Beef Burger Salting Decisions

Is:  Paleo, Whole30, a tasting experiment.  Note:  I use lettuce wraps cuz I love ’em.  Your mileage may vary.  

The received wisdom is that seasonings should be added atop the burgers, not mixed in.  At least that’s the current word from on high, or whatever direction such decisions come from.

recipe, ground beef, hamberger, salt, pepper

Two patties, ready for one skillet. Left patty, salt and pepper mixed in. Right patty – applied on top (and bottom)

My parents made their burgers mixing in whatever seasonings INTO the burgers.  I grew up loving them that way, and this is what I continue to do.  They’d buy ground meat, add in whatever (including that salt so allegedly detrimental within the burger innards) and go on from there.  Typically, Mom would add salt, pepper, finely chopped onion, Worcestershire or A-1 sauce, and maybe a few flicks of various other spice rack seasonings.  Occasionally, she’d add finely chopped bits of cheddar in there too.  Those burgers would be a good half inch thick.  And they were GOOD… okay, I wasn’t enamored of the A-1 sauce but it wasn’t always in there.

In fact, when I discovered McDonalds and Burger King, I called their burgers “hockey pucks you can slide under doors”.  (Still don’t like ’em.)

So, I’m experimenting.  And yes, it’s not a valid scientific experiment, as today the test subject is simply myself (sample sizes of ONE are not research….), and since I’m prepping the burgers, I know which one is which.  Experimenter bias, for sure.  But at least – I will know what works for me.

FOR THE EXPERIMENT (PER BURGER)

  • 1/4 lb ground beef
  • Coarse sea salt.  (If you use finely ground salt, do not REMOTELY start with 1/4 teaspoon.  Start with 1/8th teaspoon, see below.  It was even too much with coarsely ground salt.)
  • Ground pepper, either white or black.  My black pepper from TJ’s grinds out unevenly so I went with the finely ground white pepper from Badia.

I thawed out a pound of grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef — yes, my parents NEVER bought those pre-formed patties.  (I never do, either.)  I cut off 1/4 pound for each patty, and will be seasoning each with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper.  The first:  mixed in.  The second:  atop.  Or, actually, roughly divided between top and bottom of the burger.

I hand-mixed both patties the same amount of time – judging on the former by how long it took to get the seasonings thoroughly mixed in and the patty shaped – as to to the second patty.  Don’t over do it.  Shape to the thickness you prefer (I actually make them a little flatter than Mom or Dad did).

Note – my parents (and I) always made the burgers and they were cooked near immediately after formation.  Even a final batch never sat around for more than 30 minutes before being tossed on the grill or in a skillet.

Test cook on your cook-top, not your grill.  At the very least, you want these patties to experience the same temperatures as each other, which is not as guaranteed on a grill.  (Plus, it was SNOWING out there when I ran the first test, Mother’s Day…)

Cook to your own personal fave level of done-ness, adding them at the same time, flipping them at the same time, and removing them from the skillet at the same time.  There may well be differences in how salt behaves with burgers cooked to varying done-ness, but as I’m only ever apt to make beef burgers at home using well-vetted local meat, I cooked mine to medium-rare.  (Supermarket ground beef should have no pink remaining at all.  And of course, I cook to guests’ preferences when they’re over…)

First few bites for each will be as-is.  I’ll get some lettuce wrap and mustard going for the rest of dinner!

Results:

  1. That 1/4 teaspoon of salt is way more than any human needs in a burger. Even using chunky sea salt.  (Fortunately, I like drinking water…)
  2. Might even be a tad too much of a good thing with the pepper – although personally I can tolerate this level more than I can that of the salt.
  3. The tastes were the same for each burger.  (Both salt or pepper.)
  4. The salt-on-exterior burger was marginally more tender inside than the salt-mixed-in one.
Recipe, ground beef, hamberger, salt, pepper

Photo from the 1/2 teaspoon experiment.

So, yes.  Repeat the test with a more sane amount of salt!  (Normally when making burgers I don’t measure seasonings – obviously I typically use way less!)  I created the burgers the same way as mentioned above, but only with 1/8 teaspoon of each seasoning per quarter pound of meat.  Oh, obviously (I hope it’s obvious) I didn’t run the two tests on the same day!!!   A pound of meat???

Results: 

  1. This is still more salty than I’d prefer but this is at least enjoyable.
  2. Both patties tasted equally salty (and peppery).  I’m down with the amount of pepper here.
  3. I could detect no difference in tenderness between the two burgers.
  4. At least if you cook your patties fairly soon after seasoning, salt mixed in or just applied to the exterior (if done with a rational amount of this stuff) will really make no difference in the taste or moisture of your beef patty.

Oh, I have tried doing burgers without any salt at all in the past.  No… that doesn’t work either.  Let’s say 1/16th a teaspoon per quarter pound???

recipe, ground beef, hamberger, salt, pepper

One quarter teaspoon salt and pepper apiece.  The seasonings mixed in, to the left. Seasonings atop, to the right. Yes, I would cook longer for supermarket beef, and I actually prefer the done-ness as seen in the 1/2 teaspoon photo.

Conclusions I reached:

  • I believe I passed the Experimenter Bias portion of the test to state that, surprisingly, the salt outside the patty rather than inside the patty actually did result in a tender-er, more moist interior, at least at my preferred level of medium-rare burger done-ness.  IN the experiment done with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt…
  • However, the difference seemed marginal to me, though it does exist.  I wouldn’t notice it if I’d eaten the beef burgers 15 minutes apart.
  • Mind you that the difference may well grow more pronounced if you prepare the burger patties a significant time prior to the cooking of them (if you study this, store in fridge!)  Salt does draw water out of foods, this is an established thing.  I prep and eat (as did my parents, even if we had company), so I didn’t study this effect.  I may do so in the future – when I feel like eating another large bolus of beef.
  • I was also surprised to note that the same salt (and pepper) tastes came across in both patty prep methods.  I would have thought the taste to be “uneven” or “lost” if simply sprinkled atop, but it isn’t.
  • Sprinkle on top/bottom – or mix in… as long as you aren’t holding the ground beef for any type of time — you should be fine.
  • A good burger is still a good burger even if you don’t get to melt cheese across it while cooking… (since it would interfere with this experiment to hand.)

As an addendum, over my years of hamburger making (beef or lamb), things I personally like to add in:  (Not necessarily all in the same burger)

  • Salt and pepper – typically either ground black pepper or TJ’s Rainbow Peppercorn. 
  • Onions (unlike my parents, I sautee the finely chopped onion until translucent). 
  • Ground mustard powder.  
  • Occasionally, a mild chili powder, ie, Ancho.  
  • Garlic powder, sometimes.
  • Occasionally, Italian herbs, or fresh parsley.  Rosemary if lamb.
  • I don’t add liquids. While I might add an egg, maybe, regular liquids make the burgers harder to hold together.

PS:  Now that I have my own meat grinder, I am looking forward to grinding my own burgers, whether beef, lamb, pork or chicken.  The beef portion won’t happen until I eat down the freezer from my quarter cow farmshare – about half of which was provided as ground beef.  (Alas… if I’d been able to do a HALF cattle, I would have been able to select my own cuts.  I will not be participating in beef shares in the future since there’s no way I want half a cow frozen here, and no way I want not to be able to select my own cuts – there was no need to have half of it already ground!)


This post is linked to:

Fiesta Friday, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook  and myself.  Drop on over and check out the menu!

Full Plate Thursday, with Miz Helen.

What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up, over at the Lazy Gastronome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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9 Responses to Beef Burger Salting Decisions

  1. Jhuls says:

    Such a wonderful experiment, Diann. I haven’t tried adding sauteed onions to burger patties, but I will now. I’ve also read in an article that it is better to add salt & pepper on top of the patties before you cook/grill them. I’ve tried adding them into the mixture and it didn’t work out for me… or maybe I didn’t add enough salt. Anyway, it’s not too late to try again, right? 😀

    These burger patties look so juicy and cooked perfectly. Now, I want a burger with juicy and thick patties!! Thanks for co-hosting with me, Diann. Have a lovely weekend!

    • Just chop up the onion small enough that pieces generally don’t try to break out. As for the salt and pepper – maybe it works on top because one isn’t typically going to mix up the ground meat quite as much as one might if one doe mix the seasonings in. (I did for the sake of the experiment mix the ground meat for the seasoned-on-top patties as much as for the mixed-in patties. So the effect may be mechanical & not due to the salt per se??? I gently mixed in any case, no quick pounding/pulverizing motions! Keeps them juicy!

      Since the ground beef came from a local farmer, I’ve no idea of the percentage fat content – presumably not too high – certainly doesn’t taste fatty.

      And thanks for co-hosting with me too. Enjoying it, and the weekend! May you as well!

  2. nancyc says:

    Thanks for sharing all that you’ve learned about seasoning ground beef! I try to avoid adding extra salt myself-not only to beef but even to veggies and other foods.

    • There are plenty of things that most people add salt to that I avoid adding it to. Chicken, omelets, saltwater seafood… On the other hand, most potatoes seem to cry for it, alas! (Trader Joe makes a salt free “21 Seasoning Salute” I like to use, however)

  3. Now that is a fun experiment! My parents cooked just like yours. I sometimes do that, but what I do is salt a cast iron skillet and then lay the burgers on top over very high heat. Then salt and turn over and cook until desired doneness. Nice crusty outside and tender inside.

  4. Miz Helen says:

    What a great experiment and a great post! Thanks for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday and have a great week!
    Miz Helen

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