The once-lowly hamburger is now commanding premium prices on menus around the country. Savvy operators are moving from ordinary frozen burger patties to Wagyu, Kobe and other pricey breeds to create new menu excitement and boost sales.

Despite hefty price tags, research has shown that customers are willing to pay for a burger made from a better cut of beef. A recent Technomic survey showed that 75% of consumers rate “quality of beef” as one of the top two attributes they look for when choosing a burger.

What exactly makes a burger “premium” in the eyes of consumers? That same survey found that 7 out of 10 diners look for a higher-quality breed of beef (such as Angus) or a higher-quality cut (such as sirloin).

Over the past decade, production increases have pushed American-bred Kobe and Wagyu beef to the forefront of the upscale beef bracket, competing for the spot once held by Japanese breeds. Increased production and availability mean the prices for the upscale beef are now within the reach of more operators. And increased awareness among consumers has provided the impetus for bringing this beef to the burger menu. But it’s not only the Kobes and Wagyus getting all the attention: Some operators are now sourcing their ground chuck burgers from premium processors and “branding” them on their menu to drive a higher price point.


Handle With Care: Working with Premium Breeds

The basic prep rules of working with ground beef are especially important when working with premium breeds: Handle the meat as little as possible to avoid toughening. Broil or sear as quickly as possible; avoid “squashing” the patty. Flat-tops and charbroilers are recommended. Don’t overwhelm this beef with seasonings; let its natural flavor come through.

If you’re thinking of menuing a premium-quality burger, consider the bun and toppings as well. Shredded iceberg lettuce, a slice of processed American cheese and a flimsy white bakery bun underneath don’t say “upscale.” This is the time to consider unusual cheese selections, such as aged cheddars or artisanal blues. Check on the availability of fresh local greens and vegetables. Consider a locally baked kaiser or brioche roll for the base.

Don’t Forget to Sell Up: Promoting Premium Burgers

Most importantly … promote, promote, promote! Let your customers know the kind of beef you’re using and the upscale toppings that come with it. Be sure your waitstaff knows the difference in quality so they can sell it effectively. Once your customers know you’re serving this “royal” burger, they’ll buy it!

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This article was compiled by the trend team at