If I can give you any advice: Do not buy burger meat from your grocer.
The reason cited most often is risk of food poisoning. Please allow me to offer another reason to avoid grocery store ground beef and patties:
They don't actually taste that great! In fact, I'd say they don't taste much at all. Why else would we need to add seasonings to the beef or condiments on top?
At first glance, it doesn't make any sense that commodity burger meat is bland. Most is made from older cows or the steaks and roasts found in the front or back end where the muscles get more exercise. Exercise is one contributor to flavor.
There are two reasons that most grocery beef is bland.
1. Meat processors and grocers grossly oversimplify what drives taste, texture, and quality in beef.
We have been trained to think that USDA Grade (Select, Choice, or Prime) is the key contributor to quality, flavor, and juiciness. This is not true; flavor and texture also vary (a lot) depending on the breed, region, diet, aging techniques, and the relative talent of the grower, slaughterhouse, and butcher. This is as true for burgers as it is for steaks.
2. They are not selecting beef based on how good it’s going to taste in the first place.
To grocery stores and meat processors, beef is all about throughput and efficiency. Both industries have high capital costs but with rare exceptions do little to nothing to differentiate themselves vs. their competitors. As a result, they ultimately compete based on price and operate on very thin profit margins. In retail parlance, they literally calculate a "penny profit" - how many pennies do I make on each sale?
Rather than hand-select beef that will delight the palate, which would take time and money, most grocers select beef based on these criteria:
• How cheap it is (so they can increase penny profit)
• How much they can sell (so they can make an actual profit)
• How quickly they can sell it (so they don’t tie up cash too long in inventory)
Wait, you say, this is no different than any business, the idea is to lower the cost of inputs and sell at a profit.
To which I would respond, a company or brand that wants to say in business over time will also increase the value of what they are selling. In the case of ground beef, this means at minimum they would go out of their way to purposely offer really great tasting meat.
Where does this leave you if you want to enjoy a burger, some tacos, or nice bowl of chili?
Find a source of artisan quality artisan burgers! I use the same criteria as with artisan quality steaks, which you can find listed below.
If you’re a flavor hound, for burgers I would suggest that you look even harder for a good source of grass fed beef (just make sure you know what you’re getting, some misuse this terminology). When raised and aged properly, you’ll often find it to have a far more adventurous flavor. You will likely have also done a good thing for animal welfare and the environment while you were at it. That’s a win-win-win if I’ve ever heard one!
Finally, this post is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday initiative meant to help individuals take control over what is on our plates. Every week I enjoy reading the posts of others who participate in the FBF carnival. I suggest that you take a look, too, and add your own post while you're at it!
Artisan Beef Institute® - Minimum Criteria For Artisan Quality Beef
- Specific farm or producer group (source-verified).
- Single breed or cross-breed.
- Known growing region.
- No added growth hormones (steroids, yuck!).
- No preventative antibiotics (if they can't keep healthy without 'em...).
- All vegetable diet, no funky stuff in there like stale chewing gum.
- Low stress conditions on farm, in truck, at yard (if relevant), & at slaughterhouse.
- Dry-aged or wet-aged for at least 14 days
- Bonus points: certified organic, humane, grass-only diet, holistic.