Adding salt to ground meat not only seasons it but also changes its texture—and timing is everything. Here’s our advice for making burgers that are both tender and well seasoned.
There’s no question that burgers need a little salt to taste their best. But exactly when and how to add the salt is a question, because salt doesn’t just season ground meat. It can change its texture too.
The fast answer is that for the most tender results, you should almost always salt burgers right before cooking them. Read on to learn why.
To find out, we seasoned burger meat at three different intervals:
The upshot: The longer the meat was in contact with the salt, the firmer and springier the burgers were.
The batch made with salt worked into the meat was so dense and snappy that it resembled sausage, and even the patties salted 30 minutes before cooking were noticeably dry and springy at the surface where the salt had prolonged contact with the meat.
Only the patties seasoned at the last minute cooked up uniformly tender and juicy.
Why? Because when raw meat is salted, a muscle protein within it called myosin becomes more soluble. It dissolves out of the muscle and into the surrounding moisture within the meat, forming a sticky gel that binds the meat together. When cooked, this myosin gel gives ground meat a springy, sausage-y texture.
That’s great when you want ground meat to be really cohesive and springy, such as when making sausage. But it’s exactly the opposite effect you want in a tender burger.
The only time we like to mix salt into burger meat is when we’re grilling burgers made from beef that we’ve ground ourselves. Home-ground meat is coarser and more loosely packed than the commercial stuff, and burgers are more prone to falling apart on the grill than in a pan, so a little extra cohesiveness can be helpful.
In general, we like to season burgers liberally with kosher salt, the coarse grains of which are easier to distribute over the patties than finer table salt; the exact amount depends on personal preference and what burger toppings (if any) will be added for serving.
You can season your burgers with other distinct flavors by incorporating these simple mix-ins into the ground meat.
Tex-Mex: minced chipotle chiles in adobo and cumin
Smokehouse: barbecue sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper
Meatloaf: Worcestershire sauce, fresh thyme, ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar