Meatless Tuesdays: Building a better (veggie) burger

The differences between a good cheeseburger and a good veggieburger (with cheese) aren’t as vast as you might think. They’re each built one ingredient at a time, and each in the right hands can be a masterpiece of the kitchen rising above its humble station as a fast food staple of the masses.

The secret to a good veggieburger, like a good cheeseburger, is care, attention to detail and a willingness to experiment with the unusual. The bottom line? Take your time but also don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Do those two things, and you’re well on your way to a fine meal.

You can do this. Easily.

We start on the ground floor: the “meat.”

Even in your average grocery store (not even contemplating your specialty/health food store), you have a wide selection of veggieburgers to pick from. I tried a whole lot of ‘em before finally settling on what I’ve found to be the best (for my tastes).


These are sold under a variety of brands (some perhaps even picking up more of the bean burger qualities), but to me, they share one key common factor: they have chunkies. As you can see from the stock photo there, these are the burgers with chunks of something in them, be it corn, beans, greens or a different non-meat product.

You might like chunkies. You might think that non-homogeneous texture is awesome. You might be 18 feet tall with azure wings and a braided ponytail that stretches to your knees. That would all be well and good. But I hate chunkies. If I want a salad, I’ll grab a salad. I don’t want hunks of anything (aside from imitation meat) in my veggie burger. So after a dalliance or two, I’m staying the hell away from these guys.


Boca Burgers are everywhere, and they come in a million different permutations. You want original? Flame grilled? Cheeseburger? Mushroom? Tomato? There’s a Boca Burger just for you if you want to take the time to find the flavor you like. My favorites were the cheeseburger and the mushroom and Swiss. And they were good, don’t get me wrong. But they weren’t great. At least not in the same way my ultimate winner in the veggieburger wars turned out to be.


The box reads “Savory grilled prime burger flavor, veggie-style.” Believe me, it does not lie. You heat this bad boy up in the microwave, and your whole kitchen will smell of deep and abiding carnivorous delight. (I realize this is some point of contention amongst the faux meat community — i.e. do your vegetarian substitutes have to taste like meat or can they have their own, independent flavor? I’m not going to pick a side in that fight other than to say I don’t mind the taste of meat, either real or imagined.) Out of all the veggieburgers I’ve tried, this is the closest to meat in look and texture, and that scores some serious points with me. But throwing out the near-meatness, it’s still a winner on taste. It’s good. Damned good.

But it’s not what’s on the menu tonight.


A post on the world of veggieburgers requires something special, so tonight, I’m stepping up my game to to the Prime’s meaner and bigger brother: the Grillers quarter pounder. I haven’t had it before, but I’m expecting (and hoping) for nothing more than a larger version of the Prime.

You figured out the meat, yeah? Now what about the bread?

You can go with this. Or you can go with that.

My philosophy on bread is simple: It’s not the showcase of your burger, so go with as little as possible. Sure, I bet a quarter-pounder would be great on a toasted and buttered potato roll, but then again, so would ground squirrel. You pay too much attention to the bread, and it will overpower whatever substance you’ve got going on with your “meat” and fixin’s. So, again, go simple. In the kitchen, I have wheat hamburger buns and sandwich rounds. Either are perfectly acceptable (and both are 100 calories), but since we’re going to be doing some major construction with this burger, we’ll go with the full bun. Toast it if you have the time and inclination. (I had neither.)

Now for the toppin’s and whatnots.

A buffet of add-ons for your burger.

Six things we got here, and they’re all going on the burger. Each one has their place.

  • Onions. They can give your burger a subtle little kick of taste when you least expect it. Like a ninja going ap*sh*t in your mouth with a smokebomb or a throwing star.
  • Bacon. Or, since this is Meatless Tuesday, facon (that would be fake bacon). Gives the burger more “meat” and can be a crispy (or chewy) surprise. I tend to like my breakfast bacon chewy and burger bacon crispy, but that’s just me.
  • Cheese. Really, a burger without cheese is simply un-American. (Of course, I’m sure many of you would say that about my fat-free cheese, but for me, it’s a texture and not a taste thing. As long as a cheese-like substance is there on the burger, I’m good to go. Might as well save some calories where you can.)
  • Cucumbers. I sense I’m going to lose some of you here, but hear me out. A few cucumber slices can give you extra heft and structural support. I suppose if you’re a fan of the cucumber’s evil twin (the pickle) you could go with some of those here, but I wouldn’t. (I hate pickles.)
  • Lettuce. Romaine to be exact, it brings texture and balance to any burger.
  • Tomatoes. Sweet Roma slices for me. Your tomato needs may vary.

Plate that bad boy with some veggie fries (sadly, the last of the care package) and you’ll be good to go. As I had hoped, the Grillers quarter-pounder was a bigger, “meatier” version of the Prime. The whole meal (burger, bun, fixin’s and fries) came out to be 600 calories.

600 calories of awesome, meat-free deliciousness, that is.

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11 Responses to “Meatless Tuesdays: Building a better (veggie) burger”

  1. March 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Yum! I love grillers prime! I also love trying veggies burgers at various restaurants. Penguin in Charlotte hands down has the best I’ve had and they make them from scratch.
    I put cucumbers on my subway sandwiches every time I go, but I never thought about putting them on veggie burgers. Good idea!

    • March 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      Made from scratch veggie burger? That’s hella interesting. You know a really good restaurant one that I’ve found? Buffalo Wild Wings of all places. Pretty damn good.

  2. 3 Cyndi
    March 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Yes! Handmade! Also, there’s a place on the corner of my building that has a housemade veggie burger too. Delish! I’ll have to try that next time I get to BWW. I struggle to find healthy options there.

    • March 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      The veggie burger and a side salad with fat-free ranch is 500 calories total. Probably the best you can do there. (The naked tenders aren’t too bad either.)

  3. 5 Christina
    March 29, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I lived off of Boca Burgers and couscous my freshman year of college–at least I did when I ate in the dorm, haha. Anyway. I love those things! I’m kind of a purist though, just a ketchup-boca-bun kind of girl. I always toasted and buttered the bun though.

    Great, now I have a craving, one that can’t be fulfilled for at least another month. Thanks a lot. ;)

  4. 7 Tonya
    March 30, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Man, we tried the 1/4 pounder the other night. Don and I were both quite pleased. It’s definitely something we’ll be eating more frequently, that’s for sure!

    • March 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      That 1/4 pounder was something else. One day, if I’m really good, I want to try the double 1/4 pounder — the 500 calorie explosion of “meat.” A man’s veggie burger!

  5. 9 Molly
    March 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

    The MorningStar variety is definitely my veggie burger of choice:-) I prefer just the patty with a little bit of ketchup. No bun, no toppin’s. That along with some cottage cheese and an apple is my lunch for today.

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My name is Will. This is my story.

After a life of overindulgence and great fun, I tipped the scales at somewhere on the wrong side of 350 pounds in February 2010.

In less than a year, I lost 16 inches on my waist, 5 inches on my neck, three shirt sizes and 175 pounds.

I earned this new body. I intend to keep it.

Got questions? Need advice? Email DTWRmailbag@gmail.com and I'll try to answer 'em.

Before (Fall 2009): 350 pounds

During (August 2010): 250 pounds

After (December 2010): 180

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