Basic Extended Burgers & A Rant About The High Cost of Beef
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.
I have a similar recipe from an older cookbook that uses breadcrumbs. The burgers aren’t billed as extended, they are described as burgers for the grill or something similar, but the recipe does obtain six servings from 1 pound of ground beef! Extension by any other name would taste as sweet? Or as savory? I can’t wait to try your oat and cornmeal combo, especially since I don’t always have GF bread on hand.
I don’t know if this applies to your area, but where I live the Albertsons grocery stores put out their meat markdown every morning around 7. By 10 they are pretty picked over, but enough meat is reliably offered at half the regular price that most of our meat comes from these markdowns. The quality is very good. 80/20 beef is marked from 4.99 down to 2.49 per pound. Ground turkey and turkey sausages for .99 per package. Whole chickens on their final day of sale have been as low as .49 per pound. My top find: four leftover Christmas hams, nearly 12 pounds each, for 5.00 each. I played ham fairy that day, surprising a couple of friends by showing up at their doors with hams.
Oh, I almost forgot. Gluten free breadcrumbs are not something I find often in my kitchen either. The closest we usually come is crumbled rice flour muffins, or crumbled cornbread. I make my own breadcrumbs by processing gluten free cereal in a food processor. Rice Chex are the most mild and the closest I’ve found to plain wheat bread crumbs. I really like this recipe because it doesn’t require me to get out the food processor and make more breadcrumbs to extend the beef.
I like that your recipe simply called the extended burgers regular burgers. That’s much in keeping with my experience from the 1970’s. Everyone added extenders to their burgers and it was so common that it wasn’t ever commented upon. It was simply the way everyone did it. I think with the current high price of ground beef, it’s likely to become quite common again. It’s funny to me that these days, it’s so uncommon that we need a reminder that it’s something we *can* do to save money. This recipe gives me 2 extra burgers for the cost of a little oatmeal, cornmeal and an egg. Even if I use expensive gluten free oats, the burgers work out costing me about 75-cents apiece. That’s a HUGE bargain these days.
Hi Sarah, it sounds like Albertsons has really nice bargains. We don’t have those in my area. I’ve noticed that the best times around here to buy marked down meat is usually Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning. I find the largest selection between 9am and 10am in the morning. Usually the butchers don’t get the meat marked down any earlier than that. The last week of the month usually has the lowest prices on the most expensive meats. I’ve seen ribeye steaks go for half price, $8 per pound, marked down from $16. The other day I found ground chuck for $2.85 a pound, chicken breasts for $1.39 a pound and boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $1.67 a pound. This is my family’s favorite cut of chicken. Sadly there were no whole chickens, which I would have liked to stock up on. Still, I bought 16-pounds of ground beef and 20-pounds of chicken that day.
Your deal on ham sounds phenomenal! Playing the ham fairy is such a Christian way to share the bounty.:) That makes me want to share my bounty too. Maybe my grandmother can use some ground beef. I’m so busy thinking about taking care of my own family, I can forget that other families can use the excess too. Thanks for the reminder.
Hi, Maggie and Sarah,
A little story about my youngest son. (How he saved us a lot of money and we had beef for about a year at really a bunch of savings).
About three yrs ago we were having a drought in the area that just didn’t end, and it was very widespread. One night Andy called us (he was living and working in eastern OK) and told us to clean out our large chest type freezer in the garage and start buying all the beef we could afford and store. It seems that ranchers and farmers were selling off their beef because they couldn’t afford to keep them over the winter with hay prices so high because of the protracted drought. We did exactly that and it wasn’t a month and the beef prices began to climb. Of course the meat is long gone, but we really enjoyed our roasts, cube steaks and ground beef while it lasted.
Now I have a question for all of you homemakers plugged into Maggie’s site: where is all the 85/15% ground beef? Now the best percentage we can find is 80/20% and for me that is just too fat. I’ve tried rinsing the ground beef but hubby says it has no flavor no matter how much I season it.
Any info or suggestions?
We’ve been buying ground beef at Aldi and most of it has been all right. But the prices!!! Last week we paid almost $10.00 for 2.25 lbs of 90/10% and it didn’t cook out that lean. Again, where is my favorite 85/15% blend?
Hey Frankie, what a lovely story about your son. It seems that insider information can really save a ton. 🙂
I was thinking that the lack of 85/15 ground beef might be a regional thing for you, or it might be that if you tried a different supermarket you could find it. In my area all of the local supermarkets carry 85/15, Walmart, Kroger, Food Lion, IGA & Piggly Wiggly. I wonder what other people have in their markets?
This is very similar to the way I make burgers. You can add a little variety by mixing in some chopped fried bacon for bacon burgers, a few tsps. of pizza sauce and chopped pepperoni for pizza burgers, taco seasoning for taco burgers. When ground beef goes on sale, or whole boneless loins I trim and grind myself, I’ll buy several pounds and make a big batch of various burgers, bake them, freeze on a cookie sheet, and toss them into freezer bags for quick meals. I also pressure can ground beef and loin on sale- saves freezer room, lasts longer, and has been a lifesaver for more than one dinner- I’m still using canned beef from the last big cow sell off when prices hit rock bottom.
Canning beef can be a chore, but it does save on freezer space, and is the ultimate Make-your-own convenience food. Great tips for changing up the flavors, and making your own frozen burgers. Thanks for sharing.
Hello Frankie — just realized yesterday that the markdown ground beef I get at Albertsons is 85/15 instead of 80/20. I live in the inter-mountain west.