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Paniolo Burger

Paniolo is the Hawaiian word for cowboy and few people know that cowboys were in Hawaii 50 years before Texas. Today Hawaii still boasts having our nation’s second largest cattle ranch and this burger is all about Hawaii and the paniolo. The 1/2-pound patties are tender and juicy thanks to the addition of fresh papaya and a tangy sweet-hot glaze that will tantalize your taste buds. I’ve included by some of my favorite local ingredients such as spicy Portuguese Sausage, which is so popular among Hawaiians that it is included on McDonald’s breakfast menu! Crunchy sweet Maui onions and creamy avocado are tossed on the grill paniolo-style, then splashed with lemon oil, and the mouth-watering ginger cheese sauce completes my definition of a Hawaiian cowboy’s cheeseburger. It’s rodeo-worthy but you don’t have to be a cowboy to love it!


Ginger Cheese Sauce
1 5.2-ounce package Boursin fine herb and garlic cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons Sutter Home Pinot Grigio
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
1/2 cup mashed ripe papaya
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
Sweet Chili Glaze
2/3 cup Thai sweet chili sauce (or sweet chili sauce)
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
6 ounces spicy Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, cut diagonally into 1/8-inch slices
3 tablespoons Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper
vegetable oil, for brushing on the grill grid and rack
2 small Maui onions (or other sweet onion), thinly sliced and separated into rings
1 large firm ripe California avocado, sliced
6 seeded Kaiser or sandwich rolls, split


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill with a cover.

To make the sauce, combine the cheese, mayonnaise, ginger, and wine in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the patties, combine the chuck, sirloin, papaya, garlic, and salt in a large bowl, handling as little as possible. Form into 6 patties and refrigerate until ready to grill.

To make the glaze, combine the sweet chili sauce and soy sauce in a fire-proof saucepan. Place on the grill rack and boil until syrupy and slightly reduced. Set aside.

Heat a nonstick perforated grill grid on the grill rack. Add the sausage and grill until browned. Drain on paper towels and wrap in foil to keep warm. Retain the grid on the grill.

Pour the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper into a small jar or container with a lid; cover and shake well. Brush the grill grid with oil. Add the onions and grill 2 to 3 minutes until starting to brown but still crisp; transfer to a bowl. Place the avocado slices on the grid and grill 1 to 2 minutes. Add the avocados to the onions, drizzle with the lemon oil, and toss gently. Cover the bowl with foil to keep warm.

When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with oil. Place the patties on the rack over direct heat, cover, and cook 3 minutes. Turn the patties and baste with glaze. Cook 3 minutes, turn, and brush with glaze. Continue grilling until done to preference, 2 to 3 minutes for medium, basting with glaze. Place the rolls cut sides down on the outer edges of the rack to toast lightly during the last few minutes of cooking.

To assemble the burgers, spread the sauce over the cut sides of the roll tops. Place a patty on each roll bottom and top with equal portions of sausage and the avocado/onion mixture. Add the roll tops and serve.


Due to papaya’s tenderizing enzyme, do not make the patties more than 2 hours before grilling.

Some sausages will curl when grilling. To help alleviate this, run a knife down the sides of sausage in 4 places, slitting just through the casing prior to slicing. Portuguese sausage or Linguica can be substituted for Hawaiian Portuguese Sausage. You’ll need 24 slices for 6 burgers but I always cook extra in case the grill (or the cook) eats a few. 

If you have 2 grill grids you can cook the onions and avocado at the same time.

The rolls should be fresh and moist but not airy and delicate. They need to be substantial enough to hold the 1/2-pound patties without falling apart.