Before we begin, I know some antsy readers out there simply can’t wait to lecture me about how watermelons should never be grilled and called burgers. That’s myopic nonsense based on macho barbecue logic. Grilling watermelon is awesome, and I truly feel for the people who are too hung up on keeping each food in its lane to try something new. As watermelon sits directly over an open flame, the most miraculous things happen to its flavor and texture—indescribable things. The first time I tried it I was so astounded that my body filled up with the sort of wondrous glee I feel after seeing a magic trick. Even if you’re too apprehensive to try the recipe below, I urge you to set aside a nice fat slice of watermelon to throw on the grill alongside the burgers at your next barbecue, just to see what happens. If you’re not tickled, well, I send you my condolences.
I fully expect this recipe to be met with skepticism. In fact, a lot of you might express surprise at how good watermelon burgers turn out to be. Why are you so surprised, anyway? I want you to eat this because I want to eat this, and once you try it, you’ll want to tell everyone you know to make it too. Then you’ll be the person no one believes, and later you’ll get to experience the satisfaction of hearing those people admit you were right all along. If that isn’t a fantastic reason to try out a new recipe, I don’t know what is.
Just like beef burgers and hot dogs, grilled watermelon is delicious on its own but becomes even more exciting when you play around with toppings. If you like your burgers with cheese, then tangy, salty varieties like feta and chevre make brilliant counterpoints to the watermelon’s caramelized sugars and savory flecks of char. This recipe also includes a simple gremolata made out of fennel fronds; raw fennel is a staple snack in this house, and any time I can find a dish that might benefit from our ludicrous amount of excess fronds, I use them. You might even want to double or triple the gremolata and store it in the fridge to spoon over grilled chicken or use as the base of a cold shrimp salad. Every aspect of this recipe is a gift that keeps on giving. You’re welcome.
Makes 4 burgers
- 1 small orange
- 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds
- 1-2 fat cloves of garlic
- 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 slices of watermelon, 1 1/2-2" thick
- Olive oil
- Chevre or whatever cheese you like (I recommend sheep and goat cheeses)
- 4 square ciabatta buns, or a good crusty baguette cut into sandwich-sized portions
Preheat your grill for high heat direct cooking and rub the grates down with a wadded paper towel dipped in cooking oil (set aside to use again later).
Use a microplane to zest the orange and pulverize the garlic into a small bowl with the fennel fronds.
Slice the orange in half, rub lightly with olive oil, and place cut-side down directly over the fire. Cook for a minute or two until the oranges become deeply charred, then juice them into the bowl with the fennel. Stir in the white wine vinegar and kosher salt, then cover and set aside at room temperature while you make the burgers.
Use the bread as a guide to cut perfectly sized watermelon burger “patties,” then coat them well with olive oil and season them with a sprinkle of kosher salt. Rub the grill grates with the oily paper towel once again, then put the burgers directly over the flames. Cook for about 5-7 minutes per side, moving around the grill as needed to keep from burning.
Toast the buns lightly, then top with watermelon, cheese, a few coarse cracks of black pepper, and a few spoonfuls of the gremolata. Serve immediately.