Here's What Happens When You Overmix Burger Meat

We know not to overmix muffin batter and pound cake batter because (spoiler alert) it can lead to a tougher baked good. But when it comes to grilling burgers, we may not think twice before giving our meat a good mix. After all, if you're getting your hands dirty in a bowl of ground beef, eggs, and other gooey ingredients, you want to make sure everything is properly combined before washing your hands. But there is such a thing as overmixing burger meat — and it can have disappointing consequences.

Many burger recipes, such as our ranch burgers, will tell you to gently mix everything together, and stop as soon as everything looks properly combined. Even when you form the meat into patties, you'll want to use a light touch and avoid tossing it around as much as possible. They don't have to look cookie-cutter — in fact, making sure they fit on your buns is really all you need to accomplish. While you may be inclined to fuss with your beef until it's perfect, resist the temptation, as too much handling can backfire when your burgers are fully cooked.

Overmixing leads to tough burgers

Just like with baked goods, when you overmix burger meat, you run the risk of the patties becoming tough with less flavor. There's a scientific reason why. Mixing ground beef releases myosin, which is a protein that causes muscle contraction. It's important for burger making, as myosin binds fat and water to the meat, leading to a more tender burger. So you want to retain as much of the protein as possible — but when you mix too much and let too much myosin escape, you can be left with chewy meat. And while salting is an essential part of burger making, you'll want to salt just before cooking, since it also begins the myosin release process.

So how can you keep your burger as moist and tender as possible? Make sure you stop mixing as soon as everything is evenly combined — or for best results, don't mix at all, and just skip straight to patty forming. You may also want to buy meat with a good amount of fat – up to 25% percent should do the trick – since a lower-fat burger will cause the myosin to bind to itself, which can also create a dry end result. 

With burgers, it seems less is more; buy good quality meat with a decent fat percentage and then make sure to handle it as little as possible.