Best Meat for Burgers: All the Info for Next Level Burgers

August 2, 2023
Written by John Smits

There are a dizzying number of ground meats that can be used for burgers, but your best bet is freshly ground USDA Choice or Wagyu 80/20 chuck. This has a lean-to-fat ratio of 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fat. You can bump the fat percentage to 25% or 30% for a glorious burger, as well.

Not to brag, but I grill up the best burgers on the block. Smash burgers are my go-to when I've got burgers on my brain, so I've included my recipe. It puts drive-thru joints to shame. If I served you my smash burger for your last meal, I promise you'd die happy.

Anyone can grill an okay burger. But a great burger? It takes some serious skills to crank out excellent eats. I'm here to give you the skinny on how to make burgers that are brimming with flavor and are so tender they melt in your mouth. Let's get our cheeseburger on.

best meat for burgers

The Best Meat for Burgers, Explained

Again, the perfect burger starts with a Choice-grade cut of chuck with at least 20 percent beef fat. Chuck, with its high percentage of beef fat, makes the juiciest burgers on the planet.

I know some grillmasters who prefer 25 or 30 percent fat. More fat never hurt anyone! (Okay, don't tell my cardiologist I said that.) More fat equals more moisture, so if your burgers are drying out on you, try upping the fat ratio. If you make a dried-out burger, we've got beef. (Get it?)

Once you select your ground beef, cook it the same day. While properly sealed ground beef will keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, it's going to taste its best when prepared on the day it was ground.

If you're storing ground beef in the freezer, it will last indefinitely - it just won't taste as good. I use ground beef within 3 months of freezing for best results. The best option is to plan ahead and buy the correct amount of ground beef for your get-together.

The Grind - Fresh is Best for Good Burgers

The best burgers start with the best beef, freshly ground.

Select the best-looking USDA Choice-grade chuck steak at the grocery store, and have the butcher freshly grind the meat for you (or grind your own meat).

If you're looking to grind the meat yourself, a grinder attachment for your stand mixer is the easiest and least expensive way to get into the grinding game. Grinding your own burger meat is a bit of a chore - you’ll have more to clean up - but there’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a burger made from beef you’ve ground yourself.

I don't always grind my own beef if I'm being honest. Life is busy, and having the butcher grind beef for me is convenient and will produce an excellent burger. But when I do grind my own burger meat, look out! It gives me complete control over the whole process, and the result is burger bliss.

You're looking for a coarser grind, so the beef will go through 1/4-inch holes. Only run the meat through the grinder once, and ask for it to be loosely packaged. The ground beef should look like thick strands of cooked spaghetti. Do not use a finer grind.

Juicy Beef Burger with Ketchup

If the grocery stores you shop at don't have a butcher, look for ground beef that resembles thick ropes. The coarseness of the grind makes an uneven surface that contains air pockets on the surface of the beef. This yields far juicer ground beef than a finer grind.

Again, extra lean ground beef or even lean ground beef won't cut it. You want a fat content of at least 20%. Less fat means less flavor.

Dry-aging beef has become all the rage in recent years, and some grill enthusiasts love making burgers from ground dry-aged beef. Expect a deep beefy flavor. The aging process tends to dry the meat out, but the steak-like flavor is one-of-a-kind. While it's not my jam, it may be yours - give it a try sometime.

Other Types of Beef for Burgers

While I think the most mouthwatering burger known to humans is made from freshly ground chuck, you can grill up a mighty tasty burger using beef ground from other cuts of the steer.

Boneless short rib, flank, skirt, sirloin, hanger, brisket, tri-tip, or a blend of these meats are popular options. Again, make sure your burger mix is 80/20 for supremely juicy burger patties.

Don't fritter away your money on flavorful but expensive cuts of meat like rib eye or strip steak. Ribeye is best for steaks, not for burgers.

When mixing meats, try to get the lean-to-fat ratio at least 80/20.

Avoid Pre-Packaged Ground Beef

Stay away from pre-ground beef if you can. You don't know how long it's been sitting in plastic wrap, and once the beef is ground up, oxidation begins.

Avoid pre-made patties like the plague. That beef has been overworked and is guaranteed to produce a dry burger that no amount of mayo and ketchup can rescue. There's another reason stores sell "convenient" pre-made burgers - they charge more for them. An increase in cost is good for the store and bad for you. You'll pay more money for a worse product - don't fall for it.

And don't even think about buying frozen pre-made burgers. These frozen pucks produce a sad, dried-out disc of meat that doesn't deserve to be called a burger. Seriously. I'd rather eat a hot dog.

Other Types of Protein for Burgers

Say cheeseburger and most people think of ground beef - that said, there are plenty of other burger meat options out there, most of which are healthier than ground beef - they certainly don't have as much fat.

Other store-bought ground meat options for burgers include bison, chicken, turkey, salmon, and lamb. If you're a hunter or know one, venison can be ground into burger meat, as well.

I'm fond of black bean burgers, which are a breeze to put together and are sure to please any vegetarians at your table.

Imitation "meat" brands like "Impossible" and "Beyond" are getting shockingly good at approximating the beefy flavor of traditional hamburgers.

Raw Burger Patties with Burger Buns, Tomatoes, and Spices

Say Cheese: My Smashburger Recipe

Alright, ready to fire up some absolutely killer burgers? Use the best meat for burgers - freshly ground chuck. The meat is gently kissed with flavors from the live fire. It's also minimally seasoned (this lets the beef flavor shine through).

I use a charcoal grill fitted with Grill Grates to cook my hamburger patties. You can also use a cast iron pan on your grill or a flattop cooker/griddle like a Blackstone. Pan-frying on your kitchen stove works, too, but you won't get that flame-cooked flavor.

The internet is full of hamburger recipes - this one is simple, easy, and delicious and puts most of those to shame. The browned exterior of the hamburgers is delightfully crunchy, and every bite is beefy, juicy, and smile-inducing. The hamburgers come together quickly - it's the perfect weeknight meal for the whole family.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves: Approximately 6 (Makes 8 quarter pounders)

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs freshly ground chuck (the best meat for burgers on the planet), divided into (8) 4oz balls
  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 8 slices American "processed" cheese
  • Optional: finely sliced onion
  • Whatever toppings you desire
  • 8 soft hamburger buns - potato, sesame, or my favorite, Trader Joe's brioche

Cooking Instructions

  1. Fire up your grill to medium-high. I like to cook my burger meat at 450°F-500°F. It's hot, and they'll cook quickly.
  2. Cook the bacon to desired doneness (make mine crispy) on whatever surface you'll be cooking the burger meat on, or bake it on a sheet pan in the oven. Reserve the fat - you'll be cooking each burger patty in the fat.
  3. Pre-smash the ground beef. This is one of my secret tricks - it makes smashing the ground beef later a breeze. Remove the ground beef from the fridge. Using your hands, take the ball of ground meat and flatten it, forming circles that are around 5" in diameter and 1/4" thick.
  4. Apply seasonings to the ground beef. I usually stick to just salt and pepper, but some grillmasters throw some onion or garlic powder in their ground beef. Keep it simple. Beware burger recipes that call for eggs, breadcrumbs, and the like. That's meatloaf, not hamburgers. Apply seasonings to both sides.
  5. Get to grilling. Rub that bacon fat all over your cooking surface, and put the pre-flattened patties on the cooker. Press down with a heavy-duty spatula (coated with cooking spray) for approximately 10 seconds per patty. Let the burgers cook without moving for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Flip the burgers. Once the bottom has browned, it's time to flip those bad boys. The internal temperature should be around 110°F-120°F. Press down gently after flipping. You don't want to squeeze out juices at this point, but you want that delicious brown crust.
  7. Top the burgers. Immediately after flipping, put the onions (if using) on top of the browned side of the beef patty. Top with cheese, if desired.
  8. Finish cooking. For medium-well, continue grilling the cheeseburgers until they reach 160°F. A medium-rare burger is cooked to 130°F - these burgers can be gloriously juicy, but you better trust your beef source, as ground beef needs to be cooked to medium-well to protect against foodborne illnesses.
  9. Serve. Grab a plate, stack one or two patties on a bun, and top them with the bacon and whatever condiments or toppings you like. The extra fat from the bacon takes these diner-style burgers to a whole new level. Let the cheeseburgers cool off for a minute or two before you bite into that fatty goodness. Eat. Be happy.
Cooking Burger Patties on the Grill

Conclusion

There you go, everything you need to know about the best meat for burgers. You're looking for fat content of at least 20%, and the ideal cut of beef for this is the chuck. It's readily available at your supermarket, it's relatively inexpensive, and it cranks out supreme burgers. If your meat department has Wagyu chuck, buy some for divinely fatty ground beef.

The best meat for burgers is also freshly ground meat. Have the butcher give that chuck roast a coarse grind or grind your own meat.

And, if you're thinking you want a healthier meat alternative to ground beef, give some other ground meats a try. Turkey, chicken, salmon, and other meats can be ground up and stuck in a bun.

By John Smits
John bought his first home in 2012 and bought his first grill shortly afterward: the ubiquitous Weber kettle grill. He’s been hooked since the first time he fired up some coals. Now, after over a decade spent making countless delicious meals, John is a passionate advocate for live-fire cooking.
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