a delicious excuse to have it more often. Cilantro and lime create a light dressing, and sliced avocado adds some guilt-free, heart-healthy creaminess on top.
This recipe has you grinding your own salmon, but the good ol' canned stuff should work in a pinch. It's really the sauce that has all magic—the capers add something special to an otherwise standard dill and yogurt sauce.
Trout is similar to salmon in many ways, so if you have to make the swap, so be it. It's the dijon mustard mixed into the fish that makes these burger really good—and the full capers added to the patties don't exactly hurt, either.
This burger has only a few ingredients (including scallions, bell peppers, and cumin), so the protein-rich shrimp has space to shine. Bonus tip: Grilling them on a lower temperature means the burgers take a bit longer to cook, but you'll get a deep smokey flavor that's so worth the extra time.
Originally published May 2015. Updated June 2017.