There is good news! Your hamburger doesn’t have to be the expensive hockey puck which happens if you use ground beef that is too lean. Based on my years of experience as a butcher and some insights I got during my Ph.D. research, I have come to the conclusion that ground beef provides the best hamburger eating experience when you start with 80 % lean (20 % fat) ground beef. Anything leaner tends to have the consistency of a hockey puck. The best part is the edible portion of a burger which starts at 80% lean, is fairly close to the fat level of a leaner burger. During cooking, the fat melts out leaving voids in the patty – these voids make a less dense texture and also leave a place for the other juices and aromas of cooking burger to accumulate. Then when you bite into the burger, you get a “blast of taste and aroma” which improves eating satisfaction.
The really lean patty will shrink into a dense, void-less mass that is tough, and has no place for the juices to stay in-so they all evaporate, and the lean patty is dry as well. Finally, since most of the cooking loss in a lean patty is moisture, you have almost as much fat in the patty you eat as one from a fatter starting point. If math isn’t your thing take my word for it: eating a very lean patty doesn’t improve the nutritional value of the edible portion. However, if you want to understand a little of the science behind my hamburgerology, read the paragraph below.
If we start with (2) 100g (about 3.5 oz) patties, one with 80% lean and 20 % fat and the other with 95 % lean and 5 % fat, and we put both of these patties on the grill to cook, we’ll end up with 2 cooked 80g (2.8 oz) cooked patties – cooking loss is about 20g for each patty. The interesting part is that the 95 % patty loses about 19.5g of water and 0.5g of fat, so it ends up with 4.5g of fat in the 80g cooked portion. Therefore, in the cooked portion, there is 4.5/80 = 0.056 or 5.6 % fat in the finished patty – not bad – except it is tough and tasteless. The 80% lean patty loses about 13g of fat and 7g of moisture, leaving 7g of fat in the cooked portion, or 7/80 = 0.875 or 8.75% fat in the final patty. So for just a little more fat, you have a much tastier hamburger !