How to Get Lean Burger to Stick Together

Freshly made hamburger patties on a wood chopping board.
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When making hamburgers, it's best to use ground beef that is 80 to 85 percent lean, according to Steven Raichlen, host of "Barbecue University" on PBS. Too much fat produces a greasy burger, while too little fat can leave your burgers dry and crumbly. For optimal flavor and sticking-togetherness, Raichlen recommends combining ground chuck and sirloin, which typically means a fat content of 17 to 18 percent. Even if you prefer leaner patties, however, you can still take steps to keep your burgers intact.


Step 1

Thaw the ground beef in the refrigerator, if frozen. Defrosting beef in the microwave causes inconsistent thawing and may melt some of the fat in the meat.

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Step 2

Add desired mix-ins to your meat before forming patties, but hold the salt. If you want to add grated cheese, chopped onion or a dash of Worcestershire, for example, gently fold the chilled ingredients in with your hands. Raichlen and Chris Schlesinger, co-author of "The Thrill of the Grill," recommend handling meat with cold, wet hands to avoid heating the meat.

Step 3

Form your patties, again handling the meat gently with cool, wet hands. Roll the meat for each patty into a ball first and then gently flatten to desired thickness. Make sure the edges are at least as thick as the middle of your burgers, handling each patty as little as possible.

Step 4

Salt and pepper your burger on both sides just before cooking. Adding salt too far in advance dries out your patties by drawing the juices out, according to Schlesinger. A dried-out burger is more likely to fall apart.


Step 5

Place your lean burger patties on the hottest area of the grill just long enough to make them crusty on the outside, then move to a cooler area to cook the inside. Use your grilling spatula to turn the burgers, but avoid pressing down on the meat, which drains the juice.


Enclosing a pat of butter in the middle of your raw patties helps keep the meat moist, which can help it stick together during cooking. If you're watching your fat intake, choose a healthier butter-like spread, such as one made from olive oil.

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