Salt Sear Savor

🥩 So we meat again

Published over 2 years ago • 4 min read

I need your help! Currently, 917 wonderful people subscribe to Salt Sear Savor. 🎉 However, I’ve had a personal goal this year to get to 1,000 subscribers! If you’re loving the newsletter, please forward this email to people you know that enjoy cooking and tell them to subscribe at if they want to be better cooks! Thank you!

Ground Meat—What You Need to Know

Ground meat is a fascinating thing. You can make it from any animal. It’s widely available. It’s tasty. But did you know that there’s a lot of alchemy happening when you grind meat? 🧙‍♂️ And by alchemy I just mean science. 🔬🧪👩‍🔬

Let’s talk about ground meat! Hopefully, I won’t butcher it! 😉

Why Do We Grind Meat?

Cuts of meat from places like the shoulders or hind legs are some of my favorites to cook with. They’re the muscles that are most used on the animal. Therefore, they’re full of flavor!

Butt (pun always intended) they’re also the toughest cuts. Why? It’s the length of the muscle fibers and all the chewy connective tissue that come from working out. 🏋️‍♀️

When you cook tough cuts whole, they have to cook for hours to transform the collagen in the connective tissue into gelatin. Once you hit that point, the end product will be tender and delicious! (Learn more about cooking tough cuts of meat.)

But you don’t have to worry about hours of cooking when you grind up tough cuts. A tender, juicy, flavorful meal can be ready in a fraction of the time! 🙌

How? The long fibers and tough tissue are broken down when ground. It makes those tough bits naturally more tender and juicy. It’s why we thinly slice tough greens to tenderize them.

Be Careful About How Much You Mix Ground Meat

This is important! Grinding meat makes the proteins super sticky. This works in our favor because the stickiness helps hold the meat together. That means we can form the ground meat into patties, loaves, links, or balls without them falling apart! Nifty, right?

But keep this in mind. The more you handle and mix the meat, the more it will stick together and the denser/snappier the texture becomes. 🤲 This is important depending on what end result you want.

For example, hamburgers should be barely mixed to keep them tender. Maybe you don’t even pick it up to form a patty. Plus, when the meat isn’t formed as tightly, there are more nooks and crannies. That creates extra surface area, which means better browning!

On the other hand, sausages are heavily mixed. This extra mixing—along with when they’re salted (more on this in a bit)—creates a snappy, springy texture.

Meatloaf is probably more in the middle. You probably don’t want the loaf to fall apart when you slice into it. But you also don’t want it overly chewy.

So be mindful of how much you mix or pack ground meat!

Most store-bought packages of ground meat are densely packed. So try and buy your ground beef directly from the butcher counter instead of pre-packaged. Even better, see if the butcher will grind it fresh for you on a coarse setting!

How Salt Affects Ground Meat

Salt dissolves proteins in meat. Normally, this makes the meat juicy since those dissolved proteins hold onto moisture better. It’s why we salt meat ahead of time.

But ground meat is a little bit different. Salt greatly increases the chances that proteins in ground meat link together. To understand what this means, take a look at this photo from J. Kenji López-Alt of two identical burgers except for one variable: when it was salted.

one tender burger, one springy
(Photo credit: Serious Eats)

The photo on the left is from a burger that was salted on the surface right before cooking. The photo on the right shows a burger where the meat was salted before the patty was formed. See it makes a drastic difference! 🤯

So here’s what you need to know:

  • If you want a looser, more tender structure—like with a burger—only salt the surface of the patty right before cooking. It’s worth saying another way. When making burgers, don’t add salt until your patties are already formed!
  • If you want a springier texture—like with sausage or Swedish meatballs—add salt before forming the meat mixture.

What’s Fat Got To Do, Got To Do With It?

The ratio of lean meat to fat makes a difference. So when should you buy 80/20 vs 90/10? 🤔

Really it’s all about the final texture you want and how juicy you want it to be.

The Type Of Fat Affects The Texture

The consistency of fat changes based on the type of animal it came from. Pork fat is softer than beef or lamb fat which may be slightly waxy. And then there’s veal. It creates a super tender, gelatinous structure.

This means you can combine types of ground meats in order to influence the final texture. For example, add ground pork to your meatballs to give them a smoother, softer texture than just using ground beef alone. Or better yet, you could mix in diced bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto!

Can’t find veal? Not a fan of using it? I’ve seen recipes from Cooks Illustrated and Serious Eats where they use powdered gelatin to change the texture of meatloaf to be velvety smooth! Smart, right?

Fat Prevents The Ground Meat From Drying Out

The more fat, the juicer the final product, even if you cook it longer. The leaner the ground meat, the quicker it dries out.

So here’s how I think about it. If I know I’m cooking something longer—like with meatloaf—I’ll want enough fat in there to keep it juicy over time. If I’m using lean meat—like ground turkey—I’ll be extra careful to make sure I don’t overcook it. And then, I’ll think about how I might add juiciness elsewhere, like with a sauce.

Where I learned this: J. Kenji López-Alt deserves most of the credit! He’s a ground meat aficionado! So check out The Food Lab and his work at Serious Eats. Also, I learned a lot from The Science of Good Cooking.
Email Facebook Twitter

Who knew there was so much you needed to know about ground meat?! Hope you learned as much as I did doing the research for it.

Luciano 👨‍🍳

P.S. Please remember to tell a friend about the newsletter and help me reach my goal of 1,000 subscribers before the end of the year! You’re the best! ❤️

How would you rate this week's newsletter? Awesome | Good | Okay | Meh

Salt Sear Savor

Learn to craft your own dishes, improve recipes, and just be a better cook with a free weekly email on cooking.

Read more from Salt Sear Savor

A Balancing Act: The 7 Elements of Taste Recipes are guidelines, not exact formulas. You can follow a recipe perfectly and get a different result than the recipe creator. From ingredients varying in taste to using another type of salt, there are many factors at play! That’s why you have to use your taste buds to be able to adjust or create a recipe on the fly. I’m here to help. There are 7 elements of taste that impact how we enjoy food: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, umami, fat, and spicy. Just...

about 2 years ago • 4 min read

Do you live near the ocean? Lucky you. I do not. Here in Colorado, I couldn’t even drive to an ocean within the day if I wanted to. So think about it. When I’m standing at the fish counter at the grocery store, how fresh could that salmon possibly be? It could have been caught yesterday and flown in this morning! Maybe. But probably not. How Fresh is “Fresh” Fish? There are loads of reasons fish can take a while to end up on a grocery store shelf: Boats spend days at sea before they bring...

about 2 years ago • 3 min read

I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and are off to a wonderful start to the new year! It’s good to be back sharing some cooking knowledge. Thanks for letting me have two weeks off! I know y’all run a tight ship. 😉 The Key to Sweeter Sweet Potatoes Ever roast sweet potatoes just to have them turn out…not that sweet? Yep, me too. There is a trick to super-duper sweet, sweet potatoes. And no, it’s not adding maple syrup and marshmallows. It’s all about how you cook them. Sweet Potatoes’...

about 2 years ago • 3 min read
Share this post