It’s rare, but occasionally I’ll drop by a restaurant and come across a peanut butter burger. Peanut butter. On a meat burger. I may be behind the herd, but this sounds like a trick to me. It’s possible that I’m slightly scarred from that awful peanut butter omelet I made once (in my defense, I was 10 years old), but I usually chalk this burger up as the odd restaurant’s playful menu item—pointed at, but never to be ordered. That’s not fair of me though, is it? As they say in the world of earnest food exploration, don’t knock it ‘til ya try it. So I did. 

My initial low expectations

Admittedly, as I rolled into the supermarket to pick up ingredients, I had a negative mindset. I was thinking of ingredients that could make the burger better, assuming from the jump that it would need help. I wasn’t totally wrong, but a tad circumspect I guess. 

Peanut butter has a powerful flavor. If it has its druthers, it will command the stage and the entire roof of your mouth. I wanted a few co-stars for balance, so I chose bacon and an aged Dubliner cheese from Kerry Gold. I usually love a burger that’s been run through the garden, but this didn’t seem like the right time, so I held off on the usual vegetables. 

I expected the burger to be extremely nutty and dull, lacking the normally juicy and umami-packed experience I love when devouring a burger. I was wrong. 

I started with a reserved amount of peanut butter, and found myself adding more later. No one is more surprised than I am.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Peanut butter is a great savory flavoring

I’m surprised I didn’t think of it at first, but peanuts and peanut sauces aren’t new companions to meats and savory dishes. Think of Thai chicken or pork satay with peanuts, or kare-kare, a stew from the Philippines featuring a thick peanut sauce and beef or oxtail.  

Peanut butter, especially the unsweetened kind, has an earthy, roasted flavor, and a subtle sweetness. It plays well with fats and spices. Peanut butter sits in a special category with cocoa and cinnamon—flavors initially considered sweet, but they actually have a natural bitterness or tannic quality that can complement a range of dishes. If spicy peanut sauce makes sense on your fried chicken wings, I have to say, it certainly has a place on your burger.

Toward the end of the experience, I added pickles to try and throw it off. Somehow it was still delicious.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Tips for the best peanut butter burger 

Make a good burger. This might seem obvious, but tell that to the restaurants that made me unseasoned burgers, dry burgers, low-quality, and under-cooked burgers. It’s tempting to try and pile on the condiments in an effort to save the burger, but if the central ingredient is off then it’s over. Peanut butter isn’t going to save a bad burger. Furthermore, peanut butter is sticky and can leave your mouth feeling dry. It needs moisture to help wash it down, and the fat from a thick, juicy burger does exactly that. Season it well, and cook it with love.

Highly-rated grill options for your next PB burger:

Portable Charcoal Grill

Hamilton Beach Electric Indoor Grill

Use salty companions. I usually aim for balance when working with powerful ingredients, and the same is true with peanut butter. Peanut butter has a natural sweetness and slight bitter quality I mentioned earlier, and that tastes great with plenty of salt and a hint of acid. To reach these marks I used crispy, old-school bacon (not that low-sodium stuff, or uncured lies), and aged cheddar, which has a faint bite to it. I also tried tomato and pickles on my burger—for science—and while they both work, pickles are better. 

Don’t be afraid. I tried one burger with Crazy Richard’s crunchy, unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter. I also tried a burger with Jif and all its sugar-boosted, hydrogenated glory.  I’m shocked to say it, but they were both great. Jif is thicker, of course, but the flavor combination, even with the sweetness, never went south. As long as your burger is juicy, the layer of peanut butter won’t be too dry or sticky either.

Should peanut butter go on burgers? Yes. I believe this well-loved condiment is more versatile than I gave it credit for. So go ahead, mix it into your cookie batters, stir it into an umami dipping sauce, and slather it on your meat burgers. When you’re ready for your next food adventure, peanut-butter-topped burgers don’t disappoint.