Growing up in Pennsylvania there was nothing better than a grilled beef burger, fresh corn on the cob, and sliced watermelon for a summertime meal. Although some people think of burgers as being inherently unhealthy, the reality is that you can make a burger that not only tastes good, but is good for you too! And you don’t need to be an iron chef to do it! All it takes is choosing nutritious ingredients, portion control, and a few cooking hacks. So, c’mon, let’s get started!
Where’s the Beef?
Beef is considered a high quality protein, rich in nutrients like zinc, iron, vitamin B-12, selenium, phosphorus, and niacin. When choosing ground beef for your burger, what are some guidelines? The USDA defines “lean” as meat that has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100-gram (4 ounce) cooked serving. “Extra lean” is defined as meat that has less than 5 grams of total fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 100-gram cooked serving. For the most heart-healthy option, choose ground meat that is labeled as either extra lean (also known as 5% or 95/5) or lean (also known as 10% or 90/10). P.S. If you don’t eat meat, you can still enjoy a burger—try ground turkey, a Portobello mushroom cap or a veggie burger.
Tips for Making and Cooking a Better Burger
- To keep the burger moist, some chefs suggest adding an egg white and some soft bread crumbs, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of ice-cold water per pound of ground beef. Putting a “surprise” inside the burger before you cook it is another great way to add moisture, flavor and fun. Try cheese, onions, salsa or dried fruit.
- Handle the ground meat as little as possible. If you over mix it, you’ll end up with a firm, compact texture after cooking.
- Instead of making monster 8-10 ounce burger, make a more modest 4-6 ounce sized patty.
- Practice safe food handling procedures to help prevent food borne illness. Wash your hands after handling raw meat (that goes for uncooked poultry, pork and fish too).
- Cover and chill burgers in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes after gently shaping to help them keep their shape during cooking.
- Season your burgers with coarse salt, fresh-ground pepper, herbs or rubs.
- Although outdoor grilling is one of the best methods for searing juicy flavor into a burger, flat iron grills and the broiler can also produce nicely browned and delicious burgers.
- Heat your grill before putting the burgers on.
- It’s important to remember that leaner meats require a lower cooking temperature to prevent them from drying out.
- Coat your grill or pan with olive oil or cooking spray to prevent sticking.
- Use a spatula—not a fork—to flip burgers. A fork will pierce the meat and cause juices to be lost.
- Allow burgers to adequately cook on one side before turning, then flip only once.
- To keep burgers juicy, don’t press down on them while cooking.
- Use a meat thermometer when cooking burgers. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F, to minimize the potential for food-borne illness. This is a higher cooked temperature compared to other cuts of beef like steak, because the handling and grinding of the ground meat exposes it to potential contamination.
- Make sure that you practice safe cooking procedures to help prevent food borne illness. Never place cooked burgers on the same platter that was used for the raw burgers. The raw juices can contaminate the cooked meat. Use two different platters. Have one platter for the uncooked beef and another platter for the cooked burgers.
- Always refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours, and be sure to eat leftovers within 2 to 3 days.
Think of burger time as an opportunity to pile on good-for-you ingredients that add moisture, flavor, and nutrients either inside—or on top of the burger:
- Avocado, guacamole
- Onions (raw or grilled)
- Bell Peppers
- Lettuce or dark leafy greens
- Salsa (tomato, raisin chili*, fruit)
- Fruit or vegetable relishes
- Barbeque, steak sauce, raisin steak sauce*
- Tzatziki sauce (cucumber yogurt sauce)
- Pickles (dill, bread & butter)
- Fruit (pineapple, mango)
- 1 ounce of hard or soft cheese
The Total Package
To wrap up everything together there are lots of tasty options. With more fiber and vitamins than white bread, 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain rolls are the most nutrient-packed choice. Brioche buns and potato rolls are soft and slightly sweet and match well with a variety of toppings. French baguettes, toasted English muffins, pita bread, or folded naan all hold up to a burger smothered in sauce and lots of toppings.
Now it’s time to take the first bite—and savor the delicious burst of flavors in what will likely always be an American favorite—the beef burger.