Our ugly, but incredibly savory, delicious and popular umami loaded burger recipe (umami hamburger) now has an update. This time, it became the ultimate umami loaded cheeseburger, which is updated in the recipe. This recipe has been in our family since the early 1980’s and recipe originally published in 2009.

Ultimate Umami Hamburger Recipe or Asian Burger on a plate

Family Umami Burger Recipe

For the longest time, we’ve been making the best darn umami hamburger recipe on the face of this earth (insert personal bias.) We’ve never had a specific name for our homemade umami loaded burger recipe until someone tagged it as the “magic meat”, but not as in “mystery meat” or “I can’t tell if this is chicken or beef.” Rather, it was to describe the magical flavor sensations that everyone experienced when they bit into one of our patties. That “magic meat” term  described the juicy, flavorful and savory burger patty that everyone fought over. Sometimes the buns were tossed to the side or forgotten because the meat was just so delicious and satisfying.

Watch the video making these Ultimate Umami Hamburgers:

It wasn’t until recently, with all the discussion on Umami (the rich, savory taste in foods) that our umami hamburger recipe was re-named as  the hamburger loaded with umami. Our hungry friends were always stumped to figure out the secret ingredient and could never, ever pinpoint that “magic” flavor that made our patties so unique.

It’s the ultimate burger that is so satisfying and savory,  no one can eat just one. Make it a double, please. But this umami rich burger recipe isn’t a new invention, nor is it a trendy recipe to keep up with the popularity of umami rich foods. No burger chain should ever make claim or ownership to this savory burger. Many families have been making this for decades before any trendy burger joint capitalized on the idea.  This recipe is a family recipe that started from my Vietnamese-American family back in the early 80’s, in a 2-bedroom apartment, in the middle of Southern California… 

Ultimate Umami Hamburger patty on a grill
Ultimate Umami Hamburger Recipe or Asian Burger on a table with beer

our ultimate umami loaded burgers are the highlights of our outdoor gatherings

About Our Umami Hamburgers

Diane –

That Vietnamese family is obviously mine. Growing up in a Vietnamese family of 6 kids who were always hungry and thirsty for more American foods, my parents had to figure out a way to feed their hungry pack of kids. Back then, hamburgers were the “American’s food”, “that sandwich with that big piece of meat in it, with the  red and yellow sauces and the sour cucumber slices.” My siblings and I wanted to eat “Ham-buh-guh” all day long and we wanted it NOW.

My parents figured out that it was much more economical to make burgers at home and did exactly that by creating their own recipe for the patties. Of course, being Vietnamese, they marinated the beef in the only way they knew how—splash fish sauce to it. Fish sauce is the golden elixir to us Vietnamese, take it away and you drain the blood out of our cuisine. Fish sauce is the fermented salvation from the food spirits and food fairies. It’s pure umami brings out the savory depth in all foods.

With their batch of ground beef, my parents’ splashed fish sauce as the one and only marinade into the burger recipe. With the addition of a little sugar for balance, garlic for more aromatic love and black pepper for bite, their simple recipe has evolved into what our friends call today as “The Ultimate Umami Burger.”

This recipe isn’t unique by any means, especially in a Vietnamese household. I’m certain there are many Vietnamese-American families who splashed their burger meat with fish sauce!

Todd –

I know what a lot of you non-Asian people are thinking, “Fish sauce?  Um, hell no.”  But wait, my dear skeptics, and listen to my confessional. For many years when I first fell in love with Diane, I avoided fish sauce.  Let’s face it, it stinks like something most of us are not used to.  It is, after all, fermented anchovies.  Mmmm, tasty! Not. At least so I thought, but man, was I ever wrong.

One fine meal while dining on a grilled shrimp ball, I dipped it into the Vietnamese classic Nuoc Cham (Viet Fish Sauce Dip) and I suddenly saw the umami.  There was no weird fishiness, instead the fish sauce’s own flavor virtually disappeared and many of the other flavors within the grilled shrimp ball became heightened.  Everything was good before, but after the addition of fish sauce everything was incredible.  I was instantly converted.

Ever since I’ve never hesitated to grab the bottle of fish sauce.  It was my brother-in-law, a classic mid-west guy, who dubbed the fish sauce laden ground beef as the “Magic Meat.”  It was that damn tasty. And now we have another believer in the umami.

Sure everything will be tasty without the umami adding fish sauce.  However, it will be even better with the magic sauce.

Ultimate Umami Hamburger Recipe or Asian Burger on a table with beer

Ultimate Umami Hamburger on a table cut in half

Credit to Mom and Dad

Oh btw- our forever family burger recipe was not inspired by any copycat burger chains bearing a similar name. This is definitely not an endorsement for anyone’s burger other than this one that Mom and Dad have been making for decades. Our umami hamburger is way more simple, clean, un-fussy, unpretentious and way more delicious because the ultimate umami comes from the fish sauce that we’ve been using for decades.

This recipe was originally published in 2009 and republished in 2015 with updated video. 

Our Favorite Fish Sauce Brands:

This has been our house fish sauce for decades. Great stuff! We’ll use it to make our dipping sauces as well as marinades.

100% all-natural first press extra virgin Vietnamese fish sauce. One of the best artisan fish sauce producers.

Another good fish sauce. Clean flavors, good depth. It’s the one Diane’s mom most often uses for cooking.

The Umami Loaded Burger Recipe

Don't be afraid of the fish sauce. Understand the crucial umami factor that fish sauce brings to food and it will become your best pantry friend. So often, the powerful, pungent punch of fish sauce can be intimidating to cooks who aren't familiar with it's marinading magic. Fish sauce is essentially the salty liquid from the fermentation of small fish and salt. But when used in small quantities, fish sauce brings fabulous umami savoriness to the burgers. It won't taste like a "fish sauce burger." It just tastes like a darn great burger! You'll be a fish sauce marinade convert very quickly.
4.99 from 61 votes


  • 2 lbs. (907 g) Ground Beef
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons (22.5 ml) Fish Sauce (for more daring, savory depth, use 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 cloves Garlic , crushed or minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) fresh ground Black Pepper , or to taste
  • Flaky Salt , optional
  • 6 Hamburger buns (or 8-12 slider buns)
  • condiments of your choice and cheese makes it extra decadent and special


  • In a bowl, combine beef, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and black pepper. Mixed together well. If you have time, fridge the beef for 30 minutes or more. We like to allow the beef to marinade overnight in the fridge for optimum flavor, but most of the time don't plan that far ahead. They still always come out great, even with a shorter marinade time.
    Meat mixture in a bowl
  • Gently form meat into patties for sliders or burgers. Form them roughly wider than the size of your burger or slider buns. Try not to compress the meat too much or else the burgers will cook more dense and won't be quite as delicious.
    Raw burger patties
  • If you like your burgers super-seasoned, sprinkle a bit of flaky salt and additional black pepper on the formed patties before cooking.
    Seasoned raw burger patties
  • For grilling: pre-heat the grill over medium-high heat (if you have that option) and scrape the grill grates clean before grilling. It will help minimize the sticking. For pan cooking: preheat your skillet over medium-high heat.
    Scrape Grill Clean
  • Cook on grill or skillet about 3 minutes per side or until cooked to your liking.  (1/2 pound patties on a med./high grill take about 3 min. per side for med. rare burger. Heat temp., thickness, etc. all affect cooking times). 
    Cooking burger patties on grill
  • Assemble your burger with your favorite condiments and treat yourself to the cheeseburger version!
    Assembled burger


Nutrition Information per Serving

Calories: 510kcal, Carbohydrates: 23g, Protein: 31g, Fat: 32g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Trans Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 107mg, Sodium: 670mg, Potassium: 482mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 2IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 106mg, Iron: 4mg

Rule the Game of Grilling

Stop guessing when the meat is cooked. Every grill cooks a little different, so timing will vary, but temperature rules the game.

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