The One Ingredient That's Ruining Your Hamburgers

There is nothing like a burger straight from the grill. Fresh patties, lovingly formed by your own hands, become one of the greatest joys your palate can behold — as long as you avoid ruining them by adding salt at the wrong time. Yes, salt is an ingredient that can totally ruin your hamburgers, and here's why.

Salt is a delicious (and many people feel, quite essential) ingredient in hamburgers. While it seems to make perfect sense to add salt to your ground meat and fold it in, mixing it throughout and adding a touch of seasoning to every last crumble, doing so actually affects the structure of the meat and leaves it nowhere near as loose and juicy as a homemade hamburger should be. 

J. Kenji López-Alt, chief culinary consultant at Serious Eats, performed a very thorough experiment where he prepared hamburgers, salting them at different points of prep, to see how it affected the final result. One patty was seasoned on the outside right before cooking, one had salt mixed into the ground meat prior to forming the patty, and one patty was made with beef cubes that were salted before they were even ground. The same amount of salt was used for each method.

Once he put each patty through the same exact cooking conditions, the verdict was clear — the burger that was salted only on its exterior immediately prior to cooking was the juiciest and most tender. López-Alt explains that the salt breaks down proteins in the meat and causes the bits of burger to bind together, which renders those patties with the seasoning mixed in rubbery and compacted. Does that sound good? Nope. 

So, if you've gotten into the habit of salting your meat during patty-forming time, it's crucial that you stop (unless you like firm burgers that aren't tender or juicy). Instead, bring your salt out to the grill with you, season them just before popping them over the flames, and enjoy a mouth-watering hamburger. Your taste buds will thank you.