It's officially burger season. However, burgers can be high in calories if you're not careful.
A traditional burger weighing 6 ounces before cooking and made with 80 percent lean ground beef has more than 435 calories. To go lighter you can use extra-lean ground beef (96 percent lean), which has 195 calories for 6 ounces, or 85-percent lean ground beef, which has 360 calories. Also, keep in mind that your home-barbecued burgers are usually much bigger than 6 ounces, plus many people typically eat more than one.
So why doesn't everyone just go with the lowest-calorie meat? Leaner meats tend to dry out during cooking and have less flavor. And burgers don't stop at the meat. Add the bun and all the toppings—mayo, cheese, bacon, ketchup—and they can top 800 calories. Here are a few healthy options.
Healthy Burger Tips
- Use less meat and mix it with finely chopped mushrooms, peppers and onions. You'll have the same size burger, but it will be lower in calories—and you'll also be getting the health benefits of all those vegetables.
- Mix the meat with egg whites (two per pound), whole-wheat bread crumbs, water, salt, pepper, and onion and garlic powder.
- Add herbs and spices. To make leaner cuts of meat tastier, try a blend of fresh herbs (such as thyme, marjoram, chives and parsley) or dry ground spices (black pepper, smoked paprika, cumin and cayenne), says John Greeley, executive chef at the famed 21 Club in New York City.
- Instead of using oil, spray the burger itself with cooking spray so it doesn't stick to the grill or pan. Safety tip: Never spray on an open flame.
- Style matters. According to Paul Gayler, executive chef at The Lanesborough Hotel London, "Meat should be coarsely ground. If it's too finely ground, the burger is more likely to fall apart, and the texture will be less satisfying." Also, keep the meat loose. Burgers will be less juicy if you over-pack the patties. Good burgers should be about an inch thick. Once shaped, chill them again to firm up the meat before cooking."
- Burgers are best cooked over medium-high heat.
- Don't press down on the burger with the spatula while cooking—or at all. It drains the juice and dries out the burger.
- When it comes to buying your burger meat, try to go with organic, grass-fed beef. It matters for quality and health. To see more about what those beef labels mean, go to EatWild.com or Greenchoices.com.