Sometimes you just need an epic burger and for me, that sometimes is a summer gathering or maybe a summer holiday. That’s when you need a knock your socks off show stopper of a burger. And if it’s messy, who cares when it’s these Southwestern Queso Burgers!
I remember when I was young, there was this loose category of foods you wouldn’t want to eat on a first date. Ribs, French Onion Soup, or basically anything too gooey, gooey or messy! It’s safe to say these burgers aren’t first-date material! They are, though, a bit of an extravaganza! There are four main components. The burgers, the roasted peppers (rajas), the cheese sauce, and the tortilla strips. I like to add red onion and a little lettuce, just for freshness.
About Southwestern Queso Burgers:
The burger itself is just super juicy, helped along with a little chipotle chile (from a can of chipotle chili in adobo sauce), and just a teaspoon or two of that sauce! It does make a difference with subtle flavor and just a bit of zip. It’s topped with a mixture of bell peppers and poblano, basically, the topping is the same combo of peppers I use in my Rajas con Crema. It’s flavorful, fun and it’s gorgeous on the burger!
You can just stop there if you want! Maybe you’d like a slice of pepper jack or another cheese on top of the burger. But you really bring that Southwestern flair home in a crazy good way by making a little queso cheese sauce and drizzling it over the burger. There’s your glorious messiness!
And of course, you can serve these burgers with tortilla chips (I mean you’ll have the queso already, amirite) but I couldn’t stop there. Instead, this burger is topped with a tangle of fried tortilla strips, just like I do for my Chicken (or Turkey) Tortilla Soup. Me, I’m not a fan of French Fries on my burgers but I can def get behind crunchy tortilla chips!
And of course, you can build your burger around these ideas, picking and choosing which components (or all of them for full-on fabulousness) or maybe even using this for inspiration for your own customized burger. There are some substitutions below, too. My inspiration actually came from Chef Alex Guarnaschelli when I saw her top a burger with a cheese sauce on Guy’s Grocery Games, All Star Burgers! The Southwestern Mexican flair? That’s all mine! By the way, she served each burger with its own darling little baby pitchers of cheese sauce. Some women long for jewelry, furs, and shoes. Me? I want those baby pitchers and just about anything to do with making and serving food, lol!
What to Serve with Your Burgers:
Obs, you’ll have the Queso already, so make more if you’d like and serve with tortilla chips. And then you’ll probably just HAVE to make guacamole, too! (I recommend this Guac from Ina Garten or this Best Guacamole) but honestly, most of the time I make Guac, I’m making Pico de Gallo, too (this Classic Pico de Gallo or this Chipotle Grille’s Copycat), so I just put a few spoonfuls into the mashed avocado and add a little lime juice. Black beans could be a great side.
I went a whole different route and served mine with an outastanding Avocado Tomato Pasta Salad (recipe coming up). It’s such a fun salad for hot summer days and since my burger doesn’t have standard toppings, the salad does! There’s some bacon, the tomatoes, the crispy lettuce…and of course some avocado!
Making the Southwestern Queso Burgers:
The burgers are easy enough (although that chipotle chili is a game-changer, not in terms of heat, because they’re not hot, just flavorful, but in terms of added moisture). I really do like an 80/20 beef in these burgers. Just gently break apart the beef and work the seasonings in, then gently shape. When shaping, I always consider the size of the buns. When I use a fattier beef, I expect more shrinkage and usually about 1/2 larger than the bun is about right.
I’ve grilled mine, but a good cast iron skillet can never be wrong when it comes to burgers! If you’re grilling, you can toss on the red onions, too, if using…a toothpick holds them together. Mostly, anyway!
For assembly I like to use a few pieces of lettuce on the bottom bun (it makes a barrier & helps it hold up) then red onion, grilled or not, the burger, then the roasted peppers.
The cheese sauce should be brought to the table to pour on just before eating, then everyone can top with the tortilla chips. Have extra napkins on hand!
The Queso Blanco Cheese Sauce:
The cheese sauce is easy, just take it slowly when you add the cheese. Turn off the heat and add it by small handfuls, stirring to melt after each addition. If it gets too cool to melt, turn the heat up to low and gently warm. Be every so patient and it will happen, then continue to add the cheese. Too much heat after the cheese is added is the main reason most sauces fail and keep in mind the sauce thickens once it starts to cool down. You could use a purchased cheese sauce, too, if you’re so inclined.
What really makes the Cheese Sauce a Queso is the additions of some type of chile, anything from mild green chiles, poblanos or for something hotter, jalapeno or serrano. Those chiles, if fresh, need to be roasted, which isn’t a big deal if you’re making the Rajas style topping, below.
You can shortcut, too, with a jarred Queso Blanco or make the cheese sauce and use canned green chiles and/or jalapenos or a jarred pickled jalapeno, finely diced. You can use as many chiles as you wish and make it as mild or as hot as you’d like. When I use canned or jarred, I always sneak just a little of the juice in my cheese sauce.
The Roasted Peppers (Rajas):
There’s no doubt that part of the utter fabulousness is the mix of roasted peppers that top this burger. Rajas (Wikipedia mentions them) are strips of poblano pepper, roasted, the charred skin removed, de-seeded, and then cut into strips. I’ve obviously taken some liberties with a mix of colorful peppers and a little jalapeno. Make as many as you’d like for this recipe. One bell pepper, one poblano, and a jalapeno or two should be enough and if you’d like to use the poblano for the Queso, maybe roast one more.
Roasted peppers are not hard to make and can be made ahead by two or three days. See my recipe for Rajas con Crema if you’d like more guidance, but of course, don’t use the sweet potatoes or add the cream!
- Cut the bells in half, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs and place them face down on foil on a baking sheet (turn the edges of the foil up to catch any juices). The bell peppers will have a variance in texture (some will be softer, the edges firmer) when done this way but that’s nice for this recipe and it’s faster to cut them than roast them whole.
- The poblanos and jalapenos are just added whole and then they’re broiled. The bells will be done first but the poblanos and jalapenos will need to be turned as needed. If you want to add some to your Queso Blanco, toss in an extra poblano and or jalapeno.
Once everything is charred, just steam them for a few minutes (an easy no waste way: put them in a bowl and cover with a plate for 10 minutes. (If you’re not making ones that are done in varying amounts of time, just wrap them in the foil they’re roasted on) Peel the bell peppers and peel and discard the stems and seeds (and ribs if you wish) from the jalapenos and poblanos. It’s messy, be patient, and don’t rinse – you’ll be rinsing the flavor off. Cut into strips.
If you’d like to shortcut, just go with canned green chiles. You’ll want the whole ones rather than the diced ones, so you can cut them into strips. If you’re adding to your cheese sauce, just dice some. You’ll want two small cans or one larger. Each small can of green chiles is about the equivalent of a poblano.
The Tortilla Tangles:
Just heat a little oil in a small pan (test the heat by with a piece of tortilla; if it bubbles, you’re good to go) and fry the tortilla strips until crispy, working in batches. Stir them around a bit as they fry so they’ll be a lovely tangle for the garnish. Place on a paper towel to drain, sprinkle with salt while still warm and set aside till needed.
You can make them (or make your own tortilla chips) for pennies! Even factoring in the cost of oil, which if I fry, I try to maximize by reusing, they’re so much cheaper (and so much better) than store-bought. Of course, they’re messier, too. If you cut your strips (use a pizza roller – so fast) and leave them to dry overnight the frying is less messy (fewer spatters) and goes very quickly.
Saving Money on Southwestern Queso Burgers:
As far as the ground beef, I’m really with the Chefs on this one. For the best tasting, juiciest burger, uses a fattier beef, and the bonus? The leaner the ground beef the pricier, so 80/20 and below are bargains. Ground beef of all grades do go on sale often so watch the specials, especially around the Summer Holidays. I gotta say, ground beef that hasn’t been frozen just makes better burgers, but when I do see a great sale price I pick it up in quantity (often it’s in family packs)divide into portions and freeze.
Bell peppers, jalapenos, and poblanos are almost always in my fridge and often in my freezer! Watch for sale prices and know they keep pretty well for a week, maybe 10 days. Pick what you need up for the current week if the price is great, and for the next. If you ever have too many or one desperate to be used, roast them off and prepare as described in this recipe, put into a Ziploc and freeze. It’s a great save and having a stash of roasted peppers, bells or the hotter ones, in the freezer is like gold…and if you’ve bought them at a great price it’s a budget saver!
Father’s Day this year was a little bittersweet! I know it is for many of you, too, as you strive to keep our elders safe and sound! On the plus side, my folks are doing well. There was an outbreak of Covid at their assisted living center but the folks there did a fabulous job with repeated testing and isolation of all residents and it looks like it’s been eradicated. I would have loved to have visited, and maybe make these burgers; Dad would have loved them! Instead, I ordered them Mexican food from one of their fave Sioux Falls restaurants! I gotta give a shout out to Gilibertos #1 in Sioux Falls! This post was long in the making, and out too late for Father’s day this year but maybe you’ll want to pin these for the Fourth of July or another time!
Southwestern Queso Burgers
Making the tortilla strips & the roasted peppers ahead makes this gourmet burger a snap! Do make the cheese sauce as the burgers cook or right before!
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4 burgers 1x
- Category: Sandwiches
- Cuisine: Mexican or Southwestern
For the Burgers & Serving
- 1 red onion, cut into as many thick slices as you’d like, use a toothpick to hold each slice together
- a little oil, 2 tablespoons or so to brush grill grates for the onion, to brush the onion & cut side of buns
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (preferably 80/20)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 or 2 chipotle peppers from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
- 1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from the can
- salt & pepper (suggest 3/4 teaspoon salt & 1/4 teaspoon pepper for the burgers, a sprinkle for the onions)
- 4 seeded hamburger rolls, halved
- Roasted Pepper Strips (Rajas) see text above on post
- Queso Blanco (see below)
- a little lettuce for serving
- Tortilla Strip Tangles (see text above)
- 1 cup half and half or 1/2 cup milk & 1/2 cup cream
- 2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Mozzarella cheese (or use all pepper jack)
- a few green chiles or jalapenos or pickled jalapenos, to taste
- dash or two of hot sauce, pinch or two of cayenne or a little juice from pickled or canned jalapenos, if using
For the Burgers & Assembly
Preheat grill. Gently mix together the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, the chipotle pepper, the adobo sauce from the can of chipotle pepper, and salt and pepper. Form into 4 patties, about 3/4 of an inch thick.
When ready to cook, clean grill grates:
- For onion: oil space where the onions will sit. Brush a little oil on the onions. Add to grill, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until grill marks appear and turn, repeat. Remove from grill as finished.
- For burgers: Place burgers on the hottest part of the grill and cook, undisturbed, for about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes for rare to medium-rare.
- For buns: Brush cut side with oil. Toast carefully.
To assemble, add lettuce to the top side of the bottom bun. Place onion on top, then the burger. Add the strips of roasted pepper. Pass the queso and the tortilla strips. Top with the bun after the queso and tortilla strips are added.
To make the cheese sauce, in a medium saucepan, heat the milk and cream to a scald (tiny bubbles form around the other edges of the pan. Remove from heat and add the cheese in small handfuls, stirring after each until melted. Whisk as needed. Add any additional peppers as desired, a little hot sauce, cayenne, or juice from the canned or bottled jalapenos if using. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Beef, Bell Peppers, Burgers, Cheese, Chipotle, Cream, Grilled or Smoked, Ground Beef, Hot Peppers, Jalapeno, Mexican or Southwestern, milk, pickled jalapeno, Poblano Peppers, queso blanco, Red onion, Sandwiches, tortillas0