Five burger trends to watch in 2015

Because of higher beef prices, cheeseburgers will be more popular and burger bars will want customers to taste quality. But look out for veggie burgers as more diners will be willing to go meatless.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar/File
2015 might be the year of the cheeseburger but soaring beef prices may hurt burger joints who would be more willing to go meat-less.

Last year forecast a Year of Fresh with vegetables and herbs emerging as popular toppings. We didn’t wait longer than February for that to be borne out: Burger Boss in Evergreen Park, Ill., made the French Cauliflower Melt its burger of the month. So I’ll say I was good on that forecast.

2015 could be the Year of the Cheeseburger because of, not in spite of, higher beef prices.

But I missed on hot dogs. Hot dogs were everywhere on menus this year, from Sonic’s Cheesy Bread Dogs and Chili Cheese Pretzel Dogs to Carl’s Jr.’s Jumbo Chili Dogs. Indies like Crow Burger Kitchen in Newport Beach, Calif., and Grill ’Em All in Alhambra, Calif., are topping burgers with grilled hot dogs.

What I also didn’t see coming was the crazily rapid rise of menu crowd sourcing. It seems every independent burger bar now has asks customers to dream up the burger of the month or some other special. McDonald’s has successfully run its “My Burger” promotion across Europe. Have burger joints run out of ideas? No, I think the “create our next LTO” trend is about customer engagement, and that’s always good.

So how about 2015? I think these five trends are worth watching:

The Year of the Cheeseburger: Not the cheeseburger with bacon, arugula, aïoli, sambal and onion rings. Just a good ol’ Cheeseburger, where the quality of good beef reclaims the spotlight. Does that mean over-the-top burgers are passé? Certainly not! They’re fun and delicious. But sometimes simple is best. Sometimes what’s wanted is a good burger. Burger joints and their customers will rediscover simple in 2015. That first entry on most burger joint menus, sometimes called the Original or the Classic or just Cheeseburger, gets in the game again in 2015.

Beef is going to be even more expensive in 2015. Burger bars will want customers to taste the quality of the pricey meat.

In a Pickle: House-pickled toppings are going to be big(ger). House-made pickles are popping up everywhere and that’s just the start. Look for pickled vegetables of all sorts to proliferate.

What’s for Breakfast?: Burger King made news when it said it would start selling Whoppers in the morning. The next step, and one that even McDonald’s ought to be able to take part in, is egg-topped breakfast burgers. Burger King has a Breakfast Whopper in New Zealand now. Why not here?

Espresso Yourself: We have Burgers & Beers and Burgers & Bourbons concepts, but how about Burger & Espresso bars? A few such places pairing these two have opened on the West coast and in Australia (check out Batch Burgers & Espresso). Short of that, watch for coffee to be a popular rub or flavoring for burgers around the world.

Swap Meat: Because beef will be more expensive and because there also are more diners willing to go meatless, if only occasionally, watch for burger bars to create better non-meat burgers. Watch for them to promote those veggie burgers, too, and not just list them at the bottom of the menu. Crabtree’s Kittle House Restaurant and Inn in Chappaqua, N.Y., included this year on Wine Enthusiast’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants” list, menus a Pat LaFrieda custom-blend cheeseburger alongside a quinoa, chickpea, corn and mushroom burger. Watch for more parity like that.

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