“Difference between a great one and an OK one”
Hamburgers appear to “reign supreme” when it comes to outdoor cooking. We may eat 10 million hotdogs per year but the average American eats 150 hamburgers per year or a total of 50 billion per year. Everybody cooks them and therefore there doesn’t seem to be much forethought as to what they’re comprised of or how they are cooked.
We tell customers that when it comes to brisket, butts, ribs etc. half the battle of getting good results is the quality of the meat. Low quality meat low quality results. It is the same with hamburger meat.
To understand the quality issue is to understand what you are buying. There is hamburger meat and there is ground beef. The USDA allows processors of hamburger meat to add fat. Fat is not allowed to be added to ground beef. With that being said, you may elect to purchase the ground beef over the hamburger meat but remember you still need a certain amount of fat to make a good burger.
We recommend the following, NEVER purchase either one! With either one you never know what part of the cow you are buying, how old it was, was the meat frozen etc. Remember, the USDA does not inspect meat unless it travels over State lines. Some States have State inspectors but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee high quality meat. You can be getting anything from the head to the a-s. Most butchers have scruples and will grind up better parts of the cow than a processor but again some can take their scraps mix in some fat and you have hamburger meat.
How do you avoid this problem and buy high quality hamburger meat or ground beef? First you buy the meat and have it ground. Doing so insures you have control of purchasing high quality meat and the cuts that you prefer. You determine the amount of fat content that you prefer by selecting a cut with a lot of fat or not so much.
Which cuts should you buy? There are several choices based on taste and price. The main cuts are chuck roast, short ribs, brisket, sirloin and skirt steak. The most flavorful and economical are chuck and short ribs with short rib being a little more expensive. We prefer chuck. So, purchase your chuck roast and while at the supermarket ask the butcher if he would be willing to grind it up for you. You’ll have to tell him the fat content you would like for example 15% or 20%.
The best burger we found are those where the chuck is coarsely ground, only ground once and has no less than 20% fat content. The coarse grind allows for more places for the juices to collect during cooking and has much better texture. The 20% fat content adds great flavor and a lot of moisture to the burger.
When you make the patties don’t over form them. Keep the meat packed just enough to hold the burger together but loose enough so the juices can collect. Cook to your desired temperature. Medium rare is 135 degrees and well done 165 degrees. It is important to know that a burger whose internal temperature is cooked below 160 degrees runs the risk of having e-coli. Now does this happen frequently, no, but people do die each year from hamburger meat that has become contaminated. If that’s the case, why don’t we eat our steaks well done? Because if e-coli is present it is only present on the surface of the steak. When you throw the steak on the grill the surface heats quite rapidly to 160 killing any e-coli that may be present. The difference with ground beef or hamburger meat is that during the grinding process the e-coli gets mixed in with the meat and is spread throughout the entire patty including the center. If you don’t cook the center to 160 you can be exposed to active e-coli. Most people prefer to have their burger cooked below 160 degrees internal temperature to avoid drying the burger out to the tenderness of a hockey puck. If you still want a well done burger then increase the fat content. Some will increase it up to 30%.
So, take control and “up” your burger cooking by purchasing good quality meat instead of leaving it up to the processors. You and your guests will notice a big difference in the taste, juiciness and texture.