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The perfect burger begins with the meat | Chef Dez


Last updated 7/26/2017 at Noon

We are just more than one month into summer. This time of year, many of us rely on our barbecues as our main cooking devices.

Hamburgers are always a favorite – still, countless people purchase frozen, premade burgers instead of making them from scratch. Therefore, it is my quest to give you some great ideas for perfecting the homemade burger patty.

This column, focusing on meat selection, marks the first in a three-part series. The second column will focus on ingredients to add to hamburger mix, and the third will focus on burger toppings and bun selection.

There are several accounts for where the name hamburger is derived, but the most common seems to be from Hamburg, Germany, where people often had what was called a “Hamburg Steak.” It consisted of shredded beef mixed with onions and spices.

Many people today will rely on the burger toppings, rather than the patty itself, to create a flavorful burger. I myself like to focus on the patty first, and then accentuate with toppings. It is much easier to complement something if it already tastes good on its own.

Let's start by selecting which type of meats to use. There are many burgers made with ingredients other than beef, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, and even veggies, but I will stick to the traditional beef burger patty for the purpose of this column.

Instead of settling for simple ground beef at your supermarket, head off to your local butcher, instead. There you will find a number of choices, such as ground sirloin and ground chuck, as well as a couple grades of ground beef.

Lean ground beef is the most common choice for consumers because it seems to represent the best value. It typically has no more than 17 percent fat, but because of this fat content the finished burger has more flavor and moisture than extra-lean ground beef, which has no more than 10 percent fat.

This not only makes it a leaner choice, but a healthier one, as well. Nutritionists will tell you that if you enjoy eating burgers, then extra-lean ground beef in moderation is a great way to help reduce saturated animal fats. If you find it's too lean, then one could always add a small amount of healthier olive oil to your burger mix.

Ground sirloin is exactly what the name states. Regular, lean, and extra-lean ground beef comes from a variety of different cuts of beef, but ground sirloin is only derived from the primal loin and sub-primal sirloin areas of the cow. Ground sirloin thus offers more robust meat flavor and is somewhat more tender, yet still leaner than the above mentioned ground beef options.

Ground chuck, I feel, is the best option. It is from the shoulder area of the cow and has a much better balance of meat and fat, as well as more richness of beef flavor than any other option.

At around 20 percent, it has more fat than lean ground beef, but it is important to remember that when it comes to your palate, not your waistline, fat is your friend because it offers more flavor and juiciness. Because of its meaty flavor, ground chuck is also a popular choice for meatballs. To create even more complex, unique flavor, try mixing ground chuck with ground pork at a 50/50 ratio.

Dear Chef Dez,

I know it is important to cook hamburgers thoroughly on the grill, but what is the best way to know that they are done without overcooking them?

David M.,

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dear David,

The best way to check the internal temperature is with an instant-read thermometer. The internal temperature should be 71 degrees Celsius. The easiest way to remember this is the phrase “71 and it's done.”

Try not to check the temperature too many times during a cooking process, as the more times the meat is pierced, the more chance of losing precious juices.

Gordon Desormeaux aka Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host serving the Pacific Northwest. Visit him at Write to him at or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.


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