What is the secret of making a really juicy burger?

  • As the title says; What is the secret of making a really juicy burger?

    While I can't claim that this is an exact duplicate, it really is just generalizing issues already covered by many other burger questions here, in a form that encourages opinion-based answers. A quick browse through the hamburgers tag would have answered this question handily, and in much better detail.

    • Use only good beef, salt and pepper. The beef should be a good fatty cut, with a ratio of 80% meat, 20% fat. Chuck is ideal. Any good butcher should grind it to order for you.

    • You need to keep the ground meat as cold as possible, to prevent the fat melting out of it before you cook it. Do not salt the beef prior to shaping, just use pepper. Shape your burgers, then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours.

    • Generously salt the outside of the burgers about 1 hour before cooking.

    • Get a good pan (preferably a cast iron griddle) really, really, really hot. Brush one side of the burger with vegetable oil, then slap it on the grill. DO NOT PRESS IT WITH THE SPATULA, EVER. You squeeze out all the juice.

    • Turn the burger and cook the other side. Timing will depend on how you like your burger. A good way of testing doneness is to insert a thin metal skewer into the centre of the burger from one side (not the top), leave it for a few seconds, then take it out and touch it carefully to your lip. If it's hot, it's just about done. Or if you have a good digital thermometer, use that.

    I could not disagree more with two of these points. First, brisket is really an awful meat for burgers; it is all sour and no umami ("beefy"). Alton Brown has lots of good advice about cuts of meat. Second, the advice on salting is seriously dangerous; instead of a beautiful melt-in-your-mouth mound o' meat you're going to end up with a tough outer crust. Don't dessicate your burgers - wait until the last possible moment to salt them.

    It's never dessicated for me. The moisture drawn out by the salt is reabsorbed. Try it! Brisket is a mistype, I meant chuck! Edited...

    Moisture is not reabsorbed. This simply does not happen. This is the same type of myth as that which says resting meat will make it reabsorb moisture. Salt without additional moisture (i.e. brine) dessicates or even cures meat. Try leaving it that way for 6 hours and see what happens. The salt may improve the flavour and sometimes an alteration in flavour may alter some people's perception of mouthfeel, but rest assured that salt-curing a hamburger does not make it juicier.

    Well, it's good grounds for an experiment - next time I make burgers, I'll salt one an hour before, one just before I cook it. I suspect the difference is minimal anyway to be honest, but still.

    This article http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/03/the-food-lab-more-tips-for-perfect-steaks.html has a detailed explanation in favor of salting with koshering salt, drawing the moisture out, then letting the meat re-absorb the brine which distributes the salt to the interior of the meat. Also for information about the effects of different combinations of salting and grinding methods, see http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2009/12/the-burger-lab-salting-ground-beef.html.

    One thing I would add is...if you are making your own patties, work the meat as little as possible to form the patties. Your patties should be fluffy and lofty. You want to retain as much moisture as possible. Don't EVER use a hamburger press! I like to use up to a 1/4 inch grinding plate for a more chunky, texture. I have a 3/8 inch plate but haven't tried it yet.

    It is imperative to cook precisely. Overcooking is a recipe for a dry burger. I would recommend using an instant thermometer if possible and removing the beef at 155. If you grind your own beef then you can go much lower for a juicy burger. I'd even suggest 30% fat for a really juicy burger. Depending on how thick the burger is cooking it on high heat for long will also dry it out out the outer edges, so I would reduce the heat after seared.

  • When I'm planning on cooking a ton of burgers for large family gatherings (and I have the time to make the patties myself) I've had good luck with the following.

    For every lb of ground beef I soak 1/2 piece of bread (without crust) in milk until it's saturated (I think this is called a panade). I then take the bread out of the milk and incorporate it with the ground beef. (I think I got this from an Alton Brown episode for something unrelated). It doesn't really alter the flavor, and can keep even slightly overcooked burgers nice and moist.

    I know it's filler, not totally necessary etc. but it does seem to work as a bit of insurance.

    The addition of bread (or breadcrumbs) is fine but then you really have more of a meatloaf than a burger.

    I pretty strongly disagree. A meatloaf has a much larger proportion of bread. A panade is a very good method of retaining moisture in burgers, and is suggested quite frequently by ATK/Cook's Illustrated. I use the method myself. It's also the only decent way I've found to make a passable turkey burger. Do this with ground chuck and you can have a nice moist burger up to and including well done.

    Is that complete or regular pancake mix?

    Is the point here the addition of a starch to hold onto extra liquid? And so I could use any liquid (I’m thinking various flavored liquids)?

  • Most important thing, I've found -- Shape and form your raw chopped meat with very, very gentle hands. By this, I mean do NOT pack the patty like it's a snowball. By doing this, you'll keep more space between the pieces of chopped meat and during the cooking the juices will nestle into these spaces and get reabsorbed into the meat. If you pack the chopped meat too tightly, the juices will have nowhere to go and will simply drip out of the patty, leaving you with a dry, sad burger.

  • Most people use anecdotal evidence, but here's a little tool based on the physics of heat diffusion to differentiate some of the false methods: https://groups.csail.mit.edu/uid/science-of-cooking/

    Flipping often have its benefit compared to fewer flipping if the heat stays the same.

  • Alton Brown puts on a good show and has a great sense of humor, but pointing to his caveats as outright truths is a bit misguided. Most of his experiments on the show usually make assumptions that are often arbitrary or unfounded. First off, there are two main sources of moisture in a burger: the fat that melts as it cooks and the water that is stored in the muscle tissues. You could also point to the possible source of gelatinous connective tissue, but usually the meat used for burgers does not contain much of this.

    Worrying about when to salt your meat is probably wasted energy. The fat won't be affected by the salt. If you think about it, some steaks are dry aged to purposely drive the moisture out so the flavors can be intensified. If you have a 20% fat mix, it will be difficult to dry out even if you salt it an hour before hand. Of course, if you know some old school 'pink is poison' people, you know that sometimes you're just gonna be stuck eating a hockey puck regardless.

    The number of times you flip the burger is usually a silly rule too. If you take it to the extreme and try flipping a burger ever 10-30 seconds, you'll most likely waste a bunch or time and probably miss out on a nice dark sear outside/med rare inside combo. But if you accidentally have to flip the burger one or two extra times, you'll still be fine. Alton's suggestion that flipping a burger often is better than not sounds meaningless without indicating the thickness of the burger, temperature of and distance from the heat source. Also, it depends on how you like your burger. Some people like an even cook throughout while others like a spice rub that sears to a near crunch around a moist, tender red interior. Alton Brown should stick to his entertaining sock puppets and oversized food props and stop indoctrinating people with fake science.

    Squishing the burger down can lead to a good burger too. Have you ever been to Smashburger? It's a relatively new burger chain originating from Colorado (i think). Apparently, they start with a sphere of beef on a hot griddle, and they literally smash the thing into the hot metal with a weighted iron. This cooks the meat quick and ensures efficient heat transfer from the surface to the meat fibers. As long as you cook it at the right temp and get it off the heat right when it is finished cooking, it comes out an amazingly juicy and flavorful burger.

    Basically, there are no magic rules for burgers. All that matters is your idea of the ideal meat texture, temp, and thickness and that whatever method you use, you avoid driving out all the water by evaporation and burning away all of the fat while you cook it.

  • I learn this from my dad, who was a Chinese chef. You have to trap the moisture inside by coating the outer layer with flour. Fry the burger in plenty of oil until a crust on the outside forms. Then turn the heat low and cook slow until the inside is done.

    Wok burgers cooked in oil at low heat I think come out oily. Could be the wives fault there.

  • I love the different opinions as to the "best" way to prepare burgers. My contribution to this discussion is to add ketchup to the mix. This will help with moisture and flavor.

    That will work but now you're heading into meatloaf territory. I suppose you could add bread crumbs as long as you're going that way.

  • I make what I call "Juice Burgers" When you make them right, the juice inside will literally squirt out upon taking a bite, sometimes, if your not careful the juice will hit someone in the face that is sitting next to you. My method goes against almost anything I have ever read or heard anyone speak of concerning the method of making patties. Here you go, first of all, I have never mixed sirloin and chuck burger together, although it sounds logical and I will probably try it myself sometime. I usually use straight sirloin burger for my burgers, with very little fat, mainly because I love the distinctive flavor of sirloin. When I make juice burgers I cook them in a cast iron pan, only. On my electric stove, I get the pan hot first on about 4 or 5 heat setting, depending on the stove I'm using. I wipe a very thin layer of olive oil in the pan before cooking. I read somewhere that handling the patties too much will make them dry and melt the fat, I have never had that problem with my method, in fact, I handle my meat for quite some time. It takes several minutes to make a patty correctly. Here's what I do. I simply work the burgers into a perfectly round shape, making sure there are no cracks on the edges or on either side. Keep slapping and flipping the patty in your hands over and over until you have a very smooth burger with no cracks, making it perfectly round with your index finger while rotating it. Make your patties about 3/4 to an inch thick. Make sure there are no cracks in the meat on the sides or top and bottom, as these cracks will let the juices escape. You will find yourself spending quite awhile forming the patties to make them perfectly round and the same thickness throughout. Also use a lid on your pan, they will cook more evenly and faster. I use a pizza pan for my lid. The real trick is cooking them without cracking the patty open. You may see them start to crack open if you cook them too long, or else there cracking because your patties were not compressed properly. If they are cracking there probably done. On the cooking time, probably 7 to 12 minutes total. And don't forget to put the cheese on them after the first flip, then through on the lid and melt the cheese. Hopefully you will have good luck with my method. Also have some paper towels on hand. Happy Juices!

  • My way of making them. I go with 80/20 on fat. I use 90% lean, 10% ground pork fat. I think they taste better that way. {Beef were I live is imported. Our water Buffalo at 90% lean are the fat ones.} But you could give it a try with 90% lean beef & 10% pork fat. Adding up to 10% bread crumbs does help hold moisture a little. It is a meat stretcher if feeding a large group. You might want to add a little at a cookout were there are many to feed. Salt before cooking or while cooking is personal taste. Ground hot dry peppers I add to the uncooked side. Then cook them. Takes some of the heat out of them. [ I mean hot peppers. Asians love hot peppers added] Again taste. Mix your burgers & make patties with a soft hand. Handle the burger as little as possible. Sear one side flip sear the other side to seal the burger. Move to a hot skillet or flat plate. Or side of grill were heat is lower to cook threw. Do not mash the burger or force moisture out of it. Flip one more time or flip over once while cooking the burger after searing. Burger takes a lot of salt for best taste. Adjust salt to your taste that is used.

  • I recommend using the higher fat content hamburger meat, 25-30% fat is best in my opinion. As for the cooking method, hot coals under the grill and keeping the cooking time to approximately 3 minutes per side gives me the best results.

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