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Old 05-25-2011, 08:13 AM   #1
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Burger patty keeps falling apart

There are so many factors that can lead to brittle burger patties, that I wish Alton Brown would cover an episode on it.

My routine is pretty simple. I buy chuck, grind it myself, form it into patties no taller than 1", and then I throw it on a grill pan.

I don't add anything to the patty. I know some people like to add egg and bread crumbs. Some people believe this glues the burger patty so it doesn't break on you. And then there are purists, who believe that such additions to the patty's infrastructure is blasphemous.

I also read from someone that working salt into the patty, will help fuse the patty during the cooking process, but Bobby Flay says that seasoning should be applied on both sides of the formed patty and not on the inside, or it'll be a meat loaf.

Flay also says the burger patty should be refridgerated for 30 minutes, prior to the cooking process. Some believe the patty should be brought up to room temp.

Some say you should really knead the ground beef, so it's properly melded. Others - including Flay - say you should reduce the kneading, because it'll toughen up the burger... even though it seems like that's the point to avoid crumbling?

Some say the burger patty should be around 3/4" tall. Others say it's too thin. Flay himself advocates 3/4", but if you watch any of his videos, it's pretty clear his burgers are around 1.5". They look like softballs, and he also reminds you to make an indentation in the middle of the patty to neutralize inflation.

My burgers are usually around 3/4"-1", and it's so thin, I don't ever worry about it ballooning on me. It never happens, so I don't even bother with depressing the center of the patty.

Finally, the most widely accepted answer to brittle patties, is to use a meat with more fat content. So far, I've used cheap, supermarket beef that was probably extremely lean, and I've also used Choice-graded chuck ribs with pretty good marbling, and honestly, there wasn't much of a difference in the patty's strength.

So far for me, the burger patty that was freshly ground - regardless of the cut/grade - turned out most tender/fragile. It starts cracking on you when you try to flip the patty. I need to be extremely gentle as I scoot the spatula underneath the patty, hold the top of the patty with my free hand and sofly lay it on the grill pan. I absolutely cannot just effortlessly slide the spatula underneath the patty and flip it like Bobby Flay does with his patties.

I also feel like the fact that I grind my own meat, has a lot to do with it, because I didn't have this problem with pre-ground meat from the store. The meat grinder at the store, churns out these fat, relatively unbreakable noodles of ground beef. My meat grinder just spews out little pieces at a time, and while it's definitely softer and more tender than the store-bought stuff, it also comes with a price... the patty itself is extremely vulnerable.

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Old 05-25-2011, 08:19 AM   #2
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The last paragraph says it all.
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Old 05-25-2011, 08:55 AM   #3
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I wonder if it has anything to do with keeping the fat cold? when make sausage the grinder will heat up the fat and melt it if it wasn't cold to start with, maybe that's why your ground meat doesn't stick together? maybe you can try treating the burger like sausage and keep it cold at all times from meat chunks to right before the grill
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Old 05-25-2011, 09:12 AM   #4
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Chuck roast makes the best hamburgers. You don't want to mush the meat to death, but you have to work it sufficiently to get it to stay together.
The most important thing is not to turn the patty more than once, and don't smash it with the spatula (except at the last...see below). Let it brown on one side, then turn and put lid part way on skillet and let it finish cooking. You can tell when it's done if you press on it with the spatula and no red juice comes out.

I sprinkle the patties with S&P on one side after I put them in the skillets, then season the other side when I turn them.

Since you are grinding your own meat, you could wrap each patty with a strip of bacon, which would help hold it together and also add a little flavoring. Don't try to cook your burger till the bacon is crisp, though, or it will be hard as a hockey puck.
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Old 05-25-2011, 09:26 AM   #5
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I think making burgers is something you just hit upon one day. Like Constance said, form it just enough that it will hold together, not too tight, not too loose. And make sure your grates are clean on the grill.
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Old 05-25-2011, 09:35 AM   #6
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I personally thing burgers taste a lot better when the meat is saesoned before the patty is made. Salt within a hamburger definitely does not make it "meatloaf." Thats just sort of WTF. But adding eggs and crumbs does. And adding raw egg means you need to cook the patty to pretty well done unless youwant to serve raw egg.

I think Andy is right. I think your grind is to blame.
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Old 05-25-2011, 10:14 AM   #7
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I personally thing burgers taste a lot better when the meat is saesoned before the patty is made. Salt within a hamburger definitely does not make it "meatloaf." Thats just sort of WTF. But adding eggs and crumbs does. And adding raw egg means you need to cook the patty to pretty well done unless youwant to serve raw egg.

I think Andy is right. I think your grind is to blame.
maybe I'm wrong , but I believe mixing salt inside the burger makes it lose its juice during cooking. it's like sausages, except sausages has a casing to keep the juice inside while burger doesn't. so only season the outside the burger with kosher salt will keep the inside moist.
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Old 05-25-2011, 10:17 AM   #8
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Actually salt on the inside of a burger will hold onto the moisture resulting in a juicier end product.
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Old 05-25-2011, 10:51 AM   #9
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Try using a burger press instead of hand forming the burgers.

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Old 05-25-2011, 12:04 PM   #10
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Before you grind the meat stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. You aren't looking for frozen, you are looking for really really cold. This help considerably getting the meat through the grinding plate without tearing it to shreds.
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:05 PM   #11
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maybe I'm wrong , but I believe mixing salt inside the burger makes it lose its juice during cooking. it's like sausages, except sausages has a casing to keep the juice inside while burger doesn't. so only season the outside the burger with kosher salt will keep the inside moist.

It won't dry them out. It will make them taste better.

And you don't have to use kosher salt.
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:13 PM   #12
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When they are talking lean muscle tissue to fat ratio, they are measuring by weight. Lean tissue contains a lot of water, while fat consists of solidified oil. The fat is significantly lighter per unit volume. The is a lot of fat in pre-ground burger that you purchase. Your well marbled beef isn't even close. You have to use either a binder, such as egg, or careful cooking technique to get your burger to hold together.

1 large egg, added to 1 pound of the ground meat will not alter the flavor. It will help it hold together better. If you don't want to add any other ingredients, then cook your burger using indirect heat and relatively low temperatures on a covered grill until you get an internal temperature in the meat of about 145 degrees. Then move the meat over the fire and salt and brown it. Your burger will be juicier, and have a more pronounced beef flavor with this technique as well.

Your burger doesn't bulge because it has less fat than the ground beef you purchase from a grocer. It is also drier in texture for the same reason. The slow cooking method helps the meat retain its water content, and cooks it from both sides with radiant and convective heat underneath, and convective heat above. This allows the meat particles to stick together better.

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Old 05-26-2011, 12:18 AM   #13
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I guess I just like doing it like my Mom used to, and I still add bread crumbs and egg to the mixture, along with black pepper and garlic salt, and maybe a few chili peppers. I think the bread crumbs actually do serve a purpose in smoothing out the texture of the cooked product.

I wish I had used that press Sir_Loin when I owed my restaurant, because I did hand-form them, but I was meticulous in designing perfectly flat, over-sized burgers so they would cook more quickly on the broiler.
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Old 05-26-2011, 04:42 AM   #14
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Before you grind the meat stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. You aren't looking for frozen, you are looking for really really cold. This help considerably getting the meat through the grinding plate without tearing it to shreds.
What Frank said.

Also, Alton Brown did make an episode on hamburgers, it is called "A Grind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste". I'm sure you can find the episode online.
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Old 05-26-2011, 06:42 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Hyperion View Post
I wonder if it has anything to do with keeping the fat cold? when make sausage the grinder will heat up the fat and melt it if it wasn't cold to start with, maybe that's why your ground meat doesn't stick together? maybe you can try treating the burger like sausage and keep it cold at all times from meat chunks to right before the grill
What happens if the fat melts?

I keep hearing people warn against the melting of fat.

I just don't understand why this would be a necessary concern, considering the fat isn't going anywhere... if it melts, it'll redistribute itself throughout the ground meat.
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Old 05-26-2011, 06:50 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Goodweed of the North View Post
When they are talking lean muscle tissue to fat ratio, they are measuring by weight. Lean tissue contains a lot of water, while fat consists of solidified oil. The fat is significantly lighter per unit volume. The is a lot of fat in pre-ground burger that you purchase. Your well marbled beef isn't even close. You have to use either a binder, such as egg, or careful cooking technique to get your burger to hold together.

1 large egg, added to 1 pound of the ground meat will not alter the flavor. It will help it hold together better. If you don't want to add any other ingredients, then cook your burger using indirect heat and relatively low temperatures on a covered grill until you get an internal temperature in the meat of about 145 degrees. Then move the meat over the fire and salt and brown it. Your burger will be juicier, and have a more pronounced beef flavor with this technique as well.

Your burger doesn't bulge because it has less fat than the ground beef you purchase from a grocer. It is also drier in texture for the same reason. The slow cooking method helps the meat retain its water content, and cooks it from both sides with radiant and convective heat underneath, and convective heat above. This allows the meat particles to stick together better.

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Thanks, but if Bobby Flay and plenty of other people in the world are cooking up rocksteady burger patties without egg/breadcrumbs, I believe there's a technique, and that's why I came here for answers.

And I'm pretty sure adding an egg to ground meat is gonna change the flavor...

As for my ground meat not bulging, I think it has to do with the height of the patty, not the fat...
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Old 05-26-2011, 06:52 AM   #17
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Actually salt on the inside of a burger will hold onto the moisture resulting in a juicier end product.
Is there a scientific reasoning to why salt holds the moisture?

And if yes, why does a burger master like Flay warn against it?
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Old 05-26-2011, 06:54 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Constance View Post
Chuck roast makes the best hamburgers. You don't want to mush the meat to death, but you have to work it sufficiently to get it to stay together.
The most important thing is not to turn the patty more than once, and don't smash it with the spatula (except at the last...see below). Let it brown on one side, then turn and put lid part way on skillet and let it finish cooking. You can tell when it's done if you press on it with the spatula and no red juice comes out.

I sprinkle the patties with S&P on one side after I put them in the skillets, then season the other side when I turn them.

Since you are grinding your own meat, you could wrap each patty with a strip of bacon, which would help hold it together and also add a little flavoring. Don't try to cook your burger till the bacon is crisp, though, or it will be hard as a hockey puck.
My patty is nowhere thick enough to wrap a bacon strip around it. Also, doing so would probably crumble the burger...

It's like a bridge that's about to collapse. Nothing that you wrap around the bridge, is gonna stop the inevitable. It needs support from below...
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Old 05-26-2011, 06:56 AM   #19
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Try using a burger press instead of hand forming the burgers.

That doesn't seem like a bad idea, actually.

Worth considering.
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Old 05-26-2011, 07:01 AM   #20
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Before you grind the meat stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. You aren't looking for frozen, you are looking for really really cold. This help considerably getting the meat through the grinding plate without tearing it to shreds.
Eh, it has nothing to do with the temperature of the meat.

I have a cheap Norpro grinder that I got for something like $30. The blade design is comparable to a fan. It's gonna shred up the meat, regardless, when you have a fan spinning.

I don't know how the expensive grinders work, as they churn out thick noodles... I guess the grinding is done before it's shaped into noodles...

My grinder just grinds, period. No noodle-shaping...
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