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When to Salt Burgers

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2013

When you add salt to your burger, you're doing more than just seasoning the meat, and timing is everything.

For the ideal tender, open texture in beef or turkey burgers, minimal handling of the ground meat and loosely packing it into patties are key. But when—and where­­—you salt the meat before cooking is equally important.

We seasoned ground beef three ways: In the first batch, we salted the meat before shaping the patties so that some of the salt got worked into the interior. In the second batch, we formed the patties and salted them on the outside 30 minutes before cooking. In the third batch, we salted the patties just before cooking. We found that the burgers salted before being formed into patties had a firm, almost snappy texture that was closer to sausage than any of us would have liked. (The salt works quickly; it makes a difference even if a burger sits for only a minute or two before cooking.) The patties that rested for 30 minutes after being salted on the outside had a tender interior but a dry and springy exterior, where the salt came into contact with the meat. Only the burgers that were seasoned on the outside and at the very last minute had the texture we liked.

What’s going on? Salt removes water from and dissolves some of the meat proteins, causing them to bind the insoluble proteins together—something good for the springy bite to sausages, not for a tender burger. So wait to salt your burgers until just before they hit the pan or grill.