NOTE: First there is a rant, scroll down if you just want to see the recipe.
Have you seen the price of ground beef lately? Even the cheapest stuff with 70% lean and 30% fat regularly costs $4 per pound! That is astounding to me. When did ground beef become a luxury food? At the same time, boneless skinless chicken breasts, at $2 a pound, have become an everyday bargain. It used to be that ground beef was the cheapest meat you could buy and boneless, skinless chicken breasts were one of the most expensive. These days that has been flopped around on it’s head. The market place is a strange land some years.
With the rising cost of beef, even budget-friendly ground beef, I’ve had to make certain adjustments to the way I use and prepare it. The first adjustment I’ve made is that the only type of beef I buy anymore is the cheapest, fattiest ground beef available. Steaks, roasts, even cheap chuck roasts, are simply not in my budget anymore. The cheapest chuck roast is well over $5 per pound, putting it firmly outside of my budget. I have chosen to use the large tubes of ground beef, which regularly go for under $4 per pound in my area.
Ground beef in tubes or “bullets” isn’t as good a quality as the ground beef in Styrofoam trays. When I can get the stuff in the trays on sale, I buy as much as I can store in my freezer, because it really does taste better. Day in and day out however, we made do with the cheap 5-pound tubes, which cost the least per pound.
At home I divide the tubes into five 1-pound sections and then place each section into a flip-top sandwich bag. All of the bags then go into a larger plastic bag. I recycle the giant bags we buy our rice in. They are extra thick and very sturdy. I shove all of the sandwich bags of ground beef into the big rice bag, seal it and drop it in the freezer. There they rest and wait upon my leisure.
When I cook ground beef, I take extra care to use recipes that make the most of it. A single pound of ground beef can be turned into 6 hearty servings if care is taken in it’s preparation. I say that care must be taken, because over extending ground beef is false economy. Trying to make meatloaf or hamburgers for 10 people from a pound of ground beef by adding extra rolled oats to it, simply ruins what I do have. It results in miniscule portions that taste more like extender than beef. If I need to serve 10 people with a pound of ground beef, then I’m better off making chili, beef and vegetable soup, or even spaghetti sauce. These dishes use the ground beef for flavor, but the bulk of the dish is made up of other, cheaper foods such as beans, vegetables and pasta. The first rule of frugal cooking, is don’t ruin what you have.
With this caveat in mind I must admit that there are some recipes which extend ground beef, making it go further, without ruining the quality or flavor. That’s what the following recipe is for. It extends a pound of ground beef so that it can make 6 plump, firm, juicy burgers that taste good and have the texture and flavor you expect from a hamburger.
I first made extended burgers as a girl in the 1970’s. Back then everyone extended their ground beef when they made hamburgers. Between inflation and the recession, no one that I knew ate burgers made from just ground beef. Actually, I don’t think I had 100% beef burgers, the homemade kind, until after I married Fred, in the mid-1980’s. Making burgers that were just beef was sacrilege. Something only restaurants and rich people did.
Back then, rolled oats were the most common extender, but there were others too. Finely chopped or shredded vegetables such as mushrooms, carrots, onion, celery and peppers were popular among the reducing set. Finely ground dry bread crumbs, corn flake crumbs, and cracker crumbs were popular in ladies magazines. At my house we used rolled oats most often. Almost all of the recipes included an egg to help everything stick together firmly. If you add a lot of vegetables or rolled oats to ground beef and don’t add an egg, it’s hard to make the patties stick together the way they’re supposed to. You can make meatloaf without any added egg, but burgers that are extended with grains or veggies really need an egg to make the mixture firm enough for burgers, otherwise they fall apart when you cook them.
I’ve experimented a lot with which type of gluten free extenders work best for burgers. One of my old recipes from the 1970’s called for soy flour. I tried that and it works fine, but the soy flavor is not relished by everyone. I tried rolled oats alone, but the burgers were kind of soft, more like meatloaf than a beef burger. Good, but I thought I could do better. Finally I hit upon the idea of trying a combination of cornmeal and rolled oats and the results were delicious. I use cornmeal in my taco and sloppy joe recipes for thickening and it occurred to me that it might work just as well in hamburgers. Turned out that I was right.
If you are allergic to cornmeal then feel free to replace it with rice flour. I use cornmeal because it’s cheap and easy to find but rice flour works just as well.
Basic Extended Burgers
aka Welfare Burgers
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Divide the meat into 6 equal portions. Shape into flat patties. Broil, grill, bake or pan fry as desired. Makes 6 plump, juicy burgers. We use pancakes for buns and they work great!
If you want a burger to serve as steak and eggs for breakfast or a late supper, this recipe works great. Divide it into 8 oval patties, cook as desired, and serve each patty topped with a fried egg. Add hash browns on the side and you’ve got breakfast fit for a king!
Easy Baking Directions
Line a 9 by 13-inch pan with tin foil. Arrange the uncooked patties in the pan so they don’t touch too much. Bake at 450° for 20 to 30 minutes, or until nicely browned. Remove the patties from the pan and drain on newspapers or paper towels until serving time.
If you are serving your burgers with frozen French fries or tater tots, they can bake on the lower oven shelf while the burgers bake on the top shelf. I almost always bake French fries and tater-tots at 450°. This is higher than the package recommends, but my method makes them taste more like they’ve been deep-fried than if I follow the package directions.
Serve with French fries, or tater-tots, carrot and celery sticks and sliced apples. Delicious! Or you can serve them with baked beans, corn on the cob and coleslaw. Serve fresh strawberries or canned peaches for dessert.