Juicy delicious lean hamburgers
June 30, 2012 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Grilling season is here, and I'm looking for your tips on making juicy, delicious charcoal grilled burgers from LEAN hamburger meat. The more I search online, the more conflicting advice I find.

To avoid beef fat, I use ~95% lean ground beef but the burgers are too dry. What ingredients can I add to make them juicy and delicious? Any technique suggestions?

I'm grilling 1/3 lb. 6" patties over mesquite charcoal. I don't smash the juice out of patties with the back of the spatula, and only turn them once or twice. I usually serve the burgers with lettuce leaves, sliced tomato, and sliced avocado.
posted by Daddy-O to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Add a slice of bread soaked in milk.

See here
posted by bitdamaged at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're happy to adding stuff to the burger mix you could also add finely chopped onion and peppers, which are quite moist and help keep the burgers moist. You may have to use a bit of egg as extra binder though because adding finely chopped stuff to the mix can make the burgers more crumbly otherwise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:54 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

...happy to add...
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:55 AM on June 30, 2012

We've been addressing this problem by grinding our own hamburger meat in the food processor. Coulotte (sometimes called coyote) steak has been our favorite cut of meat to use, but brisket (well-trimmed) and other cuts will work great too. We even made tenderloin burgers and they were amazing. The procedure is to partially freeze (or thaw) your meat so that it is still stiff kind of stiff, but not rigid. Then cut it into chunks and pulse it in the food processor. It's important not to just run the processor without pulsing it...that results in mush). You want a relatively course grind. When you form the patties do not smash them together, rather form them loosely from gently made balls in you hands. A little experience shows you exactly how to do this. Don't store the patties, take them directly to the grill. The burgers will be surprisingly juicy. Depending on the leanness of the meat you can add small amounts of butter (YUM) or olive oil to taste in the food processor. We and our guests have been amazed at these burgers.
posted by txmon at 9:56 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I have beef that's a little too lean or dry I just use it to make a Juicy Lucy. I think it's supposed to be a Minneapolis thing, though I'm sure people do it everywhere and have different names for it.

Split a slice of cheese into quarters, stack them on top of a thin patty, and then lay another thin patty on top and press it down to seal it up. Grill and eat. The little square of hot cheese melts into the burger and gives it a "fattier"/"juicier" flavor while avoiding beef fat, plus it oozes out of every bite and makes the burger taste so much richer. Works best with cheese that melts really well like plain old American. I honestly just use a Kraft single - amazing. You'd think you were eating the fattiest prime beef in all the land.
posted by windbox at 9:58 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

lean beef will always be kind of dry, especially of cooked through. how are you cooking them? if you don't mind medium rare-medium burgers form the patties around an ice chip. juicy, yessir.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:03 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

We sometimes add condiments like ketchup or mustard straight to the mix, and I find it helps keep things moist.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:19 AM on June 30, 2012

I grate an onion into the meat and add a glop of (good, German) mustard, an egg, a little worcestershire sauce, and whaterver else strikes my fancy.
posted by phunniemee at 10:21 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cook's Illustrated just had an article about making turkey burgers. They mixed the ground turkey with minced mushroom to add moisture.
posted by chairface at 10:24 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked this question last year, and there's a load of good tips in there.

The top tips I picked up were to use medium ground beef rather than lean for better burgers, and to not squish 'em too hard when forming.
posted by smitt at 10:32 AM on June 30, 2012

* Meat at room temperature
* Patties thick at the edges and thinner in the middle
* Don't futz with them

These will make a huge difference and keep you from over-cooking all the moisture out.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

White (amano) miso paste. Add around 1/8 to 1/10th volume miso:beef and kneed into the beef prior to forming patties.

There are several different varieties of miso paste so you can try different kinds.
posted by porpoise at 12:34 PM on June 30, 2012

Do what Heston does:

- no binders like egg or bread, just salt for four hours prior to grinding; trickier to do with pre-ground meet, because you also need to
- align the grind
- flip frequently

Won't be as good as one with plenty of fat, but it'll all help.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:59 PM on June 30, 2012

I'm not answering the question, but I would use fattier burgers and make them smaller. I haven't done the math, but I'm guessing the amount of beef fat wouldn't be that much different and they would be much tastier.
posted by cnc at 5:02 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use a lot of recipes from Cooks Illustrated and one technique they have used lately is to add some unflavored gelatin and a little stock to lean ground meat to make it more juicy. A quick glance at some of their recipes yields a ratio of 1.5 lb meat to 1 tbs gelatin to 3 tbs stock. Adding mushrooms, bread crumbs, an egg and so on with some additional liquid like soy or Worcestershire sauce will also help. None of these will give exactly the same mouth feel as less lean meat, but with some experimentation you should be able to find a combo you like. Prepare to grill out a lot this summer!
posted by TedW at 6:31 PM on June 30, 2012

One semi-solution is to use chuck meat. It tastes better and can suffer the indignity of being less fatty.

Also, when you are making your patties, don't smash them together. Just cut the meat off the lump of ground meat and coax it together into a patty. The less you mess with it, the less it will try to constrict and squeeze the juice out when cooking.
posted by gjc at 7:39 PM on June 30, 2012

I add chopped mushrooms and onions to the beef mix, the mushrooms expecially add lots of moisture.

I have a friend who also adds (in addition to mushrooms and onions), crumbled up blue cheese to her beef mixture, and they are FUCKING AMAZING. The fat from the cheese gives the burgers the mouthfeel you're missing, and of course, blue cheese is delicious. (I'm sure some other fatty cheese would work well too.)
posted by Kololo at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2012

Do what the anal-retentive wunderkinds at Cook's Illustrated do: use a panade (bread soaked in milk, plus some other stuff). I usually do a variant on Cook's recipe (because they are INSANELY finicky): one slice of fluffy white bread soaked in milk, one grated clove of garlic, generous shakes of salt/pepper plus a blob of bacon fact (not enough to make the burgers fatty, but enough to add some real flavor).
posted by julthumbscrew at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2012

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