Chef Dez: Best burgers begin with the beef

Here’s part one of three columns on building the perfect burger.

We are just over one month into summer and many of us rely on our barbecues as our main cooking devices this time of year.

Hamburgers are always a favourite, but there are still countless people who 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 will be a three-part series of columns.

This first installment will focus on meat selection, the second column will focus on ingredients to add to the hamburger mix, and the last focus will be on burger toppings and bread 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 different spices.

Many people today will rely on the burger toppings, rather than the patty itself, to create a flavourful burger.

I, myself, like to focus on the patty first and then accentuate with toppings. It is much easier to compliment something if it already tastes good on its own.

Let’s start with the selection of meats to use.

There are many burgers made with ingredients other than beef, such as chicken, turkey, salmon and even veggie burgers. But, I will stick to the traditional focus of beef 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 per cent fat, but because of this fat content the finished burger has more flavour and moisture than extra-lean ground beef.

Extra-lean ground beef has no more than 10 per cent fat content.

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 flavour and is somewhat tender, but leaner yet 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 flavour than any other option. At around 20 per cent, 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 as it offers more flavour and juiciness.

Because of its meaty flavour, ground chuck is also a popular choice for meatballs.

To create even more complex unique flavour 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, AB

Dear David,

The best way is 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 precious juices being lost.

– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at Send questions to or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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