We are a nation of burgerphiles. Even vegetarians love burgers. But I am not here to talk about bean burgers– I want to talk meat. (I truly have nothing against meatless burgers. Here’s one i created.)
Now that the USDA has mandated meat packages carry the same nutritional label as other foods, it is easier to choose which ground beef or poultry to use when you want to make a healthful burger.
Of course, a healthful burger is no good if you don’t want to eat it, so it helps to also know what makes a burger moist and tasty. Let’s start by looking at the choices. These calorie and fat numbers are for a 3 ounce cooked burger (about 4 ounces of raw meat). To put it another way, this is what happens if you buy a pound of meat and make it into four burgers.
|Lean Ground Turkey(93%)||Ground Turkey
|Ground Bison||Lean Ground Beef
Just because ground turkey breast has the healthiest looking numbers doesn’t mean it is the best choice. In order to make a palatable burger out of uber-lean breast meat, you’ll want to add moisture, in the form of fat, back in. Eggs and cheese will make that lean burger taste and feel better. But I figure if you need to add a lot of fat back in, you might as well start with a little from the meat.
Lean ground turkey has just enough fat in it to make a more tender burger. I often add 1 egg or some light mayonnaise to make it a more moist. And because turkey has such a neutral (read: bland) flavor, it benefits from lots of seasoning. I love the flavors in this Moroccan Turkey Burger. It is important to remember that ground poultry must be cooked to 165F: use an instant read meat thermometer to test for doneness. (Color is not a good indication, and undercooked poultry can have devastating health effects). Insert the wand horizontally until the tip is in the center of the burger.
While cheese melting down the top of a burger makes it look great, lean beef also gets a texture boost when the cheese is crumbled through out—or stuffed in the center of the burger, as is the case with the Tex-Mex Pepperjack-Stuffed Burger in the photo above. Lean ground beef has just one more gram of saturated fat per serving than lean ground turkey– and also a good bit more flavor. I am not disparaging turkey burgers– some of my best dinners are turkey burgers. It just depends whether I want a neutral foundation to gussy up with my own flavors, or I want to start with a meaty-tasting base.
Grass fed ground bison is now available at many supermarkets, and can also easily be ordered online (even Amazon offers it from several sources). Bison is more assertively savory, but as you see from the chart above it is relatively lean and low in saturated fat. I don’t think it makes a particularly juicy burger, but I love the meaty flavor. Here’s a recipe I did that Epicurious named as their recipe of the day last fall for a Ranch Bison Burger.
How safe is a medium rare burger?
We’ve been hearing for a long time that we shouldn’t eat our beef burgers rare or medium rare (medium rare is about 140F). The USDA recommends beef burgers be cooked to 160F. At 160F, though, the burger won’t be very juicy– and as it dries it also loses flavor.
According to my friend Dr. Donald Schaffner, a microbiologist at Rutgers Cook College for Food Science and a big deal when it comes to all matters of food safety, about 1 in every 60-65 beef burgers contains a pathogenic e.coli cell. Some scientists estimate a healthy adult has about a 3% chance of getting sick from one such cell. Dr. Schaffner will only eat burgers cooked to 160F, while I prefer mine around 145F. (Young children, the elderly, and anyone with compromised immunity should be sure their burgers are cooked to 160F). Okay, Don, I’ll leave yours on the grill a little longer.
Good Burger Technique
Here are a few cooking tips to ensure your burgers come out great.
* Don’t overwork the meat when you form the patties. You don’t want to mash it together– the more compact you make the burger, the more likely it is to be dry.
* Form nice, even patties. They should all be about the same height and diameter so they cook evenly.
* After you form the patties, make a depression with your thumb in the center of the top. The middle of the burger is the last part to cook, and that little crater you form ensures it cooks evenly. (Don’t worry– it actually puffs as it cooks, so it will have a nice even surface by the time you serve it).
* Do NOT smush the burger down with your spatula while it cooks. Why do people do this– to make it cook faster? All you do is squeeze out all the juices. It is burger sacrilege. You will be sent to burger prison. You will be forced to eat dry, gnarly burgers forevermore.
* Use a thermometer. Whether you decide to cook your beef burger to medium rare (140 – 145F) or well done (160F), you can be sure you get the burger you want with the help of an inexpensive, invaluable kitchen tool. And when you are making a turkey burger, it is an absolute necessity. A thermometer ensures you will cook your burger just enough– and not too much.
Cheddar Burger with Balsamic Caramelized Onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced onion
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup shredded light cheddar
4 slices tomato
4 hamburger rolls
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until very soft and deeply golden. Stir in the balsamic and cook another 2-3 minutes, until the vinegar no longer has a sharp flavor. Set aside.
- Combine the beef with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Taking care not to overwork the meat, form it into four evenly sized patties. Coat the grill pan or grill rack with cooking spray and heat to medium high. Add the burgers and cook 4-5 minutes; turn and cook another 4 minutes. Top with the cheddar and cook until cheddar melts and burgers are at desired doneness.
- Place a tomato slice on the bottom of each roll; top with the burger and the onions; close and serve.
Makes 4 servings
Nutritional analysis per serving: 374 calories, 31 g protein, 30 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 16 g fat, 7 g satfat, 74 mg cholesterol, 802 mg sodium