Potato chips and pickles might work as sides to hamburgers in a classic diner, but cooking at home calls for something a little classier, even if you're keeping it simple. Choose your side dishes to complement the type of burgers you're cooking. Classic side dishes add nostalgia to plain hamburgers, while a Caesar salad made with kale adds a modern twist. Pair specially seasoned burgers or those made with meats other than beef with foods that won't be overwhelmed by strong flavors.
A Twist on Old School
Grilled hamburgers are a summer tradition, and you don't need to stray far from tradition to provide a fun meal. Potato salad and coleslaw are mainstays of informal outdoor meals. To kick them up a bit, make a warm potato salad with a vinaigrette instead of a cold salad with a mayonnaise dressing. Substitute grated broccoli stems for the cabbage in your coleslaw and add grated jicama and carrots. Make oven-baked fries instead of deep-frying the potatoes to make them healthier, and warm a pot of baked beans drizzled with maple syrup on the grill so the beans take on a sweet, smoky flavor.
Keep on Grilling
Cooking vegetable side dishes right on the grill leaves fewer dishes for washing later, and intensifies the flavor of the veggies. Toss mini sweet peppers in olive oil, salt and pepper and grill them next to your hamburgers until the outsides start to char. Cut hearts of romaine lettuce lengthwise, brush with oil and grill with the cut sides down. Serve with blue cheese crumbles and drizzle with vinaigrette for a tasty warm salad. Corn on the cob and asparagus are commonly grilled; cook them with whole cloves of garlic and a lid on the grill for really aromatic vegetables.
Food on a Stick
Serve your sides on skewers and you won't need utensils for your meal. For a surf-and-turf-inspired theme, thread small skewers with a few prawns or scallops. Vegetable kabobs come in a nearly endless variety; opt for zucchini and mushrooms brushed with pesto or cherry tomatoes alternated with fresh sage leaves. Grill pineapple and mango chunks for a sweet accompaniment to teriyaki burgers, or skewered slices of firm, sweet apples with chunks of a sweet onion variety to pair with classic cheeseburgers.
A Sweet Ending
Serving fruit with your hamburgers works as both a side dish and a dessert. Stone fruits are well-suited to grilling. Cut peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots in half and take out the pits. Brush with a little coconut or olive oil and grill with the cut side down when the hamburgers are nearly done; it doesn't take long to grill fruit. Figs deepen in flavor when grilled, and you can wrap them with prosciutto or serve sprinkled with a little sea salt. To keep things simple, serve a bowl of fresh blackberries with chopped mint leaves as a side. The flavor of the berries stands up well to strong meats, such as lamb burgers.
Since 1997, Maria Christensen has written about business, history, food, culture and travel for diverse publications. She ran her own business writing employee handbooks and business process manuals for small businesses, authored a guidebook to Seattle, and works as an accountant for a software company. Christensen studied communications at the University of Washington and history at Armstrong Atlantic State University.