Save the Burgers

by Elizabeth Skipper | March 26th, 2014 | Ask the Chef

burgers cooked or notWe had a cookout and bought a larger package of ground beef.  After making all of the patties, we realized we had far more than we needed.  My husband and I are at odds over what to do with the extra.  Our options:  freeze the formed, uncooked patties or freeze the cooked hamburgers. Which is the better way to handle the leftovers?

Ground meat dries out more rapidly than solid pieces of meat because there’s so much more surface area. So you’d definitely want to freeze those hamburger patties before cooking. Be sure to wrap them well to avoid freezer burn, and don’t keep them long. Frozen ground beef will remain edible longer, but for best quality, use it within four months.

There’s another consideration, however. How long were they out at room temperature? If they were out for any length of time, bacteria on them will have had a chance to multiply. Meat — and again, ground meat in particular – is a food that’s particularly susceptible to bacterial contamination and there are strict USDA guidelines about handling it. You don’t want to court a case of food poisoning, and E.coli is a serious concern with ground beef.

If you have any doubts about the time the patties were in the “temperature danger zone,” (between 41°F and 135°F, although bacteria multiply most rapidly between 70°F and 125°F), here’s what I’d suggest you do. Rather than cook and freeze them as burgers, break up the meat and cook it, then freeze the crumbles. If you like, cook some chopped onions with it as well.

This will give you a head start on a number of dishes like chili, beef vegetable soup, or American chop suey. Next time you’d like to make one of these dishes, part of the work is already done. It won’t take long to defrost because it’s not dense; just think ahead and thaw your base in the refrigerator to be safe.

I’ve done something similar to this after a cookout when we ended up with too many cooked hamburgers. I simply broke up the patties and sautéed them in a little broth or water with chopped onions and minced garlic, then added some canned chopped tomatoes before freezing. The tomatoes compensated for the juices the meat lost during cooking, and reduced the risk of freezer burn by surrounding the meat with liquid rather than air. It was the perfect base for a soup or chili, and saved a couple of pounds of meat which would otherwise would have been thrown out. I don’t know about you, but I feel bad about wasting food.

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