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» Build a Better Burger: Grilling Different Beef Blends
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Build a Better Burger: Grilling Different Beef Blends

By • Oct 23rd, 2010 • Category: How To Cook Burgers

The first installment of our new “Build a Better Burger” how-to series looked at the ground beef blends you’ll find at your local grocery store.  But after analyzing the labels, shooting extreme closeups of raw meat, and getting anatomical about where on the cow each cut comes from, I didn’t even make a damn burger! I know, call me a burger tease.  But hey, truth is, by picking inferior beef or a cut that’s better-suited for something else, a lot of folks blow their backyard burgers to shit before they even leave the store.  I’m trying to make sure you’re not one of those people.

So… where were we???

Right, we had three pounds of meat sitting on my countertop- 80/20 ground chuck, 85/15 ground round, and 90/10 ground sirloin.  Conventional wisdom says more fat equals better burger.  But I wanted to do a head-to-head-to-head taste test to see if it was that big a deal… or even true at all.  I divided each pound into thirds, formed my patties, and seasoned them with kosher salt and black pepper just before sliding them onto a ripping-hot grill.

Not much difference, visually.  The 80/20 chuck burgers make up the left up-and-down column, the 85/15 round is the middle column, and the 90/10 sirloin comprise the right column.  It was when I flipped them that I started to notice something.

See the pyrotechnics at left?  That’s not some random hot spot on my grill.  The chuck burgers were dripping 20% fat content onto the hot coals and causing major flare-ups.  The 15%-fat burgers in the middle?  Less flame.  The lean sirloin patties at right?  Nada.  Decent grill marks on them all, but when the grease that had pooled on top was dumped onto the hot charcoal… it was easy to see which burgs were literally adding fuel to the fire.

Off the grill, they all looked pretty much the same again, and I was starting to wonder if this talk about beef’s fat content was just bull.  I let them rest for the requisite 5 minutes while some American cheese settled in on top, then bunned and cut one of each in half for a cross-section view.

The differences are subtle, but they’re there.  The 90/10 sirloin at far right doesn’t look like it has great texture, comparatively.  The 85/15 round in the middle seems somewhat less dense.  But the 80/20 chuck on the left verges on burger porn: loosely-packed beef that’s spilling out of the bun and actually soaking the bottom bun with juice.  That looks like something I want to sink my teeth into.  The burger on the right looks like something I’d wedge under a wobbly table leg.

Here they are one at a time.  90/10 Sirloin:

85/15 Round:

80/20 Chuck:

But amazingly enough, the taste test brought me right back to wondering what all the fuss was about.  Eaten side-by-side-by-side, there wasn’t a tremendous taste difference between the three.  If I really concentrated, I got a juicier bite and a more satisfying mouth feel from the chuck.  But if you served me the 90/10 burger by itself at a cookout, I don’t know that I’d know the difference.  “What the hell is this?!?  A ground sirloin burger?!?  What are you trying to do to me?!?”

Then again, the sirloin was costlier.  It didn’t look quite as burgersexycool.  And it lacked that dripping-down-your-chin factor.  It felt like the Olympics, where just a few tenths of a point means the difference between gold-medal glory and bronze-medal anonymity.  And even if you know nothing else about burgers, you’re fully aware that the devil is in the details.  The little things matter in BurgerWorld.  So 80/20 ground chuck remains my go-to choice at the meat counter… but if you had to sneak by with some round or sirloin, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  Probably.

One Response to “Build a Better Burger: Grilling Different Beef Blends”

  1. 1
    Cheeseburger.TV Says:

    Man, your site makes my mouth water (haven’t eaten dinner yet tonight – starving!).

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