Three-quarters of consumers eat a burger at home a least once a month – and even more (nearly four out of five) eat a burger away from home, according to Datassential’s 2021 Burgers Keynote. With summer nearly here, all things grilling and barbecue become top of mind. When it comes to burgers and hot dogs, restaurant operator trends pave the way for cookout-inspired innovations, and Datassential’s MenuTrends database provides the trend data to help focus creativity.

Burgers, unique proteins and plant-based patties are quickly growing on menus. And, since grilling season is all about the toppings, look to new bacon applications, indulgent cheeses, and BBQ sauce pairings to add interest to basic burgers. With hot dogs or sausage, consider extra-portable carriers, Latin flavors, and over-the-top bacon adds to help teach an old dog new tricks.


Beyond Basic Patties

On burger menus, premium protein trends can inform an extra-enticing burger blend. According to Datassential’s MenuTrends, Wagyu beef has grown 72% during the last four years, followed by brisket (up 52%) and short rib (up 39%). Fast casual chain Burger Fi exemplifies this trend with their burger aptly named “The CEO,” complete with two Wagyu-brisket patties, homemade candied bacon-tomato jam, and truffle aioli.

Moving away from upscale toward down-home comfort, fried chicken also is increasingly offered on burger menus (up 62%). While America is no stranger to a fried chicken sandwich, the concept of a chicken burger is more common in the U.K. (with more than 10 times as many menus offering one, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends Infinite database) – and in fact, where KFC menus chicken sandwiches in the U.S., its similar U.K. offerings are referred to as “burgers.” 

Unlike traditional beef burgers, fried chicken is well positioned for chicken-forward trends, like Nashville hot flavor, or Japanese-style karaage fried preparation. The inclusion of fried chicken on burger menus can also draw in carnivores looking to lower their red meat intake.

For those looking to eschew meat altogether, the plant-based juggernaut continues its trajectory with burgers, with plant-based burgers growing more than twelvefold in the past four years. On menus or at cookouts, classic pairings like tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles can anchor meat analogues with familiar burger builds. 

To thrive, however, these Beyond Meat, Impossible, or Boca burgers benefit from trendier adds, such as avocado (up 53% with plant-based burgers during the past year), mayo (up 16%), and chipotle (up 12%). Bacon also is a growing pairing (up 50%), whether soy-based or classic (the latter provides a flexitarian-friendly treat).


Tip-Top Toppings

Although bacon isn’t a new trend on burgers, restaurants are increasingly offering unique bacon toppings on burgers. For example, candied bacon has more than doubled on burger menus in the last four years, while jalapeno bacon references have grown by one-third. Bacon jam (up 100%), invites additional innovation with varieties like tomato bacon jam, jalapeno bacon jam. Consumers even can find Stonewall Kitchen’s Spicy Chili Bacon Jam at retailers such as Jewel Osco, Wegman’s, or Whole Foods.

Cheese also adds indulgence to burgers. Mac and cheese, an over-the-top option, has grown 72%, while more spreadable pimento (up 70%) and cream cheese (up 41%) make for a less unwieldy burger build. White cheddar, Tillamook (brand) cheddar, and smoked cheddar are all growing on burger menus, as well, providing a premium twist on familiar cheddar.

Looking more broadly across the menu for barbecue flavor innovations, Datassential’s MenuTrends reveal which flavors are being paired with barbecue in different dishes. Grilled pineapple is up 105% during the past four years, and shallots are up 69%. Either of these works as a retail barbecue sauce pairing, and both might be combined as part of a Hawaiian-themed burger with grilled pineapple, crispy shallots, and barbecue sauce. 

Aioli also is increasingly paired with barbecue (up 86%), inviting the possibility of condiment mash-ups similar to Heinz brand’s Mayocue.


Old Dog, New Tricks

For hot dogs and sausage, portability is foundational, and the right carrier can be both functional and trend-forward. Pretzel is a growing pairing for hot dogs and sausage (up 36% during the past four years), and Auntie Anne’s proves that the pretzel dog translates readily from foodservice to retail, with their frozen pretzel dogs found at Jewel Osco and Target. Tortillas (up 40%) and pita (up 9%) also are available as carriers, to add interest and unify themed dogs like Mexican-inspired or Mediterranean-inspired varieties.

Hot dogs and sausage can further lean into Latin trends through the addition of salsa (up 96%) or chipotle flavor (up 42%). Chorizo is also trending (up 31%), and fast casual chain Dog Haus showcases this protein alongside pickled jalapenos and chipotle aioli in its T-Mex sausage.

Bacon also is increasingly offered with hot dogs and sausage (up 21%), though the greater growth is with bacon-wrapped dogs (up 64%). Although bacon isn’t the carrier for these latter applications (too greasy!), it sets the stage for extra indulgence. For example, Smoke Tree BBQ, Palms Springs, Calif., serves its Junkyard Doggie with a full footlong bacon-wrapped hot dog, topped with pulled pork, barbecue beans, and cheese sauce.