Burgers: is pure meat best?

I have read lots of recipes for the perfect burger and read lots of articles about the beef mix chefs of trendy burger use to get their perfect burgers.

I understand the need to balance the meat with fat and the benefits of mixing different cuts of meat. But I am intrigued about the use of fillers like bread crumbs or bulgur wheat. These are often used in Mediterranean cooking for meatballs or kebabs as they lighten the mix and give a far crumblier, softer, lighter texture.

When I make burgers I tend to make them for the two of us so that limits the number of cuts of meat I can use, and I often use good quality pre-minced beef.

The results are tasty but often dense. What is the solution, Should I make my own dice and freeze the excess burgers or is it good to use a filler. This got me thinking…do some of these trendy modern burger places also add things to their “pure beef” recipes to get a lighter texture.

Thoughts?

Cube up your beef into 1" chunks. Choice is yours . You can mix different cuts . Yes you want the fat . Then into the freezer for around a half hour . Take them out and put into food processor . Do not add salt . Pulse until you like the texture . I like mine with a semi coarse texture . Just enough to hold the meat together . You don’t want mush .Form your patties . Do not make them thick , 1/2 " is fine . Put them back into the fridge for 15 min or so to tighten . Salt both sides then fry in skillet med high until you like the doneness . Forget about the fillers . I have tried . Much better without . Cheers

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I agree, no fillers for burgers.

Over working the beef while forming the burger will make it dense too. So just enough pressure and patting for it to form a burger.

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Great point about over working the meat . Less is best .

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I’ll grind several pounds at a time and form 6 oz burgers and freeze then vacuum seal. Usually use chuck or a combination of chuck and a leaner cut but usually at least 70% chuck in a blend. Need the fat that chuck brings. I use an old 4" can like whole tomatoes come in as a ring form and have gotten pretty good about eyeing a 6 oz portion

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AFAIAC, once you add starchy filler, it’s meat loaf, not a burger. If you are buying preground beef, shop where it looks like “meat spaghetti” - long strands like you’d see if you used an old-fashioned crank-style grinder. This means no water/ice has been added in the grinding process, and the meat will be looser. Put a loose mound of ground beef on your choice of work surface, gently form it into a circle with the heels of your hands, then pat the top flat. Use your thumb to make a dimple in the center - this will make for more even cooking and keep the patty from doming. It goes without saying that you should not press on the patty while cooking it.

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Thanks everyone for some great ideas - all very useful ad will be tried. The “dimple” one is interesting as my wife committed on the doming just last week.

I don’t dimple and don’t seem to have the doming issue. I usually cook burgers on cast iron, stove top. Not sure why

The doming is directly proportional to how thick you make your patties. Very thin - no dome: very thick (and high heat) big dome

Mine are ~ 3/4 " thick

I sometimes get doming on thicker burgers but it doesn’t bother me - I prefer them rare in the center anyway, so the doming sort of gives me a greater margin of error. The dimple does prevent it nicely, though.

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Though I suggested the dimpling, I don’t often do it, because most of the time now, I form the ground beef into a sausage shape. That way, using a cast iron skillet, I can easily sear the entire exterior, and can use hot dog buns for both franks and burgers. I also find a “burger dog” easier/neater to eat. Put the toppings into the hinged bun, then the burger log, and there’s less dripping/slipping. I do the same shaping with fricadellen, which is, essentially, meat loaf in patty form. However, one does need to get past the turd resemblance. :grimacing:

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I certainly think a bit of filler is worth a try. I recently added about a teaspoon per burger of plain from-a-box store bought breadcrumbs to my minced beef plus an egg/garlic/seasoning mix, and the results were excellent. A proper solid meaty patty.

If your into meatloaf, adding bread based fillers is the way to go. If you are into hamburger, grinding your cut(s) of choice to your desired texture with the fat content of your liking is the key.

I personally prefer grinding beef knuckle with additional near frozen kidney fat to an 80/20 blend. Steak like flavor, chin dripping goodness with no chuck liver flavor.

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I wonder if the traditional use of fillers like bulgur wheat, ground rice and bread comes from traditions where meat was rare and needed to be extended. It seems common in middle eastern cooking especially where the meat is heavily worked into a paste before the patty is formed and cooked. Could the beef economy of the early US have resulted in the purity of the modern burger…?

I am going to give these suggestions a go when we next do burgers - I found the mincer at the back of the cupboard and it has been cleaned and is ready for action.

As an aside I also found there is a big difference in sausage traditions. In the UK quality sausages will have grain/rusk added to the meat mix (bad cheap ones have meat added to grain!) but in here in Australia we have lots of Italian butchers who produce traditional Italian 100% meat sausages. They are good, but after growing up in the UK, I find I prefer the softer, more subtle texture a bit of filler gives.

It’s a view that some find heretical: how can a sausage that has filler be better than a genuine 100% meat gourmet product. But for me the grand tradition of great British sausages needs a sausage that is balanced and soft to eat.

I love the variety of tastes and textures - heres to variety.

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Your probably right, historically beef has been plentiful in the US where as in many other countries that has not been the case so stretching the protein makes sense. It also goes along with more widespread use of organ protein in many countries.

In the US, most commercially produced sausage is made from fatty scraps with a coarse grind. Some brands may have non protein fillers, I don’t know. I have had high end commercially produced sausage from a friend where the base ingredient was pork butts (no fatty scraps) and it was a fine grind. I actually liked the cheap coarse ground better. May just be what I am used to.

Keeping it simple with burger works best for me. I have had burgers with just about everything but the kitchen sink thrown in the grind and I always come back to my pure beef 80/20 rear of the steer burgers.

We have a product here called “Bubba Burgers” which come in many varieties that are very popular. I think there is some kind of filler in them that retains fat longer during the cooking process because they can sit on the grill for a 1/2 hr and still be juicy where a normal burger would be a hockey puck. They also have a weird texture inside.

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Finally got a chance to test all the advice. Resulted in really good burgers with a great texture and good taste - based on 100% chuck steak. I also found they get a far better char and I am able to keep the centre good and rare so an added bonus (and I assume as I freshly mince the beef the risks are lower).

Thanks for all the help - next task is to mix up the cuts of beef to trial different flavours.

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Late reply Phil.

The risks are not lower for freshly ground meat! Contamination/bacteria
on the surface of your chuck steak will end up in the middle of your rare burger. Uncooked and potentially risky.

At some point, I have to throw caution to the wind and just accept the risk.
What hamburgers don’t kill me will make me stronger.
I think Mark Twain, or maybe Anthony Bourdain said that.

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Next time you are in NYC give the lunch burger at Luger a try.

They take all the trimmings off of the steaks, including a fair bit of dry aged fat, and grind them up.

It is one amazing burger.

A good burger needs to be at least 20% fat to stick together and stay juicy.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold