This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated to add new photos and recipe tips.
This copycat recipe for Apple Pan’s Hickory burger sauce takes hamburgers to the next level. The special BBQ sauce adds a smoky, sweet, and tangy flavor that is irresistible.
The Apple Pan is a legendary burger joint in West Los Angeles. It has a cult-like following and is busy all hours of the day and night. The place looks exactly the same as it did when it opened in 1947, including its cottage exterior. It's a blast back in time with its counter-only seating, red leather stools, open kitchen with flat-top griddle, and waiters with paper hats. Popular menu items include the hickory burger, steak burger, tuna salad sandwich, and apple pie.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- It's fast and easy, and only takes 5 minutes to make.
- Only requires 3 ingredients.
- Makes any regular burger taste like the delicious Apple Pan Hickoryburger.
Dana's note: What I love about The Apple Pan is that it is a piece of LA history, and many people have their own personal stories to tell. I remember going to Apple Pan with my parents and sister when we were kids. Now my sister and I take our kids.
My dad loved Apple Pan, and he had a funny story he told about it. He claimed that one time when he arrived at the Apple Pan, his good friend Jerry was already there eating, but Jerry did not notice that my father had walked in. Jerry was a big practical joker, and my father liked to reciprocate. The story goes that Jerry was holding up his hamburger, and that my father walked up behind Jerry's counter stool, leaned over his shoulder and surprised him by taking a bite of his hamburger. There are doubters, but my father swore that this is a true story.
Apple Pan has the best burgers, and my favorite menu item is the hickory burger. Their special secret sauce is the best sauce I have ever had on a burger. It's a unique cross between a barbecue sauce and tomato puree, and there's nothing like it in the supermarket. I tried to ask the Apple Pan employees for the recipe, but I had no luck. I learned that every Apple Pan employee has to sign a confidentiality agreement and cannot reveal any recipes. This sauce is a well-kept secret. So, I decided to try to duplicate their sauce at home.
One taste of the hickory burger, and it's evident that there's a hickory flavor and some sort of tomato sauce. Early on I decided the recipe includes liquid smoke and chili sauce, so I used that in my copycat version.
Then one day I happened to taste one more Apple Pan hickory burger and discovered an unexpected secret. My friend brought me a "to-go" burger with the sauce on the side. I tasted the burger and the sauce separately for the first time. Much to my surprise, the hickory flavor appears to be in the meat of the burger, not in the sauce. What a shocking revelation. For decades I always thought of the sauce as being a hickory sauce, but it's not. The meat most likely contains liquid smoke giving it that hickory smoked flavor.
I decided to keep the liquid smoke in my sauce recipe, even though the original Apple Pan hickory burger most likely has liquid smoke in their burger patties instead. This way, you can still turn an ordinary burger into one with all the sensational flavor of an Apple Pan hickory burger.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
See the recipe card below for a complete ingredient list and measurements.Jump to Recipe
This burger sauce recipe only needs 3 simple ingredients. Because this is such a simple recipe, I don’t recommend changing up the ingredients too much, or you won’t get that original hickory burger taste.
- Chili sauce - I used Heinz. There may be other brands that make similar sauces, but I don’t think they taste exactly the same as the original.
- Ketchup - I’ve used regular Heinz or organic Trader Joes ketchup.
- Hickory liquid smoke - I used Wright's which I found in the BBQ sauce aisle at the market.
Step by Step Photos
See the recipe card below for complete directions.Jump to Recipe
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Add it to hamburgers, sliders, veggie burgers, BBQ chicken, ribs, or anything else you want to give a smoky, tangy kick.
How to make your own Apple Pan Hickory Burger
Apple Pan’s hickory burger is still served like it was originally in 1947. Here’s what you will need to make your own Apple Pan burger.
- Hamburger buns - Apple Pan uses non-seeded buns.
- Apple Pan hickory sauce - See recipe card below.
- Beef patty
- Pickle chips
- A wedge of iceberg lettuce
- Slice of cheddar cheese - Apple Pan uses melted Tilamook cheddar cheese. Or make it kosher and omit the cheese or use vegan cheese.
- Don’t forget a side of french fries!
Make Ahead and Storage
You can make this sauce a few days in advance. Store hickory sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
I like to put my hickory sauce on sliders (mini beef hamburgers). Lately, we have been getting grass-fed ground beef from the farmers' markets. The grass-fed beef tastes "cleaner" than regular beef. It is more flavorful without being greasy or fatty. This meat only needs a little salt and pepper before it's grilled, and makes the best hamburgers.
It's fun to serve the sliders with a toppings bar. My favorite toppings are hickory sauce, sautéed onions, avocado and shredded lettuce. My condiment bar also includes ketchup, yellow mustard, and Dijon mustard.
What to Serve with a Hickory Burger
In addition to burgers, Apple Pan also has amazing pies. I especially like their apple, chocolate, and banana cream pies. A slice of pie would go great with these burgers. Here are some other burger side dishes:
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Have you ever been to the iconic restaurant The Apple Pan in West LA? If so, comment below and tell me how you liked it!
The Apple Pan’s Hickory Burger Sauce Copycat Recipe
- small or medium bowl
- ⅓ cup chili sauce (I used Heinz)
- ⅓ cup ketchup (I used regular Heinz or organic Trader Joes)
- ½ teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (I used Wright's which I found in the the BBQ sauce aisle at the market.)
- Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve as a sauce for hamburgers or beef sliders.
Mayuri Patel says
Hi Dana welcome to the group. Creating favourite restaurant food at home is so satisfying. Like your idea of toppings bar. We are planning a summer time burger party and besides different burger fillings am going to have a selection of toppings. That way the guests can create their own burgers.
Yes, guests usually appreciate being able to add their own favorite toppings. It's fun to see what combinations people come up with.
Terri Steffes says
Yummo! Glad to have you here! We love our Sunday Funday! This hickory burger sounds amazing. I am so eager to give it a try.
Hope you enjoy the sauce; it makes a burger special. And thank you for including me in Sunday Funday.
Wendy Klik says
I can see why you love this sauce and thanks for sharing your food memories. Food memories are the best!! Glad you have joined us for Sunday Funday Dana.
I've enjoyed being a part of Sunday Funday, thank you.
alissa haroush says
Have to try this
Hope you like it!
Craig Printup says
The condiment bar is like what they had at Woody's Smorgasburger. It was a chain when i was a kid in the late 50's/early 60's, last one by LAX went out of business in the early 90's. They had a whole bar of different toppings for their burgers, the one that I thought was odd was chopped peanuts. They had a similar bar for dessert, they had soft serve ice cream machine with a bar full of ice cream toppings. First place I eve had a char broiled burger, I can still taste them, so delicious!
Yessss!! I went to Woody's back in the day. In fact, I had one of my childhood birthday parties there. Such great memories. Thanks for sharing.
This is my first time reading this post. Awesome. Your stories bring my childhood back to me and I love that about you! xoxo
Nicole- thank you for such a heart-warming comment. You were one of the taste-testers for this recipe a long time ago. Thanks for lending your Apple Pan "expertise."
Spot-ON! The Hickory sauce is very close if not bloody identical. I am a vegetarian, however I have been to Apple Pan and had the Hickory Burger long ago when I was not. I make the sauce for the Gardein Meatless Patties. And I have to say it is delicious. I made my own vegetarian chili sauce.
Thank you again for sharing.
Thank you for the reply and for letting me know my recipe is a good "knock-off." I think the sauce is a wonderful accompaniment to a veggie burger-- the sauce lends an authentic burger taste. Great idea.
Great article, Dana. Miss the Apple Pan. Hope you and Kathy are well
Hi Debbie, thanks for reading my blog. Now you can have the Apple Pan flavor at home. I think we'll be near you this summer, so we'll catch up.
MICHELE - your cousin! says
Dana - I LOVE THIS POST. Thank you for sharing family history and the history of Apple Pan. I love these burgers too. And, I love your slider bar - it's a great idea - I may have to steal it.
Here's a question for you - do you know any good sugar free Hickory Sauce - or very low low sugar for those who love bbq sauce but don't want the high sugar content or additives that come in ketchup and chili sauce?
You actually gave me an idea - use one of the sugar free BBQ sauces I have (from Whole Foods) and add hickory smoke into it. It's very watery sauce, but atleast maybe the flavor will be more like regular sauce. Any other suggestions?
I actually have tried a lot of sugar free BBQ sauces, but they all do not taste very good.
Thanks and I love reading! xo
Hi Michele- great question. I would do one of two things to adapt this recipe to be sugar- free. 1) you could start with a sugar-free/low sugar ketchup-- see some choices at http://www.ketchupworld.com/low-carb-sugar-free-ketchup. Then add in liquid smoke for the hickory flavor, and add in few additional spices similar to chili sauce like pickling spice, sweet chili powder, cinnamon or allspice. 2) Another option is to make your own homemade chili sauce like the one at http://www.food.com/recipe/low-carb-chili-sauce-385291. Then just add in some liquid smoke. If you use naturally sweet ingredients like peak season tomatoes and sweet pepper, you won't miss the sugar as much. Depending on your specific needs, you could add in a little artificial sweetener or Stevia. Hope this helps.
Charles R. says
I live in in Texas and have never been to Apple Pan. I did, however, see it featured on a food show (Food Network or Travel Channel.) I have been searching for a good "hickory smoke sauce" recipe, There is a place here in Austin of the same early-50's vintage that is incredible -- The Top Notch. http://topnotchaustin.com/ Probably pretty similar. I would not have thought of the chili sauce. I am going to try tomorrow.
Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy says
Hey. Charles- hope you enjoy this recipe as much as you like Top Notch. I'll have to check it out if I travel that way.