Ask Peter: Burger break-up
Why do my hamburger patties break up doing cooking? What can I do to keep them wholeand neat looking? Patricia Hislop
I adore a good hamburger. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve been working with GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) a now-global chain since 2001. It was the brain child of three young New Zealanders living in London who thought it odd that there wasn’t anyone selling really good tasty burgers like the ones they’d had back home.
I came on board as their culinary advisor a year or so before the first restaurant opened (always happy to help when I can) and the rest is, as they say, history. They sold the chain but I’ve stayed working with it ever since. In fact, as this goes to print I’ll just have launched a confit duck and blue cheese burger with sweet potato fries, pomegranate and dukkah. Yum yum — I am getting hungry just writing this. There are now GBKs in numerous countries and currently around 60 in the UK alone. Not a bad idea for these three young New Zealand men.
But, that doesn’t answer your question. Reasons your patties may break up include:
The coarseness of the mince. If it’s too coarse there simply isn’t enough soft texture to hold it all together. Think of trying to hold 1cm chunks of meat in a stew together— it’s impossible. However, if the mince is too fine it cooks badly as the patty becomes more paste-like and the finished texture is one of pureed meat. A mince that sits between fine and medium is best.
The fattiness of the meat. While minced wagyu beef makes a great burger, minced very fatty mutton won’t. Fat will melt during cooking and if there’s too much present it will mean the burger falls apart as it cooks. It will also stop the patties holding together when you’re forming them, as there’s less protein present, and protein is good for adding strength to the patties.
If there are too many veges in the mix then that can also prevent the patties holding. Having a few largish chunks can work, as there is enough protein to hold the patty together. Having some very small chopped onions, spring onions, grated carrot or even baby peas (delicious ina lamb burger) can also work, but if you add too many of them you’ll have trouble holding everything together.
One way to have plenty of veges is to also add breadcrumbs, which has the effect of binding the meat and other ingredients to each other — but you will end up with a less meaty patty, (which can be a positive thing). Adding finely chopped raw livers (chicken or duck are great) can also keep your patties stable, and as the livers cook they firm up and help hold it all together. But livers may not beyour thing.
Adding mustard, tomato sauce, chilli sauce, chopped parsley and mint, thinly sliced spring onions and finely minced shallots all add flavour and, if used in moderation, none of these will cause the patties to fall apart. As I type, I suspect that the combination of too many “additives” and too coarsely minced meat will have the worst effect.
Beetroot is a great addition to your burger, but instead of boiling it in vinegar, sugar and water, try scrubbing the skins before wrapping in lightly oiled foil and baking in a hot oven until cooked — which you can test by poking a skewer through easily. Leave to cool then peel and coarsely grate, mixing with a little mayonnaise or creme fraiche and plenty of dijon or grain mustard. You’ll be happy for the change in beetroot habits.
The bun is also something to consider. Much as I like a steak sandwich in a toasted sourdough, I do prefer my burgers in a softer bun, partly because burgers tend to be packed full of ingredients and a softer bun means you can get so much more of it in your mouth at one time. And let’s be honest, burgers will never be elegant eating.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.