Customized burgers — dressed just the way you love them — are all the rage these days. But that doesn’t have to mean tons of work for the head chef at your next backyard barbecue. Setting up a variety of patties, toppings and buns is a fun way to enjoy a cookout and ensure all your guests will be able to build their dream burgers. And if you’re organizing a potluck, dividing up these ingredient categories will make the day run smoother. With a little planning and our simple tips and tricks, you’ll be set up for an unforgettable feast.


Step 1: Pick a Patty (or Two)

There are so many options when it comes to this feature component, whether you go homemade or store-bought (or a combination of the two). Beef is a sure bet; try full-flavoured Canadian Chuck Burgers, which are made from juicy, 100 percent Canadian beef. Think outside the box, too: Fish, turkey or chicken, and stuffed burgers are convenient and creative alternatives. Try Sensations by Compliments Poutine-Stuffed Beef Burgers, packed with melty cheese, potato and gravy—right inside the patty! Your best bet is to pick up a variety so there’s something familiar for everyone to enjoy as well as new flavours to discover. And don’t forget to include a vegetarian option, like homemade Lemon Chickpea Quinoa Burgers, or try Compliments Naturally Simple Beet Burger with Honey. Tip: If you’re whipping up your own patties, consider making them slider size so guests can sample a few tasty types and still have plenty of room for dessert.

Food Safety Tip: Keep a digital thermometer handy when grilling meat patties. Cook them to a safe internal temperature: 160°F (71°C) for beef and 165°F (74°C) for poultry. For an accurate reading, insert the thermometer into the side of the patty so the tip reaches the centre.

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Step 2: Choose Some Cheese

Cheese can really take your burger to the next level. Serve varieties that melt easily, such as mozzarella, blue cheese, soft goat cheese or brie. Premium varieties such as Comté will make burgers extra special for true cheese lovers. Maximize melty goodness by popping the cheese on the patties during their last couple of minutes on the barbecue rather than having guests help themselves afterward.

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Step 3: Wrap It Up

The right bun really brings a burger together, and offering a few different choices makes your barbecue a gourmet experience. Classic sesame seed–topped Sensations by Compliments Deluxe buns and Gourmet Store-Made Buns are crowd-pleasers, but imaginative new options up the wow factor. Pair Sensations by Compliments Naan with Indian-spiced sauces and grilled veggies. Or offer up Compliments Balance In-the-Thin Buns for those who prefer a higher ratio of patty to bread. For guests who want to cut the bread entirely, soft and sturdy Boston lettuce leaves or grilled portobello mushrooms make delicious alternative wrappers.

If you’re indulging in a big, fluffy bun, why not make the most of the experience? Lightly toast buns by placing them cut-side down on the grill for about 10 seconds to add a gentle caramelized note. Adding a smear of butter — or, better yet, flavoured butter — before toasting will help the bread crisp up and will contribute another layer of tasty goodness. If the buns are served warm, flavoured mayos and sauces will glide on and sink in deliciously.

Flavour Booster: Grill the buns while the patties are cooking for a slightly smoky, more flavourful finish. Keep them warm on the upper rack, away from high heat, which can scorch their tender undersides.

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Step 4: Add a Savoury Topping

Serve a selection of savoury toppings, such as crisp bacon slices, sweet caramelized onions and tender grilled mushrooms, peppers and zucchini. Make sure to cut vegetables into thin slices or strips so they’re easy to pile on your patty. Not into savoury? Try a grilled pineapple ring!

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Step 5: Add Some Cool Toppings

This is where guests can give their burgers a hit of freshness, crunch and tang. Lettuce leaves and baby spinach are burger staples, but Compliments Organic Baby Kale also makes a fresh addition. Add sliced tomatoes and Compliments Sweet Heat Sandwich Sliced Pickles, and get creative with some more-exotic pickled veggies, such as jalapeño peppers, beets or green beans. Round out this part of your burger bar with thinly sliced red or sweet onions, avocado wedges, roasted red peppers or sprouts. If you’re using red onions, soak them in ice water for about 10 minutes before serving to reduce their pungent bite.

Freshness Tip: Take these toppings out of the fridge at the last minute. Place the serving bowls inside larger bowls filled with ice to keep ingredients cool and crisp.

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Step 6: Dress It Up with Condiments and Toppers

Homemade toppers are ideal for punching up your condiment lineup and making your burger bar unique. There are plenty of simple options, like flavoured mayos and tartar-style burger sauce, that you can whip up in a few minutes or even a day ahead. You can also get creative with homemade salsas and chutneys, such as Fresh Balsamic Peach Chutney or Smoky Pineapple Chutney, which add fruity, tangy notes that are especially appealing on burgers.

For even easier entertaining, back up your homemade options with a bunch of ready-made alternatives everyone loves. Start with the standards — mustard, ketchup, relish and mayonnaise — and then add some other yummy toppers, like guacamole, olive tapenade, hummus or baba ghanouj. And don’t forget to add a sauce with a smoky note, like Sensations by Compliments Spirited Mickie Sweet & Tangy Bourbon BBQ Sauce.

Serving Tip: Make burger assembly more interactive. Post some interesting flavour combinations along your burger bar (you can print our article on creative burger ideas), and invite guests to try something new. How about a turkey guacamole burger with fresh red onions and pickled jalapeños? Or a smoky barbecue beef burger with baby kale and a dab of horseradish on a whole grain bun?

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Burger Bar Math

It’s always better to have a little too much food than to run out mid-party. Plan for two patties (about 5 oz/150 g each) per adult and one patty or slider per child. For condiments, a typical family-size container is more than enough for two dozen guests, but plan for an additional bottle of the classics for a larger group. Keep an extra box of burgers in the freezer as backup, so you can adapt quickly to any surprise guests and those who scarf down more than you’d bargained for.

Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, you’ll end up with a bunch of leftovers. This is the time to get creative. Crumble burgers and add to casseroles, soups, pizzas, taco fillings and pasta sauces. Add excess savoury toppings to stir-fries, pizzas and pasta dishes, and convert cold toppings, including cheese, into salads or sandwich fillings. Even leftover buns can get a new lease on life: Grind them up into fluffy breadcrumbs.

Keep food safety top of mind when you’re handling leftovers. If a cooked item has been standing at room temperature for more than two hours, throw it out. Refrigerate leftovers right away, making sure they cool quickly by dividing them between shallow, uncovered containers. Once they’re cool, cover and eat them up within three days. (Get more smart advice on storing and using leftovers.)


Set Up for Success

Arrange your burger bar in stations — one for cool toppings, one for savoury toppings and one for condiments — to promote easy traffic flow and prevent pileups. Add a simple label beside any homemade toppings or unfamiliar items (like special cheeses) and where there’s a choice, such as between two different types of patties. That way, guests know what they are helping themselves to and you can accommodate any dietary concerns. Make sure platters are easy to reach, and offer an ample supply of serving utensils, with a dedicated one for each offering.

To safeguard food, don’t let it stand for more than two hours — only one hour when temperatures soar. Set up in the shade to maintain freshness. Serve cool items on smaller platters, replenishing them as needed, so you can maximize fridge time and ensure your table looks bountiful. Conversely, keep hot food hot so it stays out of the danger zone and holds bacteria at bay.

When the party starts, have guests order their patty and cheese combos from the grill master and then mingle and chat while they’re sizzling away. Diners can pick up buns and grab the patties just as they come off the grill, then head to the savoury and cool topping stations and, finally, the condiments to build their dream burgers.