Unless you're a line cook or you have lots of experience cooking burgers, it's difficult to get consistent, juicy results. Couple that with the increasing use of low-fat ground meats (like 93/7 turkey or 90/10 ground beef) and it's easy to end up with dry, hockey-puck-like burgers. And no one wants that.
With the proliferation of low-cost home sous vide equipment like the Nomiku, Anova, and Sous Vide Supreme (as well as the multiple Instructables available for building your own), I'd like to share the techniques I use to get juicy, consistently sized, uniform burgers using a few easily found tools.
Step 1: Required Equipment and Materials
The equipment list is pretty straightforward:
1. An eight-ounce plastic burger press (I found mine at a dollar store), and I typically have 10 or 12 on hand to permit packing up bulk ground-meat purchases
2. A digital scale for portioning the ground meat
3. Vacuum bags compatible with your vacuum sealer
4. A vacuum sealing machine
5. Ground meat
Step 2: Measuring and Preparing
There are several ways you can portion the ground meat. Since the burger presses I found are sized for eight-ounce patties, they'll accommodate both four- and eight-ounce patties. The photos show the production of two four-ounce patties, but it's the same technique if you do one eight-ounce patty.
1. Place a measuring vessel (I used a bowl) on your scale and, using the tare function, zero the scale.
2. Place a four-ounce portion of ground meat in the bowl.
3. Take your empty burger press and grab a patty divider made from a thin cutting mat cut into a circle.
4. Evenly distribute your four-ounce portion of the ground meat into the bottom of the burger press.
5. Place the cutting mat divider (green, in the photo above) on top of the ground meat.
6. Measure another four-ounce portion of ground meat.
7. Evenly distribute the ground meat on top of the cutting mat divider.
You now have two four-ounce patties, ready for sealing.
At this point, I typically portion out all of my ground meat. If you want full eight-ounce patties, omit the cutting mat divider: It's your choice.
Step 3: Labeling and Sealing
Take the empty vacuum sealing bags and label them with the contents; date the bags as well.
Place the filled burger presses into the vacuum sealing bag, and seal.
Step 4: Delicious Variations
There are a multiple delicious variations that you might consider:
1. Goat-cheese Stuffed Burgers: Ever tried to make a cheese-stuffed burger? It's often difficult to keep them from bursting when you cook them traditionally, but this is a great technique for sous vide. Portion out four ounces of ground meat and place it in the bottom of the burger press. Then, portion out a couple of ounces of goat cheese, flatten it into a disc, and place that on the center of the ground meat in the burger press (be sure to leave a good amount of un-cheesed (is that a word?) space around the perimeter}. Portion out four more ounces of ground meat and fill the burger press, leaving the cheese completely encased in ground meat.
2. Carmelized Onion Stuffed Burgers: Use the same technique as the goat-cheese burger, but use cooked, carmelized onions.
3. Almost anything else you can think of, including pickles, giardiniera, roasted garlic, or sauteed mushrooms. Just remember that with sous vide cooking, temperatures are low so pre-cook the stuffings if you don't want them essentially raw (they'll certainly be warm, but most vegetables must be cooked at higher temperatures than meats).
Step 5: Tips for Cooking and Finishing
Once your burgers are vacuum sealed, you can either freeze them or throw them directly into your sous vide equipment.
If the meat is refrigerated or at room temperature, an hour to ninety minutes in the water bath will cook them completely; I wouldn't recommend cooking the burgers for more than around two to three hours.
If the meat is frozen, I add an hour to the above cook times; this enables the burger puck to thaw.
For lean turkey burgers, I set my water bath to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 Celsius).
For beef, I set my water bath to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 Celsius).
When the burgers are ready to come out of the bath:
1. Remove them from the bag and the burger press (remove the divider as well if you made four-ounce burgers)
2. Handle gently and pat them dry on both sides
3. Sous vide cooking doesn't reach temperatures high enough to produce the Maillard reaction. As the Science of Cooking web site says, "Browning, or the Maillard reaction, creates flavor and changes the color of food. Maillard reactions generally only begin to occur above 285°F (140°C). Until the Maillard reaction occurs meat will have less flavor." Thus, in order to brown the burgers, either hit them with a kitchen torch, or throw them into a smoking hot skillet. In both cases, this step should be very short (in a skillet, 60-90 seconds to brown them up). Any longer, and you risk overcooking your burgers.
Step 6: Final Thoughts
This approach yields uniform, juicy burgers and avoids some of the hassles others propose for sous vide burgers like pre-freezing patties on a cookie sheet before vacuum sealing. I hope you find this approach useful!