By Janeal Yancey of Mom at the Meat Counter
Everyone loves hamburgers. They are easy to fix, tasty, kids love them, and they remind me of summer.
On the other hand, a good hamburger is usually high in fat. Everyone knows the best burgers are made from the fattest beef. They’re juicier, more tender, tastier… just better. So, if you are watching your weight, you indulge on fewer burgers.
We all know that we can buy very lean ground beef. Ground sirloin is 90% lean and some stores offer ground beef as lean as 96%. If you buy that lean of beef for burgers, they turn out dry and tough.
When I was working on my graduate degree, I found some really interesting articles where berries were mixed with lean ground beef to improve the flavor, juiciness, and texture of the burgers. It worked so well that one state was mixing berries in the lean ground beef used for school lunches.
Now that I’m a mom of an almost-6-year-old, I am trying to figure out new ways to make healthy foods that a picky little girl will actually eat. So, I decided to give the blueberry burgers a try.
Cooking with me is always a little bit of an experiment. My husband and I both have PhD’s in Meat Science, so we are always thinking of ways to try something new or use an ingredient in a novel way.
You can google ‘blueberry burgers’ and several recipes and articles come up. Basically, I just winged it based on my research in graduate school.
I decided to try my experimental cooking at work where I wouldn’t be interrupted by little helpers.
I bought some 93% lean ground beef and blueberries.
I bought exactly one pound of ground beef and the blueberries came in a 6 oz. package. I wanted to use about a 4:1 beef to berry ratio, so I very scientifically removed about 2/3 of the blueberries from the package to use. Then, I picked the stems off the berries and chopped them up until I was bored with chopping.
I added a little salt and pepper (not enough, I was later informed) and made 5 patties. The extra weight of the fruit extended my ground beef, so I could make an extra patty. They did look a little odd…
I cooked the patties on a little electric griddle set to 400° F. I turned the patties every two minutes and used a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. I made sure the patties reached 165° F, and removed them from the griddle. It only took about 8 minutes for them to cook.
When checking the temperature, you want to make sure you get to the center of the burger. I like to insert the thermometer from the side and check it twice. Ground beef needs to reach at least 160° F in the center to make sure it’s safe to eat. Checking the burger’s temperature also keeps you from overcooking your burgers and letting them dry out. You have to be careful with these lean patties, because the thermometer may cause them to crumble apart. It’s nothing a good piece of cheese can’t fix, though.
When I chopped the blueberries by hand, you could still see the pieces of blueberry in the cooked patty.
My finished product was tasty, tender, and juicy. I took a plate of hamburgers around my office and let people try them. Only one person said he didn’t like them, and he just doesn’t like blueberries. When I told them that my burgers were made with 93% lean beef, they were very surprised that they tasted so good.
I was pretty pleased with my little experiment, but I wasn’t sure that kids would eat them if they could still see the berry pieces, so I decided to try a follow-up experiment. I used the food processor to puree my blueberries before I added them to the ground beef.
This time the raw burgers turned out a little purple. The pureed berries also made the patties feel wetter when I was making them, but they cooked up about the same as the chopped version.
Even cooked, the berries made the beef just a little bit purple, especially on the inside, and some people said that they could taste the blueberry flavor, but they still liked them.
I made these on a Friday at my office, so we added cheese, cooked up some fries and had a little lunch. Everyone loved the blueberry burgers and were amazed at how good they tasted in spite of being so lean.
Using 93% lean ground beef rather than 80% lean reduces the calories in one cooked patty from 210 to 154. The blueberries also add fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants to the burger. So they are healthier!
The antioxidants in the blueberries should also help make the burger taste better if you keep them as leftovers. The offensive flavor that develops in leftover ground beef is caused by oxidation, and the blueberries prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any leftover blueberry burgers to sample.
Blueberries aren’t the only fruit that would work in burgers. I’ve seen examples of people using cherries, raspberries, elderberries, and dried plums (also known as prunes). Just mix them in at about 20 to 25% of the ground beef. With drier fruits, like prunes, you may need to use less. Fruits in meat should work in other dishes, too, like meat loaf, sausage, even chili. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
grew up in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas and attended Texas Tech University. She became interested in meat science through FFA and collegiate meat judging teams and decided to go to graduate school in meat science at Kansas State University. At Kansas State, she received both her Masters and PhD in meat science. She is currently at the University of Arkansas where she conducts research on many aspects of meat quality, from beef tenderness and ground beef color to the textural properties of bacon.
In 2011, Janeal entered the world of blogging with her Mom at the Meat Counter Blog. From this platform, she writes about meat and the meat industry from her point of view. As a mom, she knows that all moms have lots of questions about what they feed their families and as a meat scientist; she can answer a lot of their questions. Her posts range from topics about food safety and meat handling to the beef product known in the media as ‘pink slime’ and antibiotics in the meat supply.
Janeal and her husband, Ed, also a meat scientist, live in Huntsville, AR where they raise two wild daughters, Vallie and Wyn, and gentle Simmental cattle.