Recently the Test Kitchens staff had a lively discussion about the makings of a perfect hamburger. We all agreed that you definitely want to start with fresh, good-quality ground beef―but what about that lean-to-fat ratio? And is it really worth it to pay more for an expensive cut of ground beef? There were lots of different opinions, so we headed for the local supermarket to do a little research.
Prices will vary according to store and weekly specials, but the minimum percentage of lean meat found in the different types of ground beef is set by government standards. We weighed the ground beef before and after cooking, shaping four burgers from each pound of meat.
Extra-lean ground beef ($4.19 per pound) and ground sirloin ($3.99 per pound) were both labeled 92% lean, but we found the sirloin had a much better flavor and was not quite as dry. Ground round ($3.29 per pound and 85% lean) proved to be the group's favorite. Juicy and flavorful, it tasted considerably less greasy than ground chuck ($2.79 per pound and 80% lean). Whether pan-fried or grilled, they all yielded a cooked weight of around 12 ounces, which let us know that there was still a good bit of fat hanging around in some of those burgers. Ground beef ($1.69 per pound and 73% lean) yielded a cooked weight of 10 ½ ounces and left an alarming amount of grease in the skillet. Where cost is concerned it's a bargain, but if a recipe doesn't allow for a good bit of fat to be drained off after browning (such as meat loaf or stuffed peppers), then opt for a leaner cut.
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Tips and Tidbits
- If you want to seriously control the amount of fat you're getting in a burger, it's easy to make your own ground beef using the grinding attachment on a stand mixer or chopping it in a food processor. If using a food processor, cut the meat into 1 ½-inch cubes. Process in 8-ounce batches, pulsing 8 to 10 times or until finely chopped.
- For the best taste and texture, use a light touch to blend the ground beef and seasonings; then gently shape into burgers. A hot, well-seasoned grill rack or pan sears the meat quickly and seals in flavor and moisture. After searing, reduce the heat or move the burgers to a cooler point on the grill, and resist the urge to press them with a spatula while they finish cooking.
- When basting burgers with a sauce that contains sweeteners such as sugar or honey, apply during the last few minutes of cooking to prevent burning.
- Ground beef is more perishable than steak or roast and should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator for only one to two days before cooking.
- When wrapped in transparent film, ground beef can be frozen up to two weeks. For longer freezer storage (up to three months), repackage in zip-top freezer bags, removing as much air as possible. Always defrost frozen ground beef in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth. Allow 24 hours to defrost a 1 ½-inch-thick package of ground beef or 12 hours for individual beef patties. Use as soon as possible after defrosting.