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Making well-done burgers taste good

Fat Guy

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When I was in Ontario last year I discovered that there's a provincial law prohibiting anything but well-done burgers. Seems you have to sign a waiver form if you want them medium to rare. God, that burger sucked. But I digress.

I don't follow the Julia Child thinking on burgers, I follow the Paul Newman creed. It works even with well-done burgers. Use a fatty chuck blend. Form the patties lightly, so that the wriggly pattern stays intact. Salt and pepper and the genius thing: rub a little Worcestershire sauce with your fingertip over the surfaces. It makes for taste.

And don't cook them too fast.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


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I like my burgers well done. I use beef with 15% or 20% fat content, and I don't grind my own beef.

The only thing that I add to the beef is salt, pepper and some cold water. Not sure exactly how much water, I just eyeball it. This works. The burgers stay moist.

As an aside, as someone who likes their burgers well done, I don't mind when they are bit dry. Call me crazy, but I'd rather have them on the dry side than have any pink in the center.

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On a slightly different tack, I use 50/50 when I make my burger meat, but I use Woodpigeon and belly pork. AFAIK in the uk we don`t have the option that you guys do for differing percentages.

I`ll have to give it a try next time I shoot some venison though, thanks for the ideas !!

"It's true I crept the boards in my youth, but I never had it in my blood, and that's what so essential isn't it? The theatrical zeal in the veins. Alas, I have little more than vintage wine and memories." - Montague Withnail.

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There was something the SF Chronicle talked about a few years ago: adding a tablespoon of pureed prunes to each pound of meat. I've tried it, using prune baby food, and it actually works quite well to keep the meat juicy. There's not prune taste either.

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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.

Then try the method for traditional Italian-style meat loaf and add crushed crackers or fresh bread crumbs. The fat squeezed out of the protein gets absorbed by the carbs and keeps it juicy when it gets cool enough to eat. My meat loaf (with bacon and crackers added, by the way) is the absolute juiciest.


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It simply can't be done. If the fat content is high, you end up with a greasy puddle of meat, if low, ala ground round, its dry.

I grind my own choice chuck roasts, removing most of the inter-musculature fat which results in about a 10% fat product by my estimation. Since I used large cuts, I can cook it rare and don't worry about the contamination that frequently occurs in a factory ground product.

I also slip a nice Wisconsin pat of butter into the center of the burger(unsalted) before cooking and the result is perfect!-Dick

Edited by budrichard (log)
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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.

This is a really good point. This is the type of burger that Steak 'n' Shake does too. It is thin, med-well to well, higher in fat, very nicely "maillardized" (if you allow me the honor of borrowing the term), and therefore flavorful, and in my mind, quite juicy. In fact, these are probably the best well-done burgers that I have ever had, though I still prefer something closer to medium.

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I am a burger purist. nothing goes inside the meat apart from salt, 1% of the weight of meat. Form the putty rub with sunflower oil (to withstand high heat) and heat your pan until it is scorching hot. place putty on pan and flip every 20-30 secs. For puttys of 1.5-2cm thickness that I usuall do, it should take about 6-7 mins until core temperature reaches 65-67C. USE A PROBE!

remove and cover with tinfoil for 5mins, they will reach 70C in the meantime. sorry but anyting above 70C is impossible to be kept juicy, unless it has a lot of fat in it... I cannot eat more that 15% fat burgers.

the above method is the one the Heston recommends in his Perfection series for burgers, but I have been doing it for years (my greek granny was always doing that with meats she cooked! ). My girfriend hates pink meat, but she loves my burgers, although welldone they are very juicy. Even her hot headed Serbian dad conceeded!

one addition: I usually have some lard or basting fat in the freezer. I melt it and then brush it on the cooked burger. I then put the burger in the extremely hot pan for 15sec each side (I use a la crouchete griddle pan) the lard has a low cooking point, and generate huge amounts of smoke, which however gives the burger an amazing smokey charcoal taste.

Edited by RedRum (log)
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I used some 50/50 ground beef for burgers last week, well done and very juicy. I like putting minced union and some garlic in mine. Same for meatballs.

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  • 9 months later...

Here's a thought. Hypothetical, and I don't plan to test it, because I won't pander to the well-done crowd!

It's routine to cook meat well-done and have it retain at least the impression of juiciness. It's the result of braising, and the succulence has less to do with fat and the braising liquid than many people assume. Most of it is the result of collagen breaking down into gelatin.

Interestingly, the cuts that make up the bulk of most burger blends are braising cuts: chuck, brisket, etc... they're packed with collagen, which makes the meat tough when cooked like a steak, succulent when cooked like a braise.

The two elements that break down collagen are temperature and time. Hamburger cooking methods tend to overdo it on temperature (excising more fat and moisture than necessary) and underdo it on time (so the collagen doesn't have much chance to break down).

We don't suffer toughness from burgers, because the meat grinder is the mother of all tenderizerrs, But we don't get the benefits of all that collagen, either.

I bet you could make a killer well done burger, by using the usual braising cuts (with no more than 15% or so fat), and slow cooking. You could do them sous vide, or butter poach them Keller style, at 180 degrees or so. You could hold them at 160 indefinitely. Then, right before serving, throw some sear on them with a torch, a salamander, or a blazing hot grill.

It's hard to imagine that a burger done like this wouldn't be insanely juicy. And if the meat were brought up to temperature slowly enough, it would actually stay pink ... which would confuse the diners to no end.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Well, up here (Canada), no one serves burgers that aren't well-done. Even in the fine dining restaurants I worked in, we'd sometimes serve burgers for the lunch crowd (even business executives and millionaires like burgers...), and they were always well-done.

Anyhow, tricks for making well-done burgers taste good.

- lots of fat - whether fatty beef, salt pork/bacon or butter added to the patty

- cooked at low-medium heat, preferably in a pan

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Been working on it. Have some progress, but need more work.


Mostly I just want the burgers to taste good, and for that, and moisture, so far I am depending on sauce, i.e., a pan sauce.

I've wanted, say, Ground Beef Steak, Pan Fried, with Onions, Mushrooms, and Red Wine Sauce.

Onions I.

For the onions, I started with 1 1/2 large (raw weight per onion of about 14 ounces) yellow, globe onions. Regarding the root end as the south pole, for each onion, I passed knife through a line of longitude to cut onion in half. Then I did the same for each half resulting in onion quarters and peeled the quarters (which are easy to peel). I sliced each quarter with the plane of the knife perpendicular to the line between the two poles and got maybe six slices per quarter. The slices quickly fall apart due to the onion layers.

I cooked these with 1/3 C virgin olive oil in a Farberware classic stainless steel skillet about 11" in diameter to get the onions soft with some browning and some fond on the skillet.

Why the stainless steel skillet? Because it does well forming a fond, better than, say, Teflon.

Why quarter the onions instead of making 'rings'? Because rings take up too much space in the pan to sweat, soften, and brown effectively.

Onions II.

These onions are okay for the dish, but I now am investigating caramelized onions, that is, cooked with a LOT of Malliard browning. For this, as I type this, I have some onions with a LOT of, presumably, Malliard browning in a pot in the kitchen. I am starting with, for the first time, the eG suggestion of low temperature cooking, overnight, in a crock-pot.

What I am doing: Started with six large (again, raw weight about 14 ounces per onion) yellow globe onions. Regarding the root end as the south pole, I cut at the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle and discarded the pole caps. I peeled the rest and sliced it, with blade of knife perpendicular to the line between the poles, into four slices. So, I got thick disks of nested onion 'rings'.

Put all the slices into my thermostatically controlled, Teflon coated, deep fat fryer at about 185 F with 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t baking soda, and maybe 1/3 C of virgin olive oil. No, I did not deep fry the onions -- the deep fat fryer was clean and without deep frying fat, and I just drafted the deep fat fryer as a substitute for a crock-pot. For the temperature, I just guessed with the dial on the thermostat and later measured the actual temperature of the pot contents with a thermometer.

Why mention Teflon? Because it does not form a fond -- I am not getting the browning from a fond.

I put on the cover and let the onions cook all night. Soon they started to release water and then became nearly covered in their own water. The house was full of onion aromas, not fully pleasant. Maybe next time I will put the pot in the garage! The onions started to become brown after about 2 hours. Now they are very brown, and I have the lid off and am letting the water slowly evaporate. All this at a temperature between 185 F and 212 F: The thermostat turns the heating element on (its full power) when the temperature, as measured at the thermostat, gets too low and turns the power off when the temperature gets too high. So, the temperature in the pot keeps swinging between about 185 F and 212 F.

Breaking News Update: I just removed the onions from the pot, while there was still a little liquid in the bottom of the pot. Got about 2 C of very dark, wet onions.

Malliard browning or just oxidation? I noticed that the onion slice sides exposed to the air were nearly black while the sides not exposed to air were just a dark tan. So, apparently much of the browning needed air and not just the sugar and protein of the Malliard reaction. Hmm .... I do not have my chromatography and molecular spectroscopy equipment up and running yet!

From the 5 pounds or so of onion slices, I got about 1 pound of caramelized onions.

I will try these onions with the intended Ground Beef Steak, Pan Fried, with Onions, Mushrooms, and Red Wine Sauce.


For the meat, I start with 80% lean ground beef and, by hand, form pieces where each piece weighs about 1 pound and is a flat oval, about 5" by 3.5". So, each piece is maybe 1" thick. I wrap each piece in waxed paper and freeze in freezer bags.

To thaw one piece, I unwrap it and place it one a microwave proof plate and warm in microwave at 10% power for 20 minutes. Works well.

Base of Sauce.

To start the sauce, I add a 10 1/2 ounce can of famous brand "condensed soup" Beef Consomme (directly from the can without adding water) to a 2 quart Farberware classic pot along with the same can full of drinkable Italian red Chianti wine and liquid from a can of sliced, button mushrooms, drained weight 6 ounces. I reduce SLOWLY, more than an hour, to maybe 3/4 C. Slow reduction is necessary or will get a lot of nearly solid gelatin, etc. on the sides of the pot.

Cooking the Meat.

To cook the meat, I use the Farberware skillet described above. So far in the trials that skillet just cooked onions in 1/3 C virgin olive oil that left a fond and had the onions removed but the oil remaining. When I try the caramelized onions, there will be no fond or maybe only a little if I reheat the onions in the skillet.

I cook the meat at medium-low heat, with pepper, to get a nice crust on each side, release some meat juices to develop a fond, and have the meat puff some from internal steam.

Making the Sauce.

I remove the meat, further develop the fond, deglaze the skillet with the wine-consomme reduction, over high heat possibly reduce some more, add 3/4 C whipping cream, add the mushrooms, add salt and pepper as necessary, and transfer the sauce to its own container for serving.


The onions go over the meat, and that combination with the sauce gets served.

When I use the caramelized onions, the onion volume will be much less, and I will likely add the onions (maybe 1/2 C) to the sauce to heat through.


Before I tried the 3/4 C of whipping cream in the sauce I tried butter -- so far I like the cream better.

So far it's promising but needs work.

In the future, I may try adding some vinegar and maybe also some black current jelly to the sauce.

Other suggestions????? Comments requested!!!!

But there is enough sauce, about 275 ml, so that the pieces of meat, covered with the sauce, are not dry.

Edited by project (log)

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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