Tips for Making a Lean Burger Flavorful and Juicey

It has been said many times that burgers are best if they are made from 80% lean ground beef because the extra fat makes them moist and juicy.  However, the added fat comes at a cost.  It adds a lot of extra calories and saturated fat which raises cholesterol levels and is not good for heart health.  In fact the following shows the difference between a quarter pound burger (4 oz) that is made with 90% lean beef vs. one made with 80% lean ground beef:

Type of Meat

80% lean ground beef (4 oz patty)

90% lean ground beef (4 oz patty)




Total Fat



Saturated Fat






To summarize, you can save nearly 100 calories per burger by choosing a leaner meat.  Just as importantly, they are much better for heart health.  For a person who is on a 2,000 calorie diet, it is recommended to consume no more than 15 grams of saturated fat per day.   So, just one 4 oz burger supplies 75% of the daily saturated fat allowance if you are choosing the higher fat beef.

So, the question is, how can you turn very lean ground beef (or turkey) into a juicy and flavorful burger?  The following are a few basic tips from some experts:

Add any of the following ingredients to provide moisture:

  • 1-2 Tbsp Water per pound of meat
  • Ketchup
  • Steak Sauce
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Hot Sauce
  • Mustard
  • Tomato Juice
  • Salsa
  • Relish
  • An egg white can help bind lean meat and add moisture
  • Moist bread crumbs
  • Fat-free sour cream and onion soup mix
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil per pound (while this does add fat, it is heart healthy)
  • Veggies are great for adding moisture and flavor, try:
    • Diced Eggplant (use small firm ones, they do not have as many seeds which makes them bitter)
    • Onions (sautéed onions work great, too)
    • Peppers
    • Tomatoes
    • Mushrooms
    • Pureed carrots

Add seasonings for flavor. The following are some great options:

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Use your imagination, here are a few non-tradition ideas:
    • Ginger
    • Chili powder
    • Oregano
    • Basil
    • Cumin
    • Mint

Do not overwork the meat:  The more it is handled/over mixed, the tougher the burger.  So, mix gently!

Keep burgers cold until you are ready to cook them. They stay together better and they hold the juices better if you chill them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.

Bring down the heat. While fattier burgers may be best cooked at a high heat, leaner burgers are best over a medium heat.  If the grill is already at a high heat, you can sear the burger on both sides directly on the grill, and then move to the warming rack to let it cook through over a lower heat.

Minimize flipping. You will keep the juices in if you only flip the burger once.

Don’t press it. Pressing down on the burger releases the juices we are working to maintain.

Keep your eye on it. An overcooked burger = a dry burger.  So, when it reaches 160 degrees, take it off of the grill and serve immediately for the juiciest burger.

I hope this gets your creative juices flowing so you can have happy and healthy grilling season!