Making your own Burgers and Beyond

Whether your burgers are made with meat or you’re sticking to veggies, ground up ingredients in the form of a disc are favourites at any family gathering. Add a variety of toppings into some kind of carrying device, and you’ll be able to feed the hungry hordes, no dishes necessary.

Burgers, balls or slices of meatloaf are also a great way to feed Future You – just add a salad or another side dish and you have a quick meal from leftovers.

Straight meat recipes bind nicely, but adding other ingredients can cause your patties to disintegrate and fall into the grill. As we all try to shift to a more plant based diet, we here at Big Mountain Kitchen wanted to explore what works, and what doesn’t. Store bought veggie patties can be expensive, and filled with ingredients we might not want in our diet (like the high sodium levels common in processed foods).

Binding and Texture

The first challenge with any homemade burger is getting it to stick together on the grill.

With straight meat, if you get the fat content right and don’t overwork your patties, this should happen naturally. Get fresh ground meat or better yet, grind your own! You’re aiming for about 20-40% fat content; if you go too lean, you’ll find your burgers dry and crumbly. Fat keeps it juicy, and makes for a more satisfying meal. Look for regular ground meat rather than lean, or mix in some ground pork. Your butcher can add extra fat if you ask really nicely.

With the more fragile plant based patties, it can get a little trickier to keep them together. Without the proteins in the meat to keep it in one piece, they tend to fall apart. Certain veggies bind much better than others, and there are several options for binders you can add to help with excess moisture. It’s worth experimenting to find some favourites; beans, shredded root vegetables and avocadoes can all come into play to add flavour, nutrition and texture. We found it helpful to par cook the patties in the toaster oven (too hot for the full size), then finish them on the grill for flavour and grill marks.

Binding Tips

  • Fat Content – 20-40% fat content is ideal. Too lean, and your burger will fall apart.
    • Eggs add the protein and fat missing from lean meats and veggie recipes.
    • If you don’t do eggs, then some other common binders are bread crumbs, oats, or ground flaxseeds mixed with water. Experiment to find your favourite!
    • I’ve also heard amazing things about mashed avocado, we may have to try this out at the demo!
  • Chill your Patties – once your patties are formed, keep them separated with parchment paper and store in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before grilling to help them firm up. Make them ahead of the party so you can play with your guests.
  • Salt the burger, not the mix – salt will mess around with moisture. You’re better off sprinkling salt onto the top of the burgers once they’re on the grill, not mixing it into the recipe.
  • Plant based recipes especially can suffer from too much moisture. Drain and dry your beans or veggies thoroughly before mashing. Consider frying up any onions, peppers, mushrooms or other juicier ingredients before adding them to the mixture. Later, as the burgers cook, their steam can break up the party.

Forming Tips

  • Don’t overwork the mixing – a simple stir to blend ingredients as necessary, but try to keep the natural texture together rather than a full mush
  • Have your parchment and platter ready for storing – 30-60 minutes in the fridge is best practice for most burger recipes.
  • A portion scoop (or meatballer for balls) will help with consistent sizes for even cooking and healthy portions. Alternatively, weigh a few patties on a scale to make sure your eye isn’t bigger than your stomach!
  • If you’re shaping patties, add a dimple to the middle. As the burger cooks, the dimple will keep the patty flatter.
  • Be mindful of shrinkage – meat can shrink up to 30% on the grill. Aim to have your patty fill the bun, or be an appropriate size for other carrying devices. Large lettuce leaves, around 4-6″, work great for the low carb folks in your life. Try to find softer leaves, or cut off the stiff bottoms for the salad.

Ready to Grill

Once it’s rested and chilled, it’s time to get your patties on the grill. Or maybe you prefer the crispy caramelization of a fried burger? Frying in a (cast iron) skillet is an easy way to rescue crumbly patties, and a great alternative to outdoor BBQs on those stormy summer nights. A cast iron griddle is our go-to on blustery days; you still get the grilled experience since the burger is held up out of the drippings.

Those silly non stick BBQ sheets? That’s really frying your burger rather than grilling, and we’ve proven that cast iron just tastes better.

Glen, resident BBQ Pit Master

Whether you’re grilling or frying, make sure your surface is oiled, especially if it’s a veggie recipe. Full meat patties typically have enough fat content that they should be ok without additional oil, but the veggie burgers tend to be lean and wet, and will stick like glue. Look for a high smoking point oil like avocado, coconut, or peanut.

Speaking of wet patties, leave your patties out to breath and come to room temperature for 10 minutes or so before they hit the heat. This will let excess moisture escape and prevent condensation from gluing your patties to the grill.

Don’t play with your meat embrace the stick and build flavour the right way. If you greased your grill and managed your heat, the patty should release once it’s finished cooking half way or so. Give it a quarter turn to get the cross marks of a Pro, then let it continue cooking. Once the patty is more than half cooked, even starting to cook on the top, you can then gently flip it over to finish up, add your cheese, and high five your friends.

Squishing is also a no-go! The juices inside are key to flavour and moisture, a squished burger is a dry burger. Similarly, don’t close the lid on your patties; a closed BBQ is an oven with flareups. Have some patience and you’ll see better results.

Check your temps – a quick reading thermometer (like our digital instant read thermometers from Escali) is key for the grill. You want your burger fully cooked to 165F, but not overcooked and dry. Pull them off the grill a touch early and let them finish cooking while they rest for about 15% of their cook time (thanks for the tip, Ray!)

Feeding Future You – Quick Meal Ideas for Leftovers

Making patties is a process; it’s nice to do bigger batches than needed so that you can enjoy them on multiple occasions. You also have extra in case surprise guests pop in from the smell of the BBQ!

If you have lots left over, freeze them raw for a future grilling night. Let them thaw thoroughly in the fridge before cooking them, the microwave is not your friend in this case.

Test your veggie recipes to make sure they can thaw nicely before you freeze a big batch; the moisture content can do strange things sometimes. They’ll hold up better par cooked then frozen, ready to put on the grill or pan to finish up.

A few cooked burgers are quick to reheat and assemble for solo snacks, so keep those in the fridge for up to a week or so. I’ve been known to enjoy them like a Salisbury Steak with side dishes like salads or mashed veggies, and they’re great for packed lunches. Keep the patty separate from the toppings to be able to heat up if you prefer, or crumble it into a taco salad or burrito wrap. Ever tried bacon cheeseburger soup? Pizza? Yum.

We’ll be giving out samples of various patty recipes we’re playing with this week at our Saturday Market Demo on Saturday, August 13th. I’ll add the video here afterwards so you can watch, but without smellovision, I’m not sure it’ll be as effective! The following week, we’ll be looking at zero waste lunch ideas and will dig in more about how to pack something like a burger for a real meal on the go!