“Most people think you can’t have a healthy beef burger, but you can,” says John La Puma, MD, classically trained chef and author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.
But beef burgers have their pitfalls. Never use conventional frozen patties, he warns, because like fast-food burgers, they contain a mixture of low-grade meat and fat trimmings, and chemical additives. Ground beef in a regular supermarket may be produced in the same way and comes from factory farms that give cows hormones and antibiotics (see www.themeatrix.com).
The Best Burger Meat
To make the tastiest healthy burger, La Puma tested different types of ground lean meats and the winner was chuck
steak, trimmed of visible fat (around 10 to 15 percent fat). Get the chuck ground in the store or, at home, cut the steak into chunks and, in a large food processor, process with on/off pulses until finely chopped.
In descending order, these are your best choices: (1) Grass-fed: Compared to corn-fed, it’s lower in cholesterol and saturated fat but higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and E. (2) 100-percent organic (grass-fed and organic meats don’t contain added hormones or antibiotics). (3) Raised without hormones or antibiotics.
Lean meats can be a bit tricky to cook. To make them delicious, these are La Puma’s time-tested tips:
- To avoid meat becoming too dry: “Stand there and watch your burger on the grill,”he says; “It forces you to be a better cook.”
- To add moisture, after cooking, garnish the burger with avocado (a healthy fat), lettuce and tomato.
- To prevent lean burgers from becoming tough, be gentle when making patties and don’t overmix the meat.
- To avoid steaming rather than grilling, make sure your grill or pan is hot before the burger hits its surface.
Cooking any muscle meat on high heat produces carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines). To reduce HCAs, La Puma recommends brushing patties with rosemary-infused olive oil before grilling. To make the mixture:
- Using fresh rosemary, strip leaves from twigs with your fingers, slightly crushing them in the process.
- Add 1 tightly-packed teaspoon of rosemary leaves to ¼ cup olive oil.
- Covered, in an opaque container, the oil will keep for a few weeks.
In a three-ounce serving, says La Puma, lean beef contains only one more gram of saturated fat than skinless chicken breast. But the beef delivers eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc, and three times more iron.