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The Ultimate Burger Part 1: Meat Tips

Posted on: August 28th, 2012

Hamburgers are pretty common, but a great burger is a rare and beautiful thing! The ultimate burger and fries is a real treat meal for me, so I want it to be very special!  There are only a couple places I will eat a burger out (I did my homework), but not many – I usually cook my own.

Great burgers are simple – use quality meat and toppings – you can taste the difference!


Here in the fast food age, most folks want their burger fast and cheap – but it only takes a few more minutes and a little pocket change to serve burgers that are truly special (and safe!) – here are some buying tips, my next blog will focus on cooking and recipes – please share and subscribe via RSS or email at right.

The Meat

The quality of the meat is the most important aspect of any burger – period!  Sadly most ground meats come from bulk processors and dominate the market based on low price. Price-first shopping leads short cuts, questionable ingredients such as by products and pink slime, potentially contaminated outside trimmings and intervention steps using strong chemicals to lower risk of pathogens.  Saving a few coins is nice, but not at the risk of food poisoning or dying of e-coli!

We always grind whole-muscle meats at Tony’s

Ground Beef Problems

The outside surfaces of beef sides and primal cuts naturally have a greater potential for contamination. Bulk processors then cut it away and use it in their ground beef.
Strike 1. The trimmings of hundreds of animals are then combined to make huge batches of ground beef
Strike 2. Then the remainder of the carcass is run through automatic meat recovery systems (AMR’s) to strip every scrap of ‘edible’ protein from them
Strike 3. Next theses scraps are blended with the lowest grade trimmings and treated with chemicals to kill bacteria and mixed into other ground meats
Strike 4! This is what you’ll find in almost every grocery store, price club, school and restaurant.

Ground Beef Tips

Avoid all bulk ground beef and only buy from a smaller retailers and restaurants that grind whole muscle meats and trimmings in-house. Be careful, some places will split hairs, saying they grind fresh when they actually re-grind pre-ground bulk factory meats with their own trimmings and call it fresh. There are local butchers like us at Tony’s Markets, and a few restaurants out there that grind only whole muscle meat and trimmings, and they are definitely worth seeking out!

Bratburger with camembert and sweet Guinness onions.

Lean VS Fat

The best tasting ground beef for burgers is about 70-80% lean. 90-95% lean ground meats are really low in fat so they can’t have the same flavor or juiciness.  With super lean ground meats like this, I like to mix in a little egg and breadcrumb to soften the texture, and seasonings, bacon, cheese, steak sauce, veggies, etc. for a more tender texture and increased flavor.

Kobe / Wagyu beef makes particularly delicious burgers – more about Kobe Style Wagyu Beef Here.


Ground Poultry Problems
Unfortunately poultry is no better – most ground chicken and turkey patties and other ‘poultry products’ have the same issues, and it’s impossible to know exactly what inside. To start, they usually are made from the lowest grade birds.  Next, they’re ground with the outside skin (which is where most bacteria live) as well as all the fat and connective tissue. Then they add ‘meat pastes’, made by crushing the bones and other ‘edible tissue’ under high pressure and forcing it through a screening device to remove sharp fragments. It can also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, tertiary butylhydroquinone, dozens of corn derivative products, sugars and chemical flavorings.

Tony’s Homemade Green Chile Chicken Sausage

The resulting poultry ‘pseudo-meat’ is the norm in almost all poultry patties, lunch meats, hot dogs, nuggets, fingers, sausages and prepared foods containing poultry (like pot pies, soups, burritos, etc.).  Are you eating these or feeding them to your kids?

Ground Poultry Tip

Avoid all processed poultry products and insist on whole muscle chicken or turkey ground fresh and without skin and ‘by-products’. At Tony’s (and any self respecting independant butcher shop) we use 100% whole muscle meats without skin, fat or additives in all our ground chicken products. I strongly recommend our skinless ground chicken or turkey thigh meat, I find ground breast meat is just to lean to make a good tasting patty.

The Bottom Line

It’s pretty simple – shop quality first and avoid bulk-processed
meat (and all bulk processed foods in general!) If you want a great burger, find a butcher or restaurant with higher
standards that grinds whole muscle meats fresh and in house, and then cook your
own! Ultimately you’ll spend less and get better quality than eating out – get
your family involved, suppertime is family time! – Buon Appetito – Salute!

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