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Carolina Style Burgers

Burgers covered in meaty chili and tangy crisp slaw — just how we do it in North Carolina. Carolina Style Burgers are a local staple and a comfort food favorite. 

Carolina Style Burgers recipe

Oh haaaayyyyyy.

My grandpa used to say, “Hay is for horses!,” whenever I said ‘hey’ instead of ‘hi’. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m pretty sure he was teasing me for picking up some sort of southern-ish affectations in my speech. 

My parents moved to North Carolina from Illinois before I turned 2. My mom is a Midwest meat-and-potatoes cook through and through. I wasn’t raised eating any traditional southern foods, so even though I wandered into grits-with-my-omelet territory by the time I was in high school, I was a full-on adult before I ever had a Carolina Style Burger or hot dog. Or Sundrop for that matter. But we will talk about that one another day.

There are some local foods I can’t get down with. Like livermush. NO. Or peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. DOUBLE NO.

Carolina Burgers with Chili and Slaw

Burgers covered in cheese, chili, and slaw though — those I can get behind. Which is strange for me because I have never been a lover of slaw. <<<— I type that every single time I write a recipe with slaw in it, for the record. (See evidence here, here, and here) I think the issue is that I don’t like other’s people’s slaw. I’m a slaw snob.

Can I confess something before we make this very southern-style burger thing? I don’t ever feel authentic enough to use the word ‘ya’ll’. Sometimes I type it and I feel like a total fraud because I never say it in real life. Chad does, though! So we are gonna borrow some of his thick-drawl-sundrop-loving style and work out this Carolina Style Burger recipe.

Carolina Burger Recipe

I can assure you that I do say ‘HEY!”, I love sweet tea, and I have mastered this southern burger with chili and slaw thing.

I used 93% lean ground beef here. That leaves me enough fat in the pan (I pan-seared these burgers because we got a big-fat thunderstorm just as I was ready to start cooking, but you can definitely go for the grill) to cook without additional oil, but also turns out juicy burgers.

This is Southern-style chili, the stuff you pour over your cheese fries, hamburgers, and hot dogs, is rich with just a slight spice, and there are NO BEANS. If you are looking for beefy chili with beans, you have to check out this Mole Chili con Carne. It’s my favorite. But burger chili is a whole other situation.

If you read the ingredient list for the chili, your eyes might bug out of your head because it is REALLY long. If you have a well-stocked pantry, there is nothing out of the ordinary listed and you are good to go. If you do not have a zillion spices hanging around, please don’t feel intimidated. Grab yourself one of those chili seasoning packets for $1.39 at the store, add the tomatoes and brown sugar, and get on with your day. Seasoning can get pricey and you need this chili in your life. 

Cheeseburgers with Chili and Slaw

And these burgers. Hey, ya’ll. Trust me.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Carolina Style Burgers
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A Carolina tradition! All beef burgers are covered in a meaty chili and homemade slaw.
Serves: serves 4
  • For the Chili:
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (see note for chili seasoning)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • cayenne or red chili flakes to taste
  • 1 cup broth (I used low sodium chicken broth)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • For the Burgers:
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onions
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper(more to taste)
  • 4 thick slices American cheese
  • 4 sesame seed burger buns
  • For the Slaw:
  • 1¼ cup cabbage, very finely chopped (see note)
  • ¼ cup red cabbage, very finely chopped
  • ¼ cup carrots, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • ¼ cup mayo
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ tablespoon canola oil
  1. Brown the ground beef for the chili in a large pan. Add all the seasonings and pour in the broth. Turn it over in the skillet a few times to coat the meat. You also want to break the beef up as much as possible. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, and let is simmer while you make everything else, stirring occasionally.
  2. Gently work the minced onions, salt, and pepper into the ground beef for the burgers, and then form the meat into 4 patties. Keep in mind that the less you work the beef, the more tender your burgers will be!
  3. You can grill these burgers or pan sear them. To pan-sear, preheat the oven to 450F. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat on the stove. Add the burgers to the hot skillet and cook for 1 minute on each side and then put the pan in the oven. How long they cook in the oven will depend on how you like your burgers cooked. For medium well, check them after about 4 minutes. Internal temperature would read between 150F-155F.
  4. In a large bowl toss together the cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion.
  5. In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the mayo, cider vinegar, canola oil, and sugar until smooth. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine.
  6. To assemble the burgers, top them each with 1 slice of cheese, a heaping helping of chili, and slaw. Ketchup and mustard are optional.
You can use a package of chili seasoning in place of all the seasonings and spices listed here. I always have everything on hand to make my own, but if you have to go out and buy the items listed, it will be much more cost effective to grab a chili packet and go.
Short cut!!! You can use a prepared bag of slaw mix (the cabbage and carrot mixture) to save time
  • You should also check out…

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Carolina Style Hot Dogs

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Saturday 27th of May 2023

As a North Carolina girl, born and raised, I can tell you this chili recipe bears little resemblance to the divine burger I grew up with, although, overall it is far closer than other recipes. Instead, I make The World's Best Hot Dog Chili, which is exactly like what we Carolina girls eat:

1 ¼ lb ground beef (2.5 lbs to dbl) 1 cup chopped onion (2) 2 cloves garlic, chopped (4) 2 cups water (4) 2 T tomato paste (1/4 cup) 1 T chili powder (NOT Mexican) (2T) 1 T cumin, or more, to taste (I like more) (2T) 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (2 tsp) 1 tsp vinegar (2 tsp) 1 T salt (2 T) ¼ tsp black pepper (1/2 tsp)

1. Boil beef, onions, & garlic in water over high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer and break up meat 2. Add tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, salt, Worcestershire, & pepper. 3. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Freezes up to 6 months.

NOTE: No sugar, no tomatoes. And our slaw is heavier on mayo and also has 1 1/2 tsp or more of CELERY SEED for that amount of cabbage, plus some salt to taste. It has just a TRACE of sugar and vinegar - Start with no more that 1/2 tsp each, maybe less, see how it tastes, then adjust.

Follow exactly, even though the recipe looks weird to you. I show both the full recipe (2.5lbs) and a half (1.25lbs). On my honor as an NCSU Wolfpack fan, this is what you're looking for. Oh, use mustard lightly until you taste the burger. Carolina heaven!


Friday 28th of December 2018

I was so happy to find this webpage! Originally from NC but resident of Kansas for 41 years, the Carolina burger is scrumptious. I follow your recipe except I prefer to use a little higher fat content hamburger meat to ensure juicy burgers. The lower fat hamburger meat is great for the chili though. I also make a little simpler slaw that my mother made. I use green cabbage only with mayo, a squirt of yellow mustard for tang, little salt, and sugar to taste. ( I can’t recall ever seeing red cabbage until I moved to Kansas but I am sure it makes it pretty along with the carrots). I am excited to check out all of your southern recipes. Ya’ll have a wonderful day.

Heather Tullos

Friday 28th of December 2018

Thank you so much, Faye! Glad you are here!

Kenny Clark

Tuesday 24th of July 2018

I miss a lot of things about North Carolina since leaving 28 years ago. These burgers are one. But praise the Lord, we just got a CookOut restaurant in Lebanon. They may not be as good as yours, but I love them. A couple other things I miss are Pork Barbeque and Livermush the world's most perfect food!


Wednesday 19th of October 2016

Love seeing this recipe! I grew up in NC but currently live in NJ. This is the way my Mom always made burgers growing up!

Heather Tullos

Friday 21st of October 2016

Oh awesome! Happy I could send some food nostalgia your way!


Sunday 29th of May 2016

I made these burgers today and they are amazing!! We live in Australia and these made a perfect Winter lunch option.

Heather Tullos

Monday 30th of May 2016

Awesome! So glad you enjoyed them, Alice!! Thanks for reading!