Building a better burger

June 15, 2005|by Lynn Little

Hamburgers are one of the most popular meats found on home grills. Following a few simple tips and techniques can help you build a better burger in terms of nutritional value and food safety.

You can improve the nutritional value of the hamburger by using some of the advice found in the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid.

Use a whole-grain bun as the foundation for the sandwich. A regular-sized hamburger bun weighs 2 ounces and counts as two servings from the bread and grain group. Read the label carefully; the first ingredient should be whole-wheat flour.

Next, choose lean meat, such as 90 percent to 95 percent lean ground beef and plan on four burgers per pound. Four ounces of uncooked ground beef will yield a 3-ounce cooked serving, which is the recommended amount for one serving and is about the size of a deck of cards.


Adding 1/2 cup of salsa or picante sauce to one pound of beef helps keep the "lean" ground beef juicy and flavorful. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to determine doneness because the added tomato-based sauce can alter the color of the cooked patty.

Burger toppings also can boost nutrient value. Try adding colorful vegetables, such as dark green leafy lettuce or spinach, plus a couple of tomato slices. Even onions and pickles can count toward your day's vegetable servings. The total amount of lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles can add 1/2 to 1 cup of your daily vegetable servings, depending on the size of the portions. Choosing a low-fat or reduced-fat cheese will add calcium. With all those tasty toppings, you might need less sodium-carrying ketchup and mustard.

Finally, building a better burger means remembering four basic food safety guidelines. Keep it cold, keep it clean, cook it and chill it quickly.

Keep meat refrigerated or in a cooler with ice until it's time to cook. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meat. Also, be sure to wash the platter that held the uncooked meat before putting the cooked meat back on it.

Ground beef, as well as all other ground meats, must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Just because the interior color of the burger is brown, it does not guarantee that the temperature has reached 160 degrees. The only sure way is to use an instant-read meat thermometer near the end of the cooking time. Insert it sideways into the patty, with the tip in the center. Using a thermometer also means juicier burgers because you won't have to overcook to make sure it's done.

For more ideas on how to build a better burger, go to on the Web.

For information on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid, send a self-addressed, stamped (37) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope "mypyramid."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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