The best hamburgers are flavorful and juicy—whether you grill ’em, broil ’em, or sear ’em in a skillet. But adding salt to the hamburger mix, even a small amount, will cause the meat to form a texture similar to sausage. (That’s no bueno for burgers.) Here’s why:
The odd relationship between salt and burgers
Salt is especially good at dissolving protein, so when it’s mixed in with the meat and other seasonings, it will break down the hamburger before the patty even hits the grill. Test Kitchen expert James Schend painted a picture of what happens when you salt in advance: “What you end up with is a very tightly compacted patty whose texture is similar to sausage. Think about when you bite into a sausage—that firm, almost rubbery texture is perfect for links, but is that the texture you want in your burger?” Be sure to check out these 20 amazing burger recipes while you’re at it.
Yikes! The most perfectly cooked burgers should be moist and tender, definitely not rubbery. That’s not to say you should skip the salt altogether, though. Form the burgers and add salt right before putting ’em on the heat. (Schend suggests using Kosher salt because the larger crystals will help you see how much you’ve added and prevent over-salting.) Don’t miss 8 more mistakes we’re all making with our hamburgers!
What about other foods?
You probably throw more than burgers on the grill—so what happens to other foods when they “meat” salt? Schend has some more insight:
- Hot Dogs: Going all-out for your next barbecue with homemade hot dogs? Schend recommends salting the meat before stuffing them into their casings; you’ll need the firm texture salt provides so your dogs hold their shape.
- Whole Cuts of Meat: For steak or roast, you might want to use a brine (three cups of water, a quarter cup of salt and a quarter cup of sugar). Let it rest about one hour for two pounds of meat. Before cooking, pat the meat dry.
- Other Ground Meats: “Whether it’s ground poultry or pork, the proteins will all start to dissolve and stick to itself [when salted], forming that sausage-like texture,” Schend says. (It will stick to your grill grates, too.)
- Vegetables: You’re good to add salt and seasoning as you please when it comes to grilling veggies. It won’t change their texture!
Now, follow this foolproof guide to grilling burgers, chicken, and everything in between for the perfect BBQ.