RECIPES: Recipe Details

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Southwest “Chili” Burgers with Avocado Crema and Lime-Marinated Slaw

The 2004 Finalist burger recipe pairs perfectly with Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon.

Makes 6 burgers


1/4 head napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Chili Rojo:

1 dried ancho chile and 1 dried pasilla chile, seeded, stemmed, and soaked in warm water
for at least 30 minutes, or 4 tablespoons good-quality ground chile 
1/2 to 1 minced fresh jalapeño chile
1/4 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup hearty red wine (like Zinfindel or Cabernet Sauvignon), plus more if needed


2 pounds freshly ground beef
6 tablespoons Chili Rojo (from above)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Avocado Crema:

2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 jalapeño chile, finely minced (optional)
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
Zest of 1 lime, finely minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 large ripe tomato or 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
Salt to taste 
Pepper to taste

6 one-ounce sharp Cheddar cheese slices
6 good-quality soft hamburger buns
1/3 cup of remaining Chili Rojo (from above) mixed with 1/2 cup ketchup


To make the slaw: mix all the slaw ingredients together. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to marinate.

Prepare charcoal grill for medium-hot direct-heat cooking.

To make the Chili Rojo: add all chili ingredients, except extra wine, into a blender or food processor. Puree thoroughly, using extra wine if necessary to make a thick, smooth sauce.

To make the burger patties: take 6 tablespoons ground beef and mix with 6 tablespoons Chili Rojo. Make 6 equal hand-formed patties with the remaining ground beef. Place 2 tablespoons of the chili mixture onto the center of each patty. Carefully enclose each patty around the chili mixture to form a ball. Carefully flatten each ball back into a thick patty, keeping the chili mixture inside. Season the patties liberally with salt and pepper.

To make the Crema: mash the avocados in a food processor or with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients and fold gently until thoroughly mixed.

When the grill is hot, oil the grill rack and cook the burgers over a medium-high flame until done, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare. If the exterior of the patties begins to burn, move them to a cooler side of the grill until the centers have had a chance to cook. Add a slice of cheese to each patty about 1 minute before they are done. Let patties rest off the heat for 1 or 2 minutes after cooking, and meanwhile toast the buns on a cooler side of the grill.

To assemble the burgers: spread each bun bottom with a layer of Avocado Crema. Add about 1/3 cup slaw, a patty with melted cheese, then a tablespoon of chili ketchup, and finally the bun top.

Note: I like the “whole cow” approach to ground beef and use two parts chuck to one part rib meat to one part sirloin or round. This gives the mixture a variety of texture and beefy flavor. If you are limited in choices, chuck is by far the best meat for grinding and for burgers.


From tiny roadhouses on rural highways to bustling downtown diners, Americans everywhere fill up on the sloppy, messy, cheesy comfort food–the chiliburger. Is it the Great American Burger? It is simple–an open faced sandwich with a burger patty, a ladle of chili, shredded cheese, and minced onions. It is generous–usually taking up the entire plate.  It is ubiquitous–pretty much every joint that has a flat top griddle and a hot plate has a chiliburger on the menu.

This recipe is a variation on the classic chiliburger. A very concentrated “chili” is put inside the burger patty, allowing it to be eaten with one’s hands. Also, the center remains moist, even when cooked through. Enjoy the Great American Burger with the unique southwestern flavors of a rich avocado “crema” and a tangy slaw.