When you head out to the grill this Labor Day weekend, celebrate summer’s last hurrah with a burger worthy of the occasion.
And as the experts at America’s Test Kitchen know, a good burger starts with a good patty, and a good patty starts with good meat. Their recent cookbook, “The Ultimate Burger,” lays out your options, along with plenty of tips.
There’s no denying the convenience of store-bought, pre-ground meat, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. If you’re set on the supermarket route, the Test Kitchen folks warn against generically labeled “ground beef,” which can contain any combination of cuts and trimmings. Instead, opt for 85 percent lean ground chuck, a juicier and more flavorful option over sirloin and round.
Also look for beef that’s bright red in color (browning is not necessarily a sign of spoilage, but indicates the meat is not as fresh), with no pooling liquid at the bottom of the package, which could mean that the meat was previously frozen and thawed.
But for the best flavor and texture, you can’t beat freshly ground meat.
Using freshly ground meat, you’ll know exactly what’s going into your burgers, giving you more control over customizing taste and texture to your needs—and scoring points in the food safety department to boot. In their Ultimate Beef Burger Blend, for instance, the Test Kitchen mixes beefy skirt steak and sirloin with tender short ribs for a well-rounded star.
Plus, freshly ground meat also cooks up into more loosely textured, juicier burgers than store-bought options, which can turn dense and rubbery.
And here’s a tip for turkey burger lovers long plagued by dried-out patties: making your own blend from home-ground, collagen-rich turkey thighs is the way to go.
If you find a butcher who will grind meat to order, you’re in luck. But if not, thanks to a handy technique from the Test Kitchen, all it takes to grind your own meat at home is a freezer and a food processor.
Here are two recipes to get you started.