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Grinding beef for hamburgers/Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I published this post almost two years ago, at the end of summer—but a chance email today thanking me for the technique dropped into my email box today and I thought let’s put it up again at the start of grilling season. I’m not always real quick on the uptake, but I eventually get around to the right way, and the right way for perfect (and safe) burgers is to grind your own meat and make sure to include the right amount of fat (I don’t believe that the cut is that critical). (For safe, raw ground beef, see this recent post on steak tartare.)

 

 

 

Yes, I still buy ground beef occasionally but when I want to make a really good burger, I always grind the meat myself. Why go to the trouble? For a half a dozen reasons, all of them important.

First and foremost: taste and texture. When you grind your own, you can regulate the amount of fat you include; your hamburger should contain 20 to 30 percent fat for a juicy succulent burger. I can season the diced meat before grinding it so that the burger is seasoned uniformly throughout. And I can use the large die so that it’s got real bite to it.Beef Ground once blog

Importantly to me, when I grind my own, I know it hasn’t been contaminated by any of the bad bugs that can get into ground meat these days at big processing facilities, or even through carelessness in the meat department of my grocery store. Provided I give the whole muscle a thorough rinse and pat it dry, I can eat the ground meat as tartare or serve it to my kids as rare as they want it.

Big question: Is the cut critical to the final burger? Not as critical as the ratio of beef to fat. Beef is beef and, unlike pork, beef tastes like beef no matter where it comes from on the animal. I know people will disagree. I’m a co-author on two cookbooks coming out this fall, Ad Hoc At Home and Michael Symon’s Live to Cook, and both include hamburger recipes that recommend specific cuts. The chefs involved have tasted various blends and insist there are marked differences. I believe the only critical ratio is the meat to fat, so I buy a nice fatty relatively inexpensive chuck steak, and that gives me a great burger every time. Short ribs will give you a great burger as well. So will sirloin and brisket if you’ve got the right amount of fat.

Hamburger Patties Raw blog The large die is critical to good texture and bite. I want to be able to chew my burger, not have it fall apart in my mouth or be too dense. I send the meat through the grinder twice. Why? To make it sticky. The second grind develops the myosin protein which helps the meat stick together without your having to overwork the meat. I want a light burger, not a heavy one that’s been kneaded and squeezed to death.

One last point: Just as with sausage, it’s very important to keep the meat very cold all the way through shaping, which helps to ensure juiciness and a good texture.

After that, the only thing left to do is cook it right. I think they’re best over very hot coals, a few minutes per side, then removed to the cool side of the grill and covered for a couple minutes more, then rested for about five minutes. Serve with with fresh tomatoes and lettuce, with melted onions, with a fried egg on top. Put some homemade potato chips beside it and a freshly grilled burger you ground yourself is a fantastic, simple, satisfying meal.

 

If you liked this post on making the best burger, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved


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68 Wonderful responses to “How To Make the Best Burgers”

  • Roberto Navarro

    Just a question: How do you feel about Harold McGee’s technique of rapidly flipping the burger for better cooking? I know that it ruins the grill marks unless one is really careful.

    • ruhlman

      yes, been looking to develop or find a great bun recipe. till then though, the bays english muffin makes a great bun. look for it in the refrigerated section at your grocery store

      • Juptus Woochum

        My current favorite bun is a brand of ‘light bake’ dinner rolls that you finish in the oven. Frozen rolls were OK as well.

  • Wilma de Soto

    Cannot one do this with two sharp meat cleavers or big chef knives chopping at the same time?
    No machinery to clean and total control over how fine the meat is minced one wants it or does that not get the true texture?
    I have made my best ground beef, pork and veal that way with the “Armstrong Food Processor.”
    Hope you will demonstrate this method as well.

    • ruhlman

      One can do this with one sharp knife. when the kids were little and preferred burgers over steak, I would get us strips and chop the fat and trim to make burgers for the kids. Just like mincing parsley or garlic.

  • Stuart Reb Donald

    I have actually been able to come up with a healthy burger that has all of the flavor and mouth feel of standard 80/20 beef. By grinding extra lean (96% or higher fat free) sirloin with coconut oil instead of tallow the resulting hamburger is still 80% lean but the 20% fat is from a very healthy source. The best part (cuz I wouldn’t do it otherwise) is it tastes just as good.

    • rockandroller

      I’ve found chuck to be too greasy/fatty and we really are trying to watch fat at least a LITTLE at home, so this is intriguing, but coconut oil just doesn’t sound palatable. Have you tried it w/olive oil? Wonder how that would work. That’s all we use at home – regular for frying and cooking, EV for dressings/marinades/dips.

      • Stuart Reb Donald

        Keep in mind that most fats have little taste of their own. Coconut oil does not taste like coconut. It has the faint taste of real butter. coconut oil is also about as healthy a food as you will ever consume.

    • Theo

      That’s kind of nasty. What’s wrong with the occasional fatty patty once in a while?

  • Tom Saaristo

    “Melted onions” … perfect description, 2nd only to “crispy bacon”. Thanks for the tip on keeping the meat cold when forming. I will definitely make that change!

  • Kevin

    Wilma, You can certainly mince meat with cleavers (or a food processor), but it creates a different texture than grinding. Minced meat is cut while ground meat is sheared. That said, I mince meat in my food processor for years before buying a grinder. The taste is the same.

    Michael, I meant to send you this when you posted your steak tartare recipe: http://www.seriouslygood.kdweeks.com/2006/07/carpaccio.html.

  • Lissa Guillet

    I actually can like a burger that falls apart easily, but it’s a specific type of burger and requires processed cheese which I normally tend to avoid for anything but a specific type of burger that I occasionally crave and as part of a couple of cheese in a delicious grilled cheese. There is just something about a really high fat barely contained burger with melty processed cheese that I love even if I can’t cook it on a grill.

  • Tyler

    I’ve been grinding my beef for burgers for about a year. You can not beat it. The texture alone, no matter the cut, is worth it. Not dense at all. Seriouseats.com did a test on the flipping of burgers, they determined it didn’t really matter how many times you flipped as long as you didn’t overcook. I’m with Lissa, I like a little American cheese on my burger as well served on a squishy potato bun.

  • Paul C

    If I don’t feel the cut of meat I have is fatty enough I’ll add cubes of bacon to the meat before grinding. Also I like to add some umami rich ingredients like powdered dried shitakes and kumbu into the meat.

  • former butcher

    When I grind my own burger these days I use boneless chuck, partly because the fat is already mixed in through the muscle. I like to think it makes the best tasting burger, since all meat men will tell you that. But,, back in the day, we made burger in large batches using semi-thawed New Zealand grass fed beef, local boneless beef, and fat trimmings from Western grain fed beef. We aimed for a consistent 80/20 lean to fat percentage. It was VERY good hamburger.
    Another rant coming on : USDA has gone completely mad in their approach to ground beef. Right after issuing a zero tolerance policy for fecal and other contamination, mandating lactic acid rinse to kill bacteria, and outlawing the slaughter of “downer” cows for human food, they allow a processor to take these contaminated trimmings and treat them with ammonia and use it as an additive in ground beef without declaring it on the label! And despite the fact that it received some publicity, it has gone largely unnoticed by the general public, It seems the big meat packers still call the shots when it comes to food safety. Grind your own burger!

  • CL

    Is there a particular die setting we should ask butchers to use when asking them to grind meat at the market? I’d imagine they have quite the range.

    Also, I’m not following your reasoning for a second grind; “develops the myosin protein…”(?) Sounds like a hand-me-down from the gluten world. Can you elaborate or perhaps suggest references? As a biochemist, things like this can get to me!

    • Mantonat

      Grinding twice releases more actin and myocin from the muscle cells, which forms actomyocin and makes the ground meat stickier.

    • ruhlman

      1/4 inch is what i like, and i don’t know the chemistry but myosin when worked somehow becomes tacky, sticky, so it holds together. try paddling meat really hard and it becomes very sticky.

  • Culinary Goddess

    I have been grinding my own hamburgers on and off for 10 years or so, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’m still confused as to what combination of beef to use. I’ve been going for half chuck and half top round, sirloin, etc. But could you elaborate on what you would recommend. Also, I’ve been adding a mash of milk and bread (panade?) which gives the burgers a nice texture. Any thoughts on that?

    • Mantonat

      I’m not a fan of adding any bread, milk, or eggs to ground beef for burgers. Meatballs, sure, but I think the texture comes out strange in a burger.

    • ruhlman

      never thought of it. works great for meat loaf. would highly recommend for those who cook their burgers med well!

  • Marc

    Culinary Goddess
    IAlso, I’ve been adding a mash of milk and bread (panade?) which gives the burgers a nice texture. Any thoughts on that?

    Meat-loaf (or meat balls). If you enjoy your results, that’s great, but to me that isn’t a hamburger. My favorite cut is to get a whole “packer” brisket thats composed of both the point and the flat. The point is quite fatty and using a combination it’s easy to to obtain your desired ratio.

  • Ali

    When you say to “rinse” the meat, does that simply mean holding it under a stream of water? You don’t mean that we should use soap on the meat, correct?

      • Kristine

        I assume you mean the electric grinder – the MC5 Household Meat Grinder? It’s been on my “need to get” list for awhile now.

  • Jesse Coleman

    I’ve read in several food blogs that keeping a looser texture to the burger (not smushing the patties too much when making them, and just barely shaping them, and lifting them onto the heat) is important to the overall juicyness. Do you find this is true?

  • Anne Carey

    To Roberto– the Harold McGee mehod has a strong theoretical basis in the heat flow calculations McGee did. I use the McGee method of turn every minute (or less) for burgers, steaks, and lamb chops. As McGee stated in his publication on this, any longer time results in the heat on the just turned side going into heating up the meat, not cooking it. You can get uniformly rare, medium rare or medium meat by this method. It is not impractical but it does require all one’s attention. I would not do burgers any other way. If you have a hot enough fire and pre-heat the grill Long enough you can have burgers with grill marks (burgers with “lines” as we called them as children).

  • Natalie Sztern

    what is beautiful about living in Montreal is that Mr. Steerburger, an institution for at least 40 years, always had a secret. They sell their in-house burgers by the dozen, frozen. It’s actually a secret that everyone knows and summer here is not summer without buying Mr. Steerburer’s burgers for take home freezers. We have a lot of food related ‘native to Montreal’ traditions that if you weren’t brought up or not living here for a few years you would never get to know….Bagels are not our only ‘thing’….

  • Casey

    What timing! Was actually just taking photos of my “Scrappler” burger(Can’t think of a funner name).
    It involves not forming patties.. Just grind and let the meat fall into a natural circular patern on top of plastic wrap then season and turn plastic out onto smokin hot griddle. top with cheese immediately while letting a decent amount of cheese hit the pan directly. cover and cook for 1.5 minutes. Flip over onto bun. By not flipping it gets a nice crunch, that along with the crisped cheese that hit the pan makes a nice mouthfeel with crumbly rare meat

  • Maureen

    I’ve used a food processor a few time rather than dash to the butcher shop but I’ve not ground my burgers in the past. After reading the comment from former butcher, it’s certainly time to start. The photo on this post is amazing.

  • Abra

    We’ve been living most of the time in France for the past few years, where they grind their beef excruciatingly lean. I finally figured out to ask the butcher to grind beef fat in with the meat so that it was 25% by weight fat. They’re a bit horrified to see “all that fat” in there, but they do it anyway and the burgers taste really American. Of course I have to make my own buns there, but it’s a small price to pay for a great burger.

    • Mantonat

      I’ve tried it both ways and I think you definitely have to salt the ground beef a little before mixing and forming the patties (or seasoning the whole muscle before grinding, as Ruhlman mentioned). Without a little seasoning in the interior, even the best beef will taste a little bland. To me, it’s the same as making a salad. You wouldn’t just add dressing to the leaves on top of the salad; you’d want the dressing on all of it.

      • Kevin

        Mantonat
        To me, it’s the same as making a salad. You wouldn’t just add dressing to the leaves on top of the salad; you’d want the dressing on all of it.

        Its not a perfect metaphor though. What if dressing full wilted the lettuce before you had a chance to eat it, as salt does to the interior of a burger? Its a tradeoff between texture and flavor, and since you have to bite through the exterior of a burger before eating the interior (as opposed to eating the top of a salad before eating the lower leaves), I’d rather compensate by salting the exterior of the burger just before cooking it rather than sacrificing the integrity of the meat.

        • Mantonat

          I salt, mix, and form the patties right before I put them on the grill. Then I add a little extra salt as they are grilling. That way the meat doesn’t sit around with salt in or on it. Same as with a salad, you dress it right before you eat it. I also believe that the best burgers are a minimum of 5oz, up to a half pound. Anything smaller is too difficult to cook properly and just isn’t satisfying to eat. With a nice thick half pound burger, you can salt the crap out of the surface, but the interior will remain unseasoned if you don’t mix some in first.

          • Mantonat

            Additionally, the article you linked does not state how far ahead of cooking the meat was salted in the 2nd and 3rd burgers. My burgers always look like the 1st burger and the texture is similar to what he describes as what a good burger should be even though I mix the salt in. So it’s not a trade-off of texture vs. flavor. You can have both.

  • robert

    Thanks Michael for a great post! I just recently did a blended grind of 50% chuck steak, 25% brisket and 25% hanger steak to great results. I acheived a really nice umami by adding a bit of fish sauce and sugar to the mixture before forming into patties. My question is how do you know what percentage fat you have? I was aiming for a ratio of 80/20 like you suggest but didn’t know how to estimate what 20% fat would be or is it just an eyeball test? Thanks again!

  • S. Woody

    For those occasions that anyone buys their ground beef, instead of grinding their own, I suggest buying the beef that has been freshly ground in the market or shop, not the pre-packaged stuff, from people you have reason to trust. I simply cannot understand why we have customers at the supermarket that insist on buying Bubba’s, or any other brand, of pre-ground and pre-packaged meat. Even the plastic tubs in the meat department with the heat-sealed plastic on top, instead of shrink-wrapped with the plastic going all around the package, get my neck hairs shivering.

    As it happens, when our market grinds the meat, it almost always comes at the 80/20 ratio. Fortuitious, that.

  • Pat Barnes

    I like to grinf my own meat for meatloaves that I cook on the Weber Kettle. Last batch I used chuck roast and the large die for the Kitchen-Aid. They were tasty but fell apart whenI tried to slice them. My sister-in-law uses the small die and grinds twice for meat loaf. What do you think? Thnaks.

  • Jkdrummer

    Try using a hot hot iron skillet next time, you get the sear and the crispy char — nothing quite like a burger cooked in its own fat too!

  • Chad

    I’ll sometimes put some braised short rib in the center of the burger but my favorite is putting a 2x2x1/2 inch piece of pate in the middle of ground buffalo (since the buffalo is so lean). Basically it seasons the meat and it’s pate after all. Foie would be good too but haven’t been able to justify that yet…

  • Robyn Medlin

    thanks again for mentioning me on your site. :) I’ve been toying with the idea of buying the meat grinding attachment for my kitchen aid for a while now! Cheers!

  • Chad

    try braised short ribs stuffed in middle or better for me is a pate in the middle of buffalo – season and gives the lena buffalo some fat.

  • allen

    Macrina bread in Seattle has a great ciabatta bun that is airy and holds lots of homemade mayo, foie gras, apple wood smoked bacon for a pimped up burger, or my fav: cheap mustard, green chiles and cheap american cheese.

  • Kevin

    I firmly believe in grinding your own meat to ensure quality and lessen the prospect of contamination. Interesting points that I learned from your piece: that beef is beef no matter what part it comes from and to use a large die cut and run it through twice. Thank you for a great article.

  • Anna

    We have been making burgers by grinding our own meat for some time as well. We usually use shortribs and they come out awesome. Folks always rave about them but then when we explain our secret they say it’s “too much trouble” for them to do themselves. I never know what to say to that–beyond it not being very much work at all, you also can’t get something for nothing!

    Thanks so much for the tips to grind twice and pay more attention to the meat/fat ratio, though! The thing I love most about grinding one’s own meat is having the confidence to be able to grill it to medium-rare, which I would be unlikely to do with pre-ground grocery store meat. So good.

  • Peter

    Can you get a decent grind using the steel S-shaped blade in a Cuisinart (pulsing, of course)?

    • Marc

      You can get a nice “chop” not the same as a grind but still quite good!
      Be sure to cut the meat into 1 to 2 inch cubes and chill well. Usually into the freezer for a bit. You want then as cold as possible but still pliable. Pulse, stir down if need be, repeat.

  • Abra

    Hey, that double grinding is the cat’s meow. The patties stick together with practically no pressure at all – I love it!

  • DiggingDogFarm

    I don’t know how I missed this post back in June, but anyway…..
    What’s more important for flavor than the ‘cut’ used or the meat to fat ratio is the animal it comes from……old Jersey cow is the best for flavor……with all that ‘yellow’ fat that was so ‘damned’ when Angus and other beef breeds began to be so seriously promoted years ago…..it’s that yellow fat that’s so high in the good stuff (CLA and such) being promoted today.

    And so it goes……

    ~Martin

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