Blending meats — often with spices or other flavorful ingredients — to make hot dogs and sausages is standard practice. While chefs have been known to mix up meats in the burger world, offering these specialties at their restaurants, it’s not common to find such culinary creations at the supermarket. Blending premium cuts of meat or varied species of meat with plant-based ingredients, with or without inclusions like grilled onions and diced cheeses, presents an opportunity to liven up the packaged branded burger business as well as the fresh offerings sold at the butcher counter.
George Motz, author of Hamburger America, a state-by-state guide to some of the best burgers in the country, has taught a course on hamburgers at New York Univ. and Princeton, and consulted for many hamburger restaurants and chains, including Five Guys Burgers & Fries. He explains that the concept of blending different cuts of meat, or even different species, to make hamburger has been going on forever. “But no one really took note,” he said. “Only recently have Americans started taking the hamburger more seriously.”
Much of this has to do with consumers wanting to know more about what’s in their food. They are curious about ingredients, and in turn, more open to exploring unique ingredient combinations, especially if it improves the nutritional profile of the food, and even better if it has a positive impact on the planet. That’s the whole basis of the mushroom-beef blended burger platform, with the end result a product with a superior nutrition profile that’s more economical and sustainable than a full beef patty.
As with anything, junk in equals junk out. To make a quality burger you must start with quality meat. Many packaged burger patties sold in supermarkets or cooked at fast-food restaurants are made with beef trimmings ground up with fat, inexpensive by-products of the butchering industry. Such burgers lack the rich depth of flavor and consistency of premium burgers made from ground, whole-muscle cuts.
Whole beef chuck is the most common cut used in premium burgers, with burger experts such as Motz believing the best burgers are made from the standard 80/20 chuck blend. Fat provides moisture and flavor to the meat. When it’s cooked over a hot grill, fat helps prevent the burger from drying out. The optimal fat content for beef burgers is 15 percent to 20 percent. Too much more and there’s an increased chance of a grease fire.
That’s what makes ground chuck the perfect cut of meat for burgers. Round and sirloin are too lean to make good burgers, but for something a little different, grind up some brisket or short rib.
“Twenty to 25 percent of either, blended with 80/20 chuck, provides a different taste and texture,” according to Motz. “Both cuts add some sweetness and some richness. Brisket and short rib cook differently than chuck, but when blended together can make for a complex flavor profile.”
This blend combines the buttery flavor of the brisket with the richness of the short rib and the traditional beefy flavor of chuck. The end result is a juicy burger exploding with layers of flavor.
Blending different species of meat is another way to mix up the flavor profile. Depending on the meat, it may also lower the fat content, so the patty may be more temperamental over a flame. The most common blends are chicken with beef, pork with beef and chicken with turkey.
And, of course, everything is better with bacon, especially burgers. While topping a burger with a slice or two of crispy cooked bacon is very common, blending in bacon before cooking results in something quite special, according to the owner of The Curve Inn, South Haven, Michigan. This burger and pizza pub is known for its many varieties of burger blends, including the Sasquatch. The cook grinds raw bacon and beef together, forming it into a one-pound patty that gets fully cooked before being topped with five slices of American cheese, grilled onions, special sauce, pickles, lettuce and tomato, all served on a giant loaf bun.
When mixing different species of meat, it’s important to be aware that they may cook at different rates. This will impact the texture of the finished patty. The same is true when adding other ingredients into ground meat. The burger cooks at different rates, which means other ingredients in the center cook differently than ones on the surface. Further, too many additions, especially larger pieces, may weaken the patty and have it fall apart on the grill when it’s being flipped.
Another consideration is the grind of meat. Most beef is coarsely ground whereas as poultry tends to undergo a finer grind. A finer grind delivers a smoother bite and mouthfeel because most of the tough fibrous tissue, also known as sinew, is ground up. The challenge with the finer grind is the meat is “mushy,” which is not a desirable texture for a burger. A coarse grind, on the other hand, has a rougher and chunkier texture because the meat is in larger pieces and there’s sinew. Medium is in between the two and is the most common format.