Surprise, You Might Be Salting Your Burger Too Soon

The difference between a good burger and a great burger is when the salt is added.

<p>aire images / Getty Images</p>

aire images / Getty Images

Seasoning food with salt is a fundamental aspect of cooking that helps balance and intensify the flavors of the ingredients. Imagine a chef on television sprinkling a heady pinch of salt over a steak or pork chop, telling the audience the salt locks in the flavor and tenderizes the meat. For the most part, it’s true. When you season the exterior of a piece of meat with salt and let it rest uncovered (a process called dry-brining), the salt draws out moisture to the surface. The salt and the surface moisture then slowly reabsorbed into the meat as it rests. This process ultimately leads to more moisture retention in the meat, resulting in a juicier steak. However, there are exceptions where salting early isn’t the best approach, like burgers. Before your next summer cookout, it's important to know why you should wait to season your burger meat.

Related: Our 25 Best Burger Recipes

Unlike when you are cooking steaks, the perfect time to salt your burger is right before cooking it. Burgers salted before they are shaped into patties are good, but burgers salted after they are shaped into a patty are fantastic. While it seems like a minor difference, the timing of salting plays an important role in the final texture of the patty.

Related: The Juicy Secret to Seasoning Meat

Put simply, salt dissolves proteins. It removes the layer of water molecules from the protein’s surface, enhancing the meat's water retention capacity and making it juicier. But this isn’t the case for ground beef. According to a study by the American Meat Science Association, once the salt soluble proteins came to the surface of the ground beef, they started clumping together as a result of the salt disrupting the bonds between the amino acids and the muscle proteins within the meat called myosin. As the myosin starts to separate from the muscle proteins and binds with the surrounding moisture, it creates a sticky, glue-like substance that holds the meat together. This “glue” ultimately gives the meat a tougher, bouncier, more chewy texture. The final result? A patty with a tighter, denser structure similar to a sausage rather than a tender, juicy burger. J. Kenji López-Alt took a deep dive into this very topic on Serious Eats by salting three different batches of ground beef in different stages (you can read the entire study here).

Instead, hit your burger patty with salt right before it hits the skillet or grill. We guarantee this simple switch will make every burger that much better.

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