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Jul 24, 2008 11:28 AM

Burger "Fillers" & the Chowhound

Most discussions I have seen about the quality of burgers tend to stress Sirloin and/or Chuck, degree of doneness, thickness of the patty... maybe even condiments. It seems to me that there is a common consensus towards thick, all beef patties, cooked medium rare etc.,

I am sorry... but when I reflect back on my greatest burger experiences... its rarely the all meat patties that shine... its the patties with fillers! No, no... White Castle fans don't get excited, I am not trying to emancipate you - those - are still disgusting. What I am referring to is the various regional uses of Bread Crumbs, Bacon, Chorizo, Cheese, Pat of Lard, Sugary Condiments etc., to produce a far more tender, juice, intensely flavored burger.

People seem to get caveman like about the thick "juicy" patties... and I am sure there are some legitimate intentions regarding purity, quality & tradition... but I think alot of it borders on overcompensating. The reality is that most lauded, thick juicy burgers I have sought upon advice have been bland... the pink center in most of our American beef is pretty tasteless... also thicker bigger seem to lose a higher percentage of their mosture. In contrast, well thought out "fillers" seem to make big improvements from a purely gustatory perspective.

As an example... I will provide my wife's Turkey Burgers... yes Turkey. I don't remember where she got the recipe from (probably Food Network) but:

a) The bread crumbs keep the patty much more moist than any All Beef burger I've had

and the Chutney provides two functions

b) Speeds up browning of the patty, allowing for less cooking time & a more intensely flavored exterior (as long as you don't burn them!)

c) The complex fruit & spices in the Chutney seem to really bring out the flavor of the meat... in this case even boring, low fat turkey breast becomes mroe interesting than your standard USDA Choice ground Chuck & Sirloin combination.

Finally, there is the assertion that a good meat patty only needs S&P. Bull Pie I say! It may be ironic... but the careful addition of spices & umami actually brings out the flavor of the beef (and I think any accomplished Chef would back me up on this)... the whole S&P only idea comes from the fanatical fantasizing about purity & caveman grunts.

In conlusion,

1) Are there any other Chowhounders who find burgers with "fillers" generally superior to an all meat patty

2) Are there any other compelling "fillers" out there.

3) For the rest of you... let the flaming begin!

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  1. I recently got a recipe from the home cooking board for ground pork, chorizo and applewood smoked bacon burgers that were the best burgers I have ever had; I believe that they may have been a Suzanne Goin recipe. In fact, if it stops raining, I will be grilling them tonight! And I use to be an all beef patty kind of guy but these really opened my eyes!

    10 Replies
    1. re: bakerboyz

      Yes - those are absolutely amazing - the favoured burger in our house.

      1. re: MMRuth

        I would add though - I don't think of pork, bacon and chorizo as "fillers". When I make a beef burger - it's ground beef with a pat of butter in the middle.

        1. re: MMRuth

          True, but wouldn't the purists consider the inclusion of the chile de arbol and shallots as fillers? I believe that these are sooo good that if a purist were to try them, they would be converted!

          1. re: bakerboyz

            Ah - that could be, though I think of the quantities as being small enough that they are flavourings, not fillers. To me, bread crumbs are a filler. Though, given EN's definitions, so to speak, bacon and chorizo are fillers.

            1. re: MMRuth

              I see it the way you do. I view fillers as generally something cheaper that's high in carbohydrates (eg. breadcrumbs, oatmeal, mashed beans) to "stretch" out the meat.

              And I agree with those posters who say that once you add breadcrumbs, you no longer have a burger. You've got a meatloaf patty. It can also be delicious. Grew up eating meatloaf patties on buns as a kid. But I just can't call it a burger.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                Yes, ma'am - if I want a burger, it's gotta taste like a burger, but a grilled patty of properly made meatloaf mixture is about the best hot meatloaf sandwich you can have. I will have it on something other than a bun, though.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  "And I agree with those posters who say that once you add breadcrumbs, you no longer have a burger. You've got a meatloaf patty."

                  Not a lot of meatloaf or meatloaf patties in California (well unless you count Japanese Meatloaf)... so I have no basis to judge... but it seems to me that the small amount of breadcrumbs it takes to improve a burgers moisture doesn't at all make it meatloaf like to me (but again that is comparing to the very rare meatloaf dishes we see around this part of the world).

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    HOW long did you say you've been gone? There's loads of meat loaf around here, mostly in old-school coffeeshop/diners, but Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock sells a meatloaf sandwich that's even better than mine. (And Hill Street in La CaƱada makes one I wouldn't feed to a dog I hated.)

                    Back on topic here, the slightest trace of any sort of cereal substance in ground meat is to me instantly recognizable as soon as it's cooked, and it says MEAT LOAF really loud. As I said, that's OK as long as that's what I wanted...

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I never knew Meatloaf COULD be good until I had the Japanese version at Sawtelle Kitchen... perhaps that is why my antennae never picked it up... but its not like you can drop by at any of the classic L.A. restaurants (Traxx, Michael's, Water Grill etc.,) and order a Meatloaf right?

                      Anyways... I am picking up an anti Meatloaf vibe... ever since I had quality versions of Meatloaf... I can say that they can be superior to Burgers... so I wouldn't take that as an insult.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Japanese Hamberg steak is an epiphany when well prepared. Probably one of the most revered yoshoku dishes in Japan.

                        This is where I used to go to get my fix when I worked for Japanese on supply trips to the OC:

      2. One of my best friends has a burger recipe that calls for a number of fillers, among which are capers and worcestershire sauce. Personally, I enjoy my burgers fairly devoid of filler: only minced and grated onions and some heavy cream. However, I do find this combo much juicer and full of flavor than just plain beef.

        1. I seldom use any fillers, and when I do it's usually finely-chopped onion (suggested by J. Beard); to me, any kind of bread substance always makes it taste like meat loaf. But after reading an LA Times food article on burgers, in which they consulted with Nancy Silverton, I began following her suggestion of salting meat well in advance of cooking it, and it does make a huge difference in the flavor. I take the patties out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking them and give them a generous pinch of salt on each side, plus a bit of pepper, and lay them on a rack with a clean towel over. They don't come out tasting salty at all, just good and beefy.

          1. EN

            If you have read any of jfood's posts in the past you know he always pushes back on posts that take broad definitional license. In this case a patty made with turkey and chutney is as much a burger as the Silver Palate Salmon Croquettes that jfood likes so much. And jfood thinks you are the benchmark of Mexican cuisine, tradition and history so you also know that jfood is making this comment with the utmost respect. That ain't a burger, its a turkey patty. But, in fairness, it sounds really good.

            But onto the question of burgers. Jfood, like many, have tested many different ways to make a better burger. And what he has settled on is the following.

            80-20 beef; montreal seasoning, water (1/2 C per pound). The Montreal Seasoning enhance the flavor of the meat but you need to be real careful not to add too much or it will overpower, you are looking for background not tongue-whacking. The water really keeps the burger moist, even with 80-20 meat. Lastly is the method. High, hot, hot. You have to keep the temperature of the grill smokin'. Lastly is something jfood read on a package of Bubba Burgers. Leave them alone, Don't go messing with the burger while it's cooking and definitely DO NOT PRESS it.

            He does not like onions because he does not like raw onions on anything. He is thinking of dicing some caramelized onions and mixing in next time. All the other things he reads, i.e. cheese and butter and jalepenos and other things are just not jfood's vision of a burger with fried onions, cheese, bacon on a great brioche with Heinz ketchup.

            Give him a G
            Give him a R
            Give him a U
            Give him a N
            Give him a T

            What's that spell.....Burger

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              With the exception of Montreal seasoning (I make my own version), I make my burgers exactly the same way. Yum yum yum.

            2. nope, no fillers in my burgers, just chuck ground in front of me, taken home, and put on the roaring hot grill.

              Also a burger in my world, never consists of turkey, salmon, or some vegitarian version of a burger.

              Its gotta be beef, or buffalo for me.