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Making well-done burgers taste good


Fat Guy
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The foodie consensus is that rare and medium-rare are the best ways to enjoy hamburgers. Maybe that's right. But some people, for whatever reason, prefer a burger cooked all the way through.

To me, the main problem with most well-done hamburgers is that they get dried out. So, in my experience, the best way to make a well-done burger taste good is to start with ground beef that has a high fat content. This allows the meat to self-baste as it cooks, keeping it nice and moist. Indeed, I think the dryness problem is typically a result of trying to make rare and well-done burgers from the same ground beef.

Today, for example, I bought two packets of ground beef at the supermarket: the first was labeled 85/15 and the second was labeled 73/27. The 85/15 made excellent medium-rare hamburgers, while the 73/27 kept its moistness well into the well-done zone. I ate a hamburger each way and found both to be worthy. I also made a small medium-rare burger out of the 73/27, just as an experiment. I thought it wasn't as good as the medium-rare burger made with less fatty meat, probably because the internal temperature never got high enough for the fat to develop its flavor -- instead it just tasted fatty.

There are actually some things about a cooked-through hamburger that I like better, especially the fact that it has more time to develop a great exterior crust. (In this scenario, I was grilling, but the same is true in a skillet.) Also, when you're using supermarket pre-pack ground beef, rare and medium-rare burgers have off flavors (you learn this immediately if you grind your own beef and do a comparison), whereas when you cook them through the ones from pre-pack ground beef taste about the same as the ones you make from fresh ground.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's funny that you mention this. I made a recipe for "French Onion Salisbury Steak" last night for dinner. The burgers were browned, removed from the heat as onions cooked, then added back in with beef broth and other stuff. It was served open-faced over cheesy toasted slices of French bread.

It all sounded good to me but I made the mistake of buying 90% lean ground beef for the recipe (it called for ground chuck). I thought the cooking in the liquid would keep things moist.

Ugh. They were awful. Some of the problem was the recipe ... but some was the meat I used.

I'm one that is turned off by burgers with pink insides, unless I've seen the one piece of meat that has been ground for the burgers. I'm interested in any and all ways of keeping well-done burgers moist. The bacon idea sounds like a good one.

My blog: Rah Cha Chow

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I've also seen recipes for "butter burgers," where you form the patty around a pat of cold butter. The butter melts during cooking and internally bastes the meat.

The issue for me is that bacon, cheese, butter and other fatty items you can add to a burger are all going to introduce non-beef flavors. Whereas, if you just use fattier ground beef you get moistness while maintaining a focused beef flavor.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Makes sense to me. But I have trouble enough finding 80/20 ground beef; I've never seen anything with a higher fat content. Do you find it at a regular market, or a butcher?

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I found it at a Food Lion supermarket in a small town in North Carolina. They had 73/27, 80/20, 85/15 and 95/5.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Cook's Illustrated did an article on well-done burgers in their July 2006 issue: they use 80/20 but add a bread/milk paste (like you might do for meatballs).

ETA: I think "panade" is the word I was looking for... kept want to type brandade, but I knew that was wrong! :wacko:

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

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I found it at a Food Lion supermarket in a small town in North Carolina. They had 73/27, 80/20, 85/15 and 95/5.

I can get 80/20 locally (just made a batch tonight, coincidently), but I don't think I've ever seen 73/27.

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I can find 80/20 here but I suspect I can get 75/25 if I ask the butcher and sometimes you can find it packed as chili meat. I use 80/20 with BBQ sauce, worcestershire sauce and a little of the vinager from the pickled sliced jalapeno pepper jar, diced onion & pickled jalapenos. I decided to try putting my favorite toppings in the burger. I cook them to well done on the grill and they are juicy. I've had 90/10 & ground sirloin and they make lousy burgers, you might as well eat a veggie burger at that point.

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I agree with fatguys comment about grinding your own meat. You could try and add some unami, grind a dried morel (or other mushroom) in a coffe grinder untill its a powder, add that to the mix. Parmasan, in moderation works well. I saw a japanese video cip that suggested adding a lil mayonaise to the mix; which I tried and kept the burger very moist. A good tip if your meat hasnt got enough fat.

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I have a friend who hates any pink in her burger ..and I have tried it all ..the butter..the ice cube the ice cube made it watery the butter did nothing to help it but make it taste buttery .....when I mixed stuff like egg and breadcrumbs it tasted like a flat meatball not a burger...

it all was kind of lousy in my opinion ...

so what I do when I cook a burger for her is grind my own beef with the amt of fat I want in it ...(I am very suspect of preground beef so I grind my own for the most part anyway)

make the patty very thin and then cook it high and fast ..no pressing or touching it just flip it when it half way done ..and off the heat on to the bun no rest period at all for this ...

I dont like them at all this way (I am a rare end of medium rare burger fan) but she declared I had dont it and made her the most perfect burger she had ever eaten

make it thin and fatty ... and cook it fast seems to be the trick for a moist well done burger

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

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I think the key is to simply aim for a different style of burger. Why jump through hoops trying to make a decent steakhouse-style thick burger, when that style depends on a luscious medium rare interior for its beefy flavor? Instead, go for a thinner burger in the style of Shake Shack, where the beefy flavor comes from the crisp exterior of maillardized reduced meat juices. Since the burger is relatively thin (and assuming a decently fatty mix), sufficient moisture to make the hamburger sandwich juicy can easily be supplied with things like a slice of cheese, tomato and/or pickle, a schmear of ketchup and/or mayonnaise, etc.

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Not trying to take this off topic, but how do you judge when a medium or medium rare burger is done? I've got steak down fine, I just press it, and look at the juices and I know how far along it's come. I don't find burgers react the same way. Is it just an experience thing? I cook about 5 times the amount of steak as burgers so maybe I just haven't cooked enough?

I always end up destroying my burger to check the insides and then serve everyone else the nice ones. I want a pretty burger too!

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I wonder if there's an uncontrived way to add gelatin.

Sure add some demi...just like lots of people add onion soup mix to burgers and meatloaf

When I want that grandma drippy oniony burger i add about a T spoon of water and the same of onion soup mix to a pound of meat....perhapse just some beef base or powder with a few drops of water would both moisten and bump up the beefyness.

Most of the time I stop at my local scarey little market for some 75/25 when I want a burger

tracey

Edited by rooftop1000 (log)

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Not trying to take this off topic, but how do you judge when a medium or medium rare burger is done?  I've got steak down fine, I just press it, and look at the juices and I know how far along it's come.  I don't find burgers react the same way.  Is it just an experience thing?  I cook about 5 times the amount of steak as burgers so maybe I just haven't cooked enough?

I always end up destroying my burger to check the insides and then serve everyone else the nice ones.  I want a pretty burger too!

I use the Sainted Julia's method, which works on burgers as well as steak:

1. Relax your hand, turn it palm down and poke the meaty area between the base of the thumb and the base of the index finger. That's rare.

2. Turn the hand over and poke the meaty area between the base of the thumb and the wrist. That's medium.

3. Touch the tip of your nose. That's well done.

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Not trying to take this off topic, but how do you judge when a medium or medium rare burger is done?  I've got steak down fine, I just press it, and look at the juices and I know how far along it's come.  I don't find burgers react the same way.  Is it just an experience thing?  I cook about 5 times the amount of steak as burgers so maybe I just haven't cooked enough?

I always end up destroying my burger to check the insides and then serve everyone else the nice ones.  I want a pretty burger too!

I like the Sainted Juilia's method as well (I miss her so much) but my husband uses a thermometer instead

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Sure add some demi...just like lots of people add onion soup mix to burgers and meatloaf

I might be inclined to try some meat glace ... or even more ideally, some reduced stock made from unbrowned bones. Classical demi has a ton of flavor but not a huge amount of gelatin ... I'd be looking for the opposite.

Anyway, I'd think that the right amount of fat (20% or so?) and some added gelatin might make for a juicy well-done burger.

Notes from the underbelly

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I like the Sainted Juilia's method as well (I miss her so much)

Speaking of Julia, didn't she have a hamburger recipe with an egg mixed into the ground beef (along with other things)?

This is how my mom always made them, and they were delicious. We always had them medium rare, but maybe the egg would help keep a well done burger moist.

Notes from the underbelly

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I use the Sainted Julia's method, which works on burgers as well as steak:

1. Relax your hand, turn it palm down and poke the meaty area between the base of the thumb and the base of the index finger.  That's rare.

2. Turn the hand over and poke the meaty area between the base of the thumb and the wrist.  That's medium.

3. Touch the tip of your nose.  That's well done.

Thanks, I can tell a steak by feel, but found it harder on a burger for some reason. I'll pay more attention next time.

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You can also try the old Chinese trick of adding a tiny bit of baking soda to the mixture and marinating overnight. I add a couple teaspoons to my turkey breast meatloaf and the result is significantly juicier.

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