The king of the cookout classics, a fantastic homemade burger can turn a good barbecue into a great one.
As you might expect, the quality of something as simple as a burger patty depends entirely on the meat that goes into it, so we’ll be breaking down what types of meat work best in burgers, and why grinding your own beef works best.
How to choose the right meat for your burger patty
Beef tends to be the most common choice of meat for burger patties, but don’t feel you should feel restricted to it.
Pork, chicken, turkey, and even more exotic meats like bison and venison are all fair game (if you’ll excuse the pun). You can also mix and match meats to make your signature burger mix.
Rather than concentrate on the type of meat, we’ll be looking at three factors that can be applied to any kind of meat you might want to use, why you should use freshly ground meat, the fat percentage, and how course your grind should be.
Why should you use freshly ground meat?
There are a couple of reasons why freshly ground meat is the best way to go with your burgers.
Firstly, as we’ll discuss down below, there is a magic ratio of fat to lean meat when it comes to making burgers that both taste great and hold together well. Grinding your own meat makes it much easier to hit the perfect fat percentage than trying to use store bought ground meat.
You also have greater control over exactly what goes into your ground meat and can avoid the beef “components”, such as the esophagus, diaphragm, or cheek of the animal, that are often a part of store-bought minced beef.
Grinding your own meat is also cheaper. Pound for pound, ground meat is often more expensive than cheaper whole cuts you grind up yourself.
Finally, grinding your own meat allows you to control exactly what goes into your burger. You can combine meats, use a different coarseness of grinds, and simply experiment with your burger mix until you find the perfect recipe for you.
If you’re only using beef, you know exactly what went into your burger, and you can also cook it rare or medium-rare, which, much like steak, is the best way to eat it.
What is the optimum fat percentage for burger beef?
A great burger should be juicy, full of flavor, and yet hold together well enough that it doesn’t disintegrate when you pick it up.
One of the ways you can control the texture of your burger is to control the fat content of your ground meat.
The optimal level of fat in your mix is about 15 to 20 percent. This is enough fat that you’ll get good flavor from the meat, and the burger won’t dry out when it’s being cooked.
This golden ratio of between 15 to 20 percent means that, if you are using a single cut of meat for your mince, some cuts aren’t particularly suitable.
You might be tempted to use the best beef sirloin for your burgers, but it tends to be a little too lean, and your burgers will be dry.
The same applies to fatty steaks like a ribeye. They might be packed full of flavor, but the extra fat will cause the burger to fall apart when it’s being cooked, or even worse, in your hands.
The good news is that you can pair fattier meats like pork, with leaner cuts of beef or venison to get both flavor and the texture you want.
How coarsely should you grind your burger?
Generally, ground meat sold in supermarkets tends to be coarsely ground. However, after doing some delicious sounding testing in their burger lab, J. Kenji López and the team of food wizards over at Serious Eats discovered that a coarse grind isn’t ideal for grilled burgers.
The coarsely ground burgers cooked over the grill lost so much of their fat content that they became dry and dense, while a finer grind resulted in the fat emulsifying into the lean meat more thoroughly.
These results were flipped on their head, however, when it came to cooking burgers in a pan, where the pan-seared, coarsely ground burgers retained more of their fatty moisture.
So, after a little experimentation, it seems that a coarser grind works better for burgers you plan to pan fry, while a finer grind stops grilled burgers from drying out.
Which cuts of beef should I grind up for burgers?
When it comes to beef burgers, humble beef chuck comes into its own. This is because, unlike the lean sirloin or the fatty short ribs, the chuck has that magic 15 to 20 percent fat ratio.
That golden ratio of fat to lean meat is going to mean your burgers keep that great beefy taste, but won’t fall apart as soon as you bite into them.
You use cuts like the sirloin or the rib cuts, but you’ll need to add more fat or lean meat to try and achieve that perfect 80/20 mix.
The best cuts of beef for burgers:
- Chuck steak – Beautifully marbled and flavorsome with the ideal lean to fat ratio, chuck steak is a reliable choice for burgers.
- Brisket – Beautiful beef flavor and super high fat content, you’ll get the best results mixing with a lean cut.
- Boneless short rib – Excellent flavor and fat content, a favorite over at amazingribs.com
- Sirloin & Tri-tip – Good flavor by on the lean side so you’ll need to mix one of the higher fat cuts
This is one of those cases where experimenting to find out what you like is the best option. Some people like higher fat, while others prefer a lean burger.
Buying and storing ground beef (if you can’t grind your own)
While grinding your own meat might be the best choice, for some, it’s just not a practical choice.
If you don’t have the room, or the time, to grind your own beef, there are a few ways you can make sure that the meat going into your burgers is the best possible choice.
Buying at the Supermarket
If your store has a butcher’s counter, you could always ask them to grind the beef for you. That way, you can be 100% sure of what is going into your ground meat.
Not every supermarket is set up to grind meat, however, so the next step is making sure you get store trim instead of case-ready overwrap trays.
Store trim is meat that has been ground and wrapped in the store. Generally, store trim ground meat has the plastic wrap in contact with the meat and is marked as “ground in-store” or “freshly ground” and has the date which it was ground on it.
Case-ready overwrap trays are composed of meat that is ground at large packaging facilities and shipped to store, meaning you don’t know how old it is or what beef components it contains.
Case-ready overwrap trays usually have a gap between the plastic wrap and the meat to allow a nitrogen and carbon dioxide mix to be pumped in that turns the meat bright red and makes it appear fresh.
If you can’t find good quality ground beef at your supermarket, the next step is to venture online.
There are a multitude of great online butchers who can provide you with excellent quality ground meat, but two of our favorites are:
Snake River Farms produces some excellent beef, and their restaurant-quality American Wagyu ground beef is absolutely fantastic. This pack is made with burgers in mind and comes in convenient pre-measured, one-pound packages.
The mixture of high-quality beef and the extra marbling that Wagyu is famous for means you can make some truly excellent burgers from this meat.
Porter Road understands that it’s the fat ratio and the quality of the beef that makes a burger genuinely delicious.
Their signature dry-aging process enhances the flavor of their hormone-free
no-antibiotics, pasture-raised beef, and their fat to lean ratio are perfect for turning this specialty ground beef into some spectacular burgers.
Wrapping it all up
If you’re planning on making burgers, grinding your own meat is the way to go. Just don’t forget the magic 80/20 fat ratio, and you’ll have the basic building blocks of some spectacular burgers.
If you don’t have the space to grind your own beef, don’t worry. If you follow our advice for buying ground beef at the supermarket or getting quality beef online, you’ll still be able to source some excellent ground beef.
If you’ve got the perfect mix of meats for an excellent burger, or some simple meat grinding tips that have worked wonders for you, we’d love it if you’d let us know in the comments below.