Classic Drive-In Burger Recipe | Kitchen Explorers | PBS Food

Classic Drive-In Burger Recipe


How many times this summer have you attended or hosted a gathering where hotdogs and hamburgers were served?
Okay – I’m sure there’s a lot of you. So tell me… can you recall the last time you ate a burger and were so smitten with it at first bite you knew you would have another if you could? I’m guessing it is more likely that you been eating the same style burger over and over again all summer, like it’s an overplayed top 10 song on the radio. It’s there, and it’s okay, but it isn’t very special. After all, how special can a plain white hamburger bun, cooked beef patty, lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mustard be?

Well, it depends. By watching the line cooks at one of America’s favorite burger places I’ve learned that it’s the small details and little extras that go a long way in making the perfect burger. It just depends on how much effort you want to put into making an awesome burger. Here are some suggestions that will elevate and transform the typical summer backyard burger into a burger everyone will love, and not just eat because it’s there.

Buns – From the cheapo package of $1.50 buns to the $6 gourmet brioche variety, I’ve learned the secret to making buns more special is to spread a thin layer of either mayo or softened butter on the cut sides and grill or toast them so they are soft on one side and slightly toasted on the other. For the record, I prefer mayo. Either works and the added texture and flavor from the toasted side is noticeable enough to take your burger up several notches. Think of the difference it would make if you didn’t butter the bread when you made a grilled cheese sandwich – that’s the difference I’m talking about!

Condiments and toppings – You know when people say “the more the merrier?” Well, it’s true. A variety of condiments and toppings beyond lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mustard, and ketchup can go a long way in increasing the flavor profile of a burger. Even flavoring mayonnaise with a little pesto, sriracha, garlic powder, or anything else you want can transform a decent burger to an awesome one. If you have the time add caramelized onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Yellow mustard is fun, but now you can go the store and buy so many different kinds of mustard it’s crazy! Personally I love a spicy Dijon, but honey mustard is also a weakness of mine.
Lettuce – Ice berg is classic, but mix greens can make a burger look and taste more grown-up. I like a little arugula on mine.

Cheese – The last cheeseburger I made used smoked Gouda instead of my go-to medium cheddar. I also like blue cheese if I have any on hand. And the combination of melted Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms are made for each other.
Sauces – Although I could go on and on about toppings (bacon, avocado, relish, pickled peppers, fried runny eggs, etc.) it’s worth mentioning that “special sauces” can also make a burger really stand out. Balsamic glazes, sweet onion sauces, secret bbq sauces, thinned pepper jelly sauce, and many more can turn a regular burger into a “Signature” burger people will remember you by. My husband’s uncle was born in India, and when he hosts a barbeque he always adds condiments that make it his special recipe. For instance yogurt infused with mint and lemon, sweet tamarind paste, and chili sauces are always on the table to add to our burger.

Seasoning – Lastly, I cannot stress the importance of seasoning the hamburger patty with at least salt and pepper. Meat needs salt. When people cook steaks they often season it well with salt and pepper on both sides, so why wouldn’t you do the same with a hamburger patty? I see so many people not seasoning their burgers and it always puzzles me because in my opinion the meat is often too bland without it.


There are times you may want to prepare more simple hamburgers. When I’m hosting a lot of people, for example, I prefer to keep it simple. Today I’m sharing with you one of my favorite burgers I often make at parties because it’s SO GOOD without being obnoxious. It is the flavor of the burger that hits the spot. It’s partly inspired by the “Special,” a very popular burger at Seattle’s famous and beloved Dick’s Drive-In. This is neither a copy-cat recipe nor an attempt to be a better version of it. It is simply a recipe inspired by the “Special” (so don’t send me hate mail, please).

I would love to know if you have a special burger combination that you’re known for. Share it with us in the comments below.

Classic Drive-In Burger

Inspired by Seattle's Dick's Drive In "Special" burger, this recipe is always a hit at parties and never disappoints.



  • 6 hamburger buns
  • Mayonnaise
  • 6 hamburger patties (frozen pre-made ones work just fine)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • 6 slices medium cheddar cheese
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Thousand Island dressing
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Ketchup and Mustard


  1. Spread a light amount of mayonnaise on each cut side of the hamburger buns. Set aside.
  2. Fire up the grill to medium-high heat.
  3. Lightly season burger patties on each side with salt, pepper, and seasoning salt.
  4. Place the patties on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes until browned with char marks. Flip the burgers to the other side and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes for medium-rare. Continue to cook until desired doneness.
  5. Top the burgers with cheese if desired the last minute of cooking.
  6. Toast the buns cut side down until golden brown and slightly charred.
  7. To assemble the burger, spread a teaspoon or two of 1000 Island dressing over the bottom half bun. Next, layer the bun with couple pieces of lettuce, tomato, and burger patty.
  8. Lightly drizzle a small amount of ketchup and mustard over the patty and top the burger with the top half of the bun.

Yield: 6 burgers

Alice-Currah-169x215Alice Currah is the publisher of popular food blog, Savory Sweet Life. Her approachable everyday recipes are accompanied by beautiful step by step photos and have been featured online at Martha Stewart, Real Simple, The Pioneer Woman, Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Saveur, iVillage and many more. In March 2010, featured Alice as one of “Eight of the Very Best Food Bloggers.” You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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