I've got a beef with the burgers here...
May 8, 2009 4:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I safely make a hamburger than can be cooked to medium rare? Bonus points if you can help me make it similar to the burgers found at Monk's in Philadelphia.

What's up with Canadians being horrified at the thought of a burger cooked any less than very well done? It seems that even in Alberta, where I live and which boasts some of the best beef in the world, one cannot order a hamberger medium rare. It's practically against the law. Sigh.

I miss being asked how I would like my burger done in the US (although I don't actually know how common a pratice that is). Hence my question: how would I make my own burger such that it could be cooked medium rare and be safe to eat? Do I have to buy the meat from a specialty grocer rather than the supermarket? Rather than ground beef, do I have to buy another cut and grind it myself?

Finally, I really miss the burgers at Monk's in Philly. Can anyone tell me how they do the patties?
posted by kitcat to Food & Drink (17 answers total)
 
From googling Medium rare burger:

The Medium Rare Hamburger That Won't Kill You

posted by Brockles at 4:18 PM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know if you were kidding, but it's quite likely that it is illegal to sell a medium-rare burger in Alberta. Most Canadian municipalities have temperature standards for cooked meat, especially hamburger, that are pretty high.

Supermarket beef is likely fine. Certainly if you go to a butcher that grinds their own meat you're very unlikely to get beef with e. coli. Grinding it yourself, per the linked Alton Brown recipe further reduces the odds. But the only 100% safe way is sufficient cooking.
posted by GuyZero at 4:26 PM on May 8, 2009


Don't I feel silly...

Thanks!

My question about Monk's still stands, and anyone with other comments/suggestions about the medium rare burger is most welcome to post.
posted by kitcat at 4:29 PM on May 8, 2009


If beef is safe for eating, it is safe for eating very rare. If it is fresh from a store, be it a supermarket or a butcher's shop, it is safe to eat very rare.

Cooking the beef doesn't sterilize it. Cooking the beef (a) gives it flavor and (b) kills whatever diseases that have been introduced to the beef. Because of modern inspection standards, it is highly unlikely that you'd buy a contaminated piece of meat at a supermarket; any diseases introduced to the beef would most likely have to be introduced at your home after you've bought it. If you are careful, this won't happen.

I like my burgers rare. I cook them that way all the time. If you really undercook a burger—say, if it's really raw inside—it might give you an upset stomach, but that's because you're not used to processing meat in that state, not because it's unsafe or unsterile.

Also, the key to good burger meat is the fat ratio. Lean ground beef (90%-10% or 95%-5%, for example) doesn't make good burgers because the fat is what cooks the meat and what flavors it. 70%-30% or 80%-20% ground beef is better. I don't know if they print the ratios on the labels in Canada, but they're important to those of us who like to barbecue.
posted by koeselitz at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2009


I lived right around the corner from Monk's (in The Touraine). I ate there once. Enough said.

You can do a lot better than that. Just find a good butcher or a Whole Foods and buy some hamburger meat.

People who get sick from undercooked beef usually buy their beef from lower-price-point supermarkets like Pathmark or Shop Right.
posted by Zambrano at 4:39 PM on May 8, 2009


E coli doesn't come from your kitchen. It comes from improper butchering. If you trust the meat, it will be fine.
posted by gjc at 4:59 PM on May 8, 2009


Buy un-ground meat from a reputable butcher and grind it yourself. It's not hard and you'll know exactly what's in your burger as a result.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:03 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meh, I wouldn't worry. Pan or grill heated to medium-high heat, three minutes each side for a thick burger, you're set. If it's a thin burger, like half an inch, quite high heat and a couple of minutes.

You could worry about it. But I wouldn't. And I would make it myself if I couldn't get anyone to cook it right for me. I've been making my own chicken wings for ten years because no one outside of Buffalo NY has the fearlessness toward deep frying required to make them.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2009


koeselitz writes "Cooking the beef doesn't sterilize it. Cooking the beef (a) gives it flavor and (b) kills whatever diseases that have been introduced to the beef. Because of modern inspection standards, it is highly unlikely that you'd buy a contaminated piece of meat at a supermarket; any diseases introduced to the beef would most likely have to be introduced at your home after you've bought it. If you are careful, this won't happen."

The FDA actaully recalls tens of millions of pounds of meat every year, less than 30% of which actually gets returned.
After collecting ground beef samples from meat processing plants around the country in 1996, the USDA determined that 7.5% of the beef samples were contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7% were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 30% were contaminated with Staphylococcus Aureus, and 53.3% were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens
Raising the temperature of food to 160F kills the vast majority of living vectors for FBI. However raising the temperature to 160F won't make meat that's been infected with bacteria that have poisonous waste products (exotoxins) safe (EG: Staphylococcus aureus). All meat should be considered as contaminated regardless of source, it's so easy. For example a third of people are carrying Staph on their skin which is transfered to meat when you handle it.

BC Foodsafe requirements essentially outlaw serving hamburger commercially that doesn't have an internal temperature of 160F. You can cook solid cuts of meat without raising the internal temperature to 160F because bacteria usually don't have access to the centre of the meat. However hamburger mixes potentially contaminated exterior meat to the inside and because it's porous allows further contamination into the centre after grinding.

Note that the statement "The below recipe provides a "safer" way of making a medium-rare hamburger. It's as safe as eating a medium-rare steak from Brockles link is obviously not true. A steak that had surface contamination with e.coli/Staph/Campylobacter that is cooked to medium rare is going to have killed the vast majority of the bacteria, which essentially exists on the surface, by raising the bacteria to the required 160F. Grind the same steak up and some of the bacteria will be in the centre of the hamburger and will not be killed if the centre is not raised to 160F during cooking.

gjc writes "E coli doesn't come from your kitchen. It comes from improper butchering. If you trust the meat, it will be fine."

E. Coli is not the only bacteria being killed by proper cooking; it just gets the most press because it kills so many children.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I guess OP, it depends on whether your concerns are food safety first or food deliciousness first.

I go deliciousness first, but I'm also not one of those people that opens bathroom doors with their elbows.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2009


Because of modern inspection standards, it is highly unlikely that you'd buy a contaminated piece of meat at a supermarket;

I can't speak for Canadians, but just across the border in the US, inspection and enforcement are, by all accounts, incredibly lax.

We've got sick cattle that are allowed to go to slaughter, beef wholesalers that do not track where their beef comes from, and no consistent inspection and maintenance of proper hygiene and handling from slaughter to sale.

That said, I like a medium-rare burger too. Buy beef from a known source, if you want to be really careful, buy it whole and grind it yourself to reduce the odds of contamination from other cattle and poor handling practices by the butcher.
posted by zippy at 7:07 PM on May 8, 2009


Mass-market ground beef is so regularly contaminated because it's ground from many, many carcasses. So a single contaminated piece of meat might be ground and mixed in with thousands of pounds of meat, contaminating the whole by dispersing the bacteria throughout. (Yuck, you say?) Grinding your own, or asking that a reputable butcher grind the beef from a single piece of meat, reduces the risk of contamination to, truly, almost nothing. (You could also, if you're feeling especially worried, sear the outside of a piece of meat, and then grind it. Might be tasty, actually.)
posted by palliser at 7:45 PM on May 8, 2009


Grind the same steak up and some of the bacteria will be in the centre of the hamburger and will not be killed if the centre is not raised to 160F during cooking.

Mitheral, I'm not going to disagree with anything in what you've posted. What I will say is that, given a hamburger cooked to 160F, the best way to serve is to put it between two patties with a bit of crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, grilled onions, salt&pepper, and then throw the friggin' thing in the garbage because you might as well eat cardboard.

One compromise solution is to buy your own meat, sear the outside, and then grind it yourself. You can cook the resulting hamburger rarer than you otherwise might because you (theoretically) torched the bacteria on the outside of the meat before you ground it up.
posted by Justinian at 8:59 PM on May 8, 2009


Aaaaand I see palliser mentioned the searing the outside of meat you grind yourself over an hour ago.
posted by Justinian at 8:59 PM on May 8, 2009


You could always get some Cobalt-60 and irradiate your bacterial woes away, but as the article notes
Irradiation is a capital-intensive technology requiring a substantial initial investment, ranging from $1 million to $5 million
which may be a tad pricey for a couple of burgers, though.
posted by fydfyd at 10:14 PM on May 8, 2009


Mitheral: E. Coli is not the only bacteria being killed by proper cooking; it just gets the most press because it kills so many children.

'So many children'? 52 people (I don't know how many of them were children) total died from Escherichia coli O157:H7 last year in the United States; [cite] I don't want to make light of those deaths, but this seems like an extraordinarily low number when one considers the size of the United States. Given the statistics [cite]you are more than four times more likely to die from an accidental discharge of a firearm in the United States than you are from E. Coli.

Furthermore, as is pointed out in my first citation above, a total of 1,809 people die every year in the US (or died in 2005 when this was made) from food-borne illnesses. Again, not to be callous, but that is a tiny number for a mortality rate when considering the vast population of the US; one is roughly fifteen times as likely to die in a car crash as to die of food-borne illnesses.
posted by koeselitz at 2:21 AM on May 9, 2009


koeselitz: I think the concern over foodborne illness stems less from the number of people that it kills — which, as you point out, is rather low — but more from the people it sickens. I guarantee you that many more people are made sick to the point of hospitalization than ever die from bad food, and there are lots more who are just sickened to the point of missing work but don't go to the hospital.

I'd wager that most people, at some point in their lives, get some type of foodborne illness. It generally doesn't kill you but it might make you wish you were dead for a day or two as your system works it out. And that's with a reasonably good food-safety apparatus (although admittedly, the U.S.'s has been a spectacular victim of regulatory capture over the past few decades). At the beginning of the industrial era it was almost certainly worse.

Having food that makes people sick is a pretty big quality of life issue independent of the actual fatalities involved.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2009


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