It’s summer, so you probably feel a mysterious yet powerful pull toward the open flame on an outdoor grill. You may find it impossible to resist the urge to char red meat, to turn raw patties of beef into hamburgers.
You may also care about your health. What to do? The good news is that you don’t have to start with high-fat beef to get a juicy burger. By mixing in condiments, vegetables, and small amounts of cheese into your patties, you can cook a grilled or pan-grilled burger that’s every bit as delicious—and better for you and your guests.
Start with condiments. You’ll add moisture as well as flavor. For every pound of meat, lightly mix in a half to a full tablespoon of Asian hoisin or soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, or plain yogurt. Beef it up by adding a quarter cup of finely diced roasted red bell peppers, cooked and drained spinach, or caramelized onions to the meat. You can mix a couple of ounces of crumbled blue cheese or feta per pound for rich flavor.
More tips for the perfect burger:
- Don’t manhandle the meat. Ground meat changes in character with every knead. Mix it with a light hand, forming patties as tenderly as possible. Mashing and pulling on the meat causes proteins to tangle like tiny strips of Velcro, making the burgers tight and dense.
- Keep it cold. Warm meat is soft and pliable, but the fat sticks to your hands. If it is on your hands, it’s not in the burger; and that small amount of fat in lean meat keeps the proteins lubed for more tender burgers.
- Save the salt for last. Do not mix salt into the meat; sprinkle it on right before cooking. Salt draws out moisture and dissolves muscle proteins, causing them to mesh and make lean sausage instead of juicy burger.
- Flip often. Here’s an apron logo for you: Never question the guy with the spatula. Flip those burgers as often as you want, even though some of your neighbors may insist that only one flip is the only way. Flipping actually encourages faster, more even cooking. But never mash them: You’ll be squeezing out the juices you worked so hard to lock in!
Food writer Debby Maugans, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the author of Small Batch Baking and Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, and is writing a new book, Farmer and Chef Asheville.