The Curse of the Incredible Shrinking Burgers
June 23, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

The Curse of the Incredible Shrinking Burgers...

Hey guys...

I'm trying to become a better chef on the BBQ. I read a number of posts on here regarding making great burgers, and I took some tips home and got to work.

I switched to using medium (as opposed to lean/extra-lean) ground beef, and have kept my patties simple by seasoning with salt and pepper, a bit of worsteshire sauce, and that's it.

I make nice big patties, dimple them in the middle, and yet...



I'm having patties going from a 4 inch diameter down to a 2 inch diameter... They taste great, but they're practically disappearing on me.

I'm not pressing down on the patties, and I'm only flipping once. Everything is great, except for this curious shrinking problem.

Hope me!
posted by smitt to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should also point out, they shrink AND end up like little baseballs, their shape is all wrong. Not relatively flat at all.
posted by smitt at 8:20 AM on June 23, 2011

I used to have this happen a lot then I did two things.
1) Really compressed the patty when I was forming it
2) Higher heat in fact super hot.
3) [Extra credit] Flip it once only.

You are already not using any "fillers" so I would up the heat don't be scared unless you have hot spots on your grill. One other great piece of advice I learned is when the juices run clear it is basically done unless you like them more well done. Use a thermometer if your worried.
posted by mrgroweler at 8:25 AM on June 23, 2011

It sounds like you are packing the meat too tightly. The patties should be somewhat loose. Also, more fat.
posted by TheBones at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2011

I usually compensate for this by making them very flat and broad. By the time they shrink, they are proper burger size.
posted by torisaur at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2011

One solution I've found that helps (besides making them wide to start with)... After you've made your patty, press it down in the center. I mean, a lot. If your patty is 1 inch thick, press the center down to 1/4-1/2 inch. It really seems to help.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:26 AM on June 23, 2011

Try adding breadcrumbs and an egg, just enough to where the burgers do not crumble too easily. The shrinkage is likely due to the burgers losing the bulk of their hydration and fat.
posted by samsara at 8:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Flipping once isn't better, and compressing the burger a lot is actually really bad and forms a tough emulsified layer of fat on the outside. The dimple in the middle will help a lot, though.
posted by proj at 8:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I make very broad patties (in fact, I press them between two salad plates to cover the inner flat area), squinch them back in just a bit to clean up the ragged edges, then dimple them in the middle. Shrinkage is just...what you plan for. Just keep making them bigger until they shrink to the size you wanted.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:30 AM on June 23, 2011

Proj I agree that in a pan I flip like crazy but in the grill I don't. I also love that there are already conflicting ways to do it... that is why cooking is so much fun. I have never tried a dimple in the middle before.

Mrs Growler likes very well done BUT not crispy burgers so I tend to high heat cook them then use indirect heat to finish...
posted by mrgroweler at 8:32 AM on June 23, 2011

Lyn Never has it. Make them wider to start with, and to counteract the balling-up, make them thinner at the middle than around the edges.
Further thoughts: the shrinkage is mostly caused by fat running out, while yummifying your burger, so keep getting medium. It tastes better; the fat-runs-out effect is how it should be.
To make sure it isn't water that causes our grief, consider grinding your own beef. Buy some nice, not-too-wobbly stew cuts with a fair bit of fat attached.
posted by Namlit at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2011

You can flip as many times as you'd like, the point is you don't have to flip more than once, if your heat is right and your patty well formed.

You're doing right with the fat, make sure that dimple is BIG, and just form bigger patties (do not compress) because ultimately, shrinkage is a fact of life.
posted by grog at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2011

If you've never seen the Serious Eats page, check it out. They have an entire section about burgers.

Specifically, there is a video done by Consumer Reports, of all things, about exactly what you are trying to achieve with Kenji Alt on their site: Burgers & Grilling I highly recommend it - it really did make my burgers exponentially better!
posted by dukes909 at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2011

Usually when I'm making burgers at home I make them around 1/3rd pound. I flatten them to the point that they are about 6 inches in diameter pre-cooked. Once they cook they shrink to around 4 inches.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2011

nthing Lyn Never and others. just make the patties bigger (i mean for realsies bigger mine look almost as big as dinner plates to finish with a little overhang on the bun). as for everything just dont squash them. egg? sure or never!!! bread crumbs and seasoning absolutely or HOW DARE YOU!! in my experience none of them effects anything other then tast and texture. shrinkage is all about cooking temp and fat content and thats it.

also someone else mentioned serious eats. here is the link for the burger page (i had it open to an article whilst browsing mefi, god how i love AHT!) stop what you're doing and go there now.
posted by chasles at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2011

Yeah, they're going to shrink. It's what they do. Start out making them much wider than you think you need to. Dimpling isn't necessary, really, and the reason they're turning into baseballs is because you're making them too fat. I start mine out at about 6-7 inches in diameter and no thicker than 1-inch (I try to get between 1/4 and a 1/2). I find really, really high heat to shrink them faster (but that could entirely be my imagination) so I like to cook 'em on medium-high heat (on the grill, that's kind of subjective but if you're using gas, the flames shouldn't be massive; if charcoal, you may want to scoot your coals over to the side and use indirect heat to cook).
posted by cooker girl at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2011

I get the ground chuck that comes in the plastic rolls at the grocery store. (The kind that is packaged in a tube/log thingy instead of a tray.) The one I buy has cutting lines for 1/4 pound hamburgers. I use my serrated bread knife to cut along the lines (or bigger) straight through the plastic. Peel the plastic off the sides of thr patties and smoosh each one a bit in the center and they end up the right size after cooking.
posted by artychoke at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2011

>a tube/log thingy

Possibly interesting tidbit: that thingy is called a "chub"
posted by chazlarson at 9:02 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am so putting "Beef Chub" on a grocery list and sending my husband to the store with no extra info.
posted by artychoke at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [22 favorites]

I usually make 1/3-pound patties and press them out so wide that they barely fit in my hands... this is probably 6 inches wide, because yes they do shrink down. I'm thinking you need to go even bigger on size... make them wider and flatter and see what happens. I think you should also turn down the heat to medium-high and cook 5-6 mins a side... maybe your heat is too high and the patties are drying out.
posted by crapmatic at 10:03 AM on June 23, 2011

My best guess is you are handling the ground beef a lot before you cook it. The more you mash the meat (heehee), the more spring you are going to get when you cook them. When I make burgers, I sort of pry the strands of ground meat apart into appr. inch cubed pieces, sprinkle my flavorings over them in a bowl, toss, and set aside for 20 some minutes. When the pan is hot, I loosely form a wide and thin patty. My burgers hardly spring at all.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2011

Why is it that hamburgers bring out our most intensely individual styles and methods?!

Here's my take: your burgers are shrinking because you don't have enough fat and moisture in them (plus, you may have to cook them too long to get them to the doneness you want...).

My burger prep is: half ground chuck (80/20) for the fat content, half ground sirloin (95/5) for the beef flavor. Off hand, I know the additional measurements if you use half a pound of each type, and use it to form three burgers: Tbl of A1 sauce, three dashes Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tsp Gravy Master, 1 whole egg, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste; I use about a Tbl of each). Combine. Divide into three patties about 3/4 inch thick, forming gently (No. Squishing. Ever.), wrap in wax paper, place in fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Cooking: Preheat gas grill, all three burners on high, closed lid, to at least 450 degrees. Brush tops of burgers with regular olive oil, kosher salt lightly. Drop burgers in a line down the center of the grill and close lid. Cook 5 minutes. Open, quickly oil and lightly salt tops, flip. close lid. Cook 4 minutes. Open, flip, drop 1/4" slice of sharp cheddar, close. Cook 1 minute. Remove, tent with foil, let rest at least 5 minutes or as long as 15-20. Enjoy.

(Alternate: I've done essentially the same steps with a pound of ground round plus 2 Tbl of olive oil, instead of the half ground chuck / half ground sirloin mixture; it's a little denser, but I think the mix version tastes... "meatier"... So there you have it.)

(On preview: What Foam Pants said: the less you handle the meat, the more gently you mix in the additional ingredients, and did I mention, No. Squishing. Ever.?!, the better off you'll be...)
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: A lot of great tips here...

Squishing 'em down is clearly one of my big mistakes, I thought forming a tight patty was important and obviously I'm waaayy off.

Making 'em bigger looks to be another goal - I think I was making patties the size I wanted them to be, and didn't expect them to shrink too much.

Lots to work with here! I'll report back :)
posted by smitt at 11:57 AM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: By squishing em down, what I meant was more in the forming process, I was making tight balls of ground meat and squishing them into patty shape.
posted by smitt at 11:57 AM on June 23, 2011

Samsara has the right of it. Adding breadcrumbs and an egg to your batch will help out a lot. Some people turn their nose up at fillers, but a healthy amount of breadcrumbs will make your burgers really pop. They absorb tasty fat that would otherwise drip out and give them a better consistency.
posted by Willie0248 at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2011

Check this out:

It's pretty good advice.
posted by kuju at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2011

Link fail.
posted by kuju at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2011

I think you've already got this, but a 4-inch uncooked patty is definitely not "big". Go for 5.5 or 6 inches uncooked. Also, I find that a dimple doesn't usually do it for me - I make a much larger and thinner area in the middle of the patty when I form it. More like a basin than a dimple, if you get my meaning.
posted by owtytrof at 12:31 PM on June 23, 2011

It should be noted that there is squishing *before* heat is applied, on which opinions here are mixed, and squishing *during* cooking, which is just pressing all the moisture and fat out of the meat.

I squish the hell out of mine to make my patties, so they don't crumble during eating. But I handle them like the thinnest crepe once they start to cook. They do not seem to suffer for that kind of squishing.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:21 PM on June 23, 2011

The more you work the patties before cooking, the more they will want to seize up into a puck. The best hamburgers I've ever made were done the way Jacques Pepin showed on TV once. You take the blob of ground beef, and just sort of "fork" off a patty sized and shaped mass from it. Use the fork to clean up the edges a bit and make it look nice, and then cook it. Season with a little salt and pepper. It should be delicate.

Also: putting stuff into the hamburger meat means it isn't a hamburger any more, it is meatloaf.
posted by gjc at 3:55 PM on June 23, 2011

Watch this video from America's Test Kitchen on making burgers too -- they give the same advice on patty formation (think loosely formed pile rather than hockey puck). Eggs and breadcrumbs not necessary for a delicious and properly formed burger.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:50 AM on June 24, 2011

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