Guessing the upcoming year’s trends is an odd game. We usually get either the ridiculous (one seer expects we’ll all be eating chocolate cake for breakfast) or the obvious (watch for sriracha to be big). But trends don’t magically rev up on January 1, of course. They’re getting going now. So this list isn’t a prediction of what will be “big” in 2017 as much as a gathering of some of what we’ve seen around us in 2016 that made us think, “This is important.”
DO YOUR CHORIZOS
Chorizo has been this year’s go-to alt-protein for burgers. Baltimore’s multi-location Kooper’s Tavern was one of many that added a Chorizo Burger Its combined Spanish chorizo burger, Cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, a sunny-side-up egg, lettuce, tomato, onion and pepper sauce on an English muffin. Chicago’s Burger Moovment’s Chorizo Burger was Angus beef topped with pepper-Jack cheese and a chorizo fried egg with lettuce, tomatoes, raw onion, cilantro and sour cream in a brioche bun). Indianapolis’ Burgerhaus created a Rio Olympics burger called the X-Tudo (below), fresh-never-frozen burger served on a pretzel roll with chorizo, butter lettuce, fire-roasted red pepper, chipotle-Tabasco mayo, chipotle Monterrey cheese, a fried egg and potato sticks; served with sweet potato fries. Among the breakfast items McDonald’s began testing this year in Southern California is a scrambled egg and chorizo bowl with a hash brown, salsa and pico de gallo. Even Starbucks jumped in with a Spicy Chorizo Monterey Jack Breakfast Sandwich.
THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
Topping a burger with pineapple is gaining steam globally, and, to me at least, it’s not the best of news. Sweet flavors with beef or chicken can be a difficult coupling. But McDonald’s in Australia paired them up for its first time with an Aussie Chicken ‘N’ Pineapple (at l.; grilled or crispy chicken, bacon, lettuce, pineapple, cheese and mayo on a chili-chive bun). Britain’s Handmade Burger Co.’s Summer Olympics special was the Chicken Rio Burger (marinated British chicken breast topped with house mango salsa, grilled pineapple, chorizo sausage, tomato and red onion). Another UK chain, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, built the “X Burger” (2 6-oz. beef patties, Cheddar, baconnise, grilled pineapple, Cajun relish, jalapeňos and crispy onions. Red Robin even teamed with New Belgium Brewing, which created a limited-edition beer—called Grilled Pineapple Golden Ale—inspired by the flavors of the chain’s Banzai Burger (grilled beef patty glazed in teriyaki and topped with grilled pineapple, Cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo on a sesame-seed bun).
Gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste) is ready for us when we tire of sriracha. The Seoul Burger special at Holy Cow del Ray in Alexandria, Va., this year had Angus beef, smoked pork belly, kimchi and gochujang sauce on toasted brioche. The specialties of Umami’s Santa Monica, Calif., location are Gochujang & Guava Short Rib Sliders with cucumber, green onion and Thai chili peppers. West Coast chain Slater’s 50/50, which has a knack for behind ahead of the trends, had a pan-Asian Banh Mi Burger (below) as its March special with Asian-seasoned pork patty, romaine, pickled carrots, jalapeños and daikons, fried kimchi, gochujang mayo and teriyaki pork belly on a French roll bun. Some are doing Korean kimchi but not the gochujang. In Aberdeen, Scotland, Filthy Gorgeous, the burger bar with the wonderful name that opened this year, serves up a Kim Jong-Un burger (bulgogi, applewood-smoked cheese, kimchi mayo and ssamjang sauce)
BURGER & BREW
That segues nicely into another 2016 topic/2017 trend: commingling of beers and burgers. Shake Shack teamed with Brooklyn Brewing Co. to create Shackmeister beer. Buffalo Wild Wings partnered with Lagunitas Brewing to create a lower-alcohol (5.5%) mix of wheat beer and pale ale called Fandom Ale. Jack in the Box introduced a Brewhouse Bacon Burger; Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s brought us the Budweiser Beer Cheese bacon Burger (below) and Wendy’s reportedly is testing a Bacon & Beer Cheese Burger in Houston that we could see in 2017. Wisconsin’s Point Brewing Co. even licensed a Point Burger Bar concept with two locations.
ONE DAY AT A TIME
Sonic Drive-In started doing it before this year, but it’s one-day-discount strategy really got going in 2016, and I think it will change QSR marketing. Jr. Deluxe Cheeseburgers for just 79¢ but only on Jan. 14, 2016 (and again on March 9); half-price ice cream cones just on July 7, 2016; half-price cheeseburgers on November 22. I called it a “VLOT” or very-limited-time-offer strategy and it did well for Sonic during a tough year when most marketing gambits didn’t draw customers.
FRITTERING AWAY 2016
What is that thing atop the Potato Rösti and Bacon Burger (below) McDonald’ is serving in Canada (with waffle fries)? That deep-fried potato fritter is a rösti, a giant tater tot that’s a staple in Europe (the Rösti Santa burger is on McDonald’s holiday menu in Germany) but relatively new here. Burger Bar Chicago put a fried mashed-potato fritter on the Bangers & Mash Burger it created this year for St. Patrick’s Day (a lamb patty with Irish white Cheddar, Irish banger sausage, stout mustard, sautéed red onion and chopped green onion, plus the fritter). Corn fritters were on the menu at the experimental “Create Your Own Burger Bar” that McDonald’s tried this year in Perth, Australia. That’s a rösti at the center of Portland, Ore., burger bar Brunch Box’s Loaded Potato Breakfast Sandwich.
TOYING WITH TOTS
Tots, the diminutive version of rösti, have been everywhere, too, as I outlined recently in a long post on their popularity at burger bars. Americans eat upwards of 70 million pounds of tots annually. Burger King, of course, just brought back its Cheesy Tots. The Rail’s Taylor’s Tasty Tater Burger (below) put them on top of a burger. The Pincho Factory chain’s Supper Burger is a burger patty topped with sweet potato tots, melted Cheddar cheese, maple bacon, lettuce, tomato and a shallot crema between a warm pretzel bun. The Counter’s Loaded Tots are covered with pimento cheese, bacon, scallions and buttermilk ranch. Johnny Rockets’ Loaded Street Philly Tots are tots covered with Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced grilled sirloin steak, caramelized onion and green peppers. Even McDonald’s is giving tots a try, calling them Hash Brown Bites in Australia.
Burger King had fun this year with Cheetos (Mac ‘n Cheetos, Cheetos Chicken Fries) but putting snacks—Fritos, Doritos, potato chips, etc.—on burgers was everywhere in 2016 and will be again in 2017. Canada’s The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro gave us the Fritos Bacon Chili O’Mine burger, a 100% Canadian fresh beef patty topped with house-made all-bacon chili, a blend of shredded cheeses, smoked bacon and Fritos corn chips, finished with sour cream & green onions. TAG Burger Bar in Denver’s The Three Amigos Burger covered both the chorizo and chips trends (jalapeňo and Cheddar-Jack cheese stuffed chorizo patty, black bean purée, Baja slaw, avocado and spiced tortilla chips). The Cheeseburger Bobby’s chain brought out a Frito & Chili Cheeseburger in September. The Frito Chili Pie Burger at Big Orange in Little Rock, Ark., was a house-ground beef patty with house-made chili, sharp Cheddar, Havarti, Fritos, fried onion strings, mustard, mayo and fresh and pickled jalapeňos on bun. The Midnight Special burger from Chicago’s Brgrbelly is a half-pound house-ground patty topped with jalapeňo-Jack cheese, fresh pico de gallo, chipotle cream sauce and Chili-Cheese Fritos on a baked-in-house bun. And then, of course, there was the always delightful Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in Des Moines. Its “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost” burger (below), created in honor of the latest “Ghostbusters” film, started with a beef patty and then went wild: pulled pork, pepper-Jack cheese, ghost chile-EctoCooler sauce, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and chipotle mayo.