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Why Home-Ground Meat Makes More Tender Burgers

By Cook's Illustrated Published

We discovered why store-bought ground meat just can’t compare.

Ground meat is a staple in many homes. We use it to make burgers, pasta sauce, meatballs, and meatloaves. We often buy it straight from the supermarket. But it's also possible to grind it at home with an ordinary food processor. And for the ulimate burgers—like our Juicy Pub-Style Burgers—we find that's the best option. Grinding at home not only allows us to control the type of cut, but how coarsely it's ground. We decided to take a look at how the size of the grind impacts the texture of a burger. 

Experiment

We made three sets of burger patties, one with store-bought 90 percent lean ground chuck and two with flap meat that we ground ourselves in the food processor (we ground one batch to mimic the texture of the store-bought meat; the other we ground moderately coarse in the manner we prefer—see “Getting the Perfect Grind,” below). After cooking all three sets of burgers to medium-rare, we let them rest for five minutes and then dropped a large Dutch oven on each patty from 6 inches above the counter. We repeated the test three times.

Results

Messy—but in a good way. The burgers reacted very differently to the weight of the Dutch oven. The one made from the dense store-bought ground meat remained intact (though somewhat flattened) and did not ooze any liquid at all. The burger made from the beef we ground to mimic the store-bought texture spread a bit but did not release any of its juices. The looser, more coarsely home-ground burger, however, flattened like a pancake, spewing its moist interior all over the board.

Smashing Burgers: Home-Ground and Store-Bought

To test the difference between burgers made with home-ground and store-bought meat, we dropped a Dutch oven on top of each patty from 6 inches above.

  • Home-Ground

    The burger made from meat we ground to perfection at home was much more tender, and therefore splattered and smushed much more under the weight of the falling Dutch oven.

  • Store-Bought

    The burger made from store-bought ground meat cooked up dense and tough and remained relatively solid when smashed with a heavy Dutch oven. 

Takeaway

One important variable in ground beef is the texture of the grind. Because we could control the texture of the meat we ground ourselves, we were able to construct a looser, more tender burger with our coarse-ground meat. Because we could not control the size of the grind in the burger patty made from store-bought meat, it was much denser, tougher, and ultimately much more resilient when smashed. (In this case, resilience is not a good thing!)

A second variable in ground beef is the choice of cut. Because we could choose to grind flap meat, a cut with more fat and flavor than chuck, both of our home-ground burgers tasted richer and more flavorful (no matter how they smashed) than the store-bought.

Getting the Perfect Grind

Underprocessed meat will lead to gristly bits in the finished burgers and patties that don't hold together. Overprocessed meat becomes rubbery and dense as it cooks. Perfectly ground meat contains pieces that are fine enough to ensure tenderness but coarse enough that the patty will stay loose. 

Recipe Juicy Pub-Style Burgers

Hand-ground beef gave us deep flavor, but getting a crusty exterior plus a juicy interior that was evenly rosy from center to edge required a couple more tricks.

Recipe Tender, Juicy Grilled Burgers

Preground chuck patties may be easy to throw on the grill, but if you want ultrabeefy, tender, juicy burgers, start with steak tips—and open the freezer.

Recipe Best Old-Fashioned Burgers

Sixty years ago, drive-in burgers were synonymous with freshly ground high-quality beef. Today they mean tasteless mass-produced patties. We wanted to bring back the genuine article.

Recipe Grass-Fed Half-Pound Burgers

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of a juicy ½-pounder with cheese.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.