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Main Course

Yes, You Can Make a Healthy Beef Burger

Yes, you can have a healthy beef burger. Our experts share the best meats to use along with the best cooking times for the juiciest, healthiest burger you can eat!

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“Most people think you can’t have a healthy beef burger, but you can,” says John La Puma, MD, a classically trained chef and author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.

But beef burgers have their pitfalls. Never use conventional frozen patties, he warns, because like fast-food burgers, they contain a mixture of low-grade meat and fat trimmings and chemical additives. Ground beef in a regular supermarket may be produced in the same way and comes from factory farms that give cows hormones and antibiotics.

The Best Burger Meat

To make the tastiest healthy burger, La Puma tested different types of ground lean meats and the winner was chuck steak, trimmed of visible fat (around 10 to 15 percent fat). Get the chuck ground in the store or, at home, cut the steak into chunks and, in a large food processor, process with on/off pulses until finely chopped.

In descending order, these are your best choices: (1) Grass-fed: Compared to corn-fed, it’s lower in cholesterol and saturated fat but higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and E. (2) 100-percent organic (grass-fed and organic meats don’t contain added hormones or antibiotics). (3) Raised without hormones or antibiotics.

Cooking Wisdom

Lean meats can be a bit tricky to cook. To make them delicious, these are La Puma’s time-tested tips:

  • To avoid meat becoming too dry: “Stand there and watch your burger on the grill,”he says; “It forces you to be a better cook.”
  • To add moisture, after cooking, garnish the burger with avocado (a healthy fat), lettuce and tomato.
  • To prevent lean burgers from becoming tough, be gentle when making patties and don’t overmix the meat.
  • To avoid steaming rather than grilling, make sure your grill or pan is hot before the burger hits its surface.

Cooking any muscle meat on high heat produces carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines). To reduce HCAs, La Puma recommends brushing patties with rosemary-infused olive oil before grilling. To make the mixture:

  • Using fresh rosemary, strip leaves from twigs with your fingers, slightly crushing them in the process.
  • Add 1 tightly-packed teaspoon of rosemary leaves to ¼ cup olive oil.
  • Covered, in an opaque container, the oil will keep for a few weeks.

Beef-Chicken Standoff

In a three-ounce serving, says La Puma, lean beef contains only one more gram of saturated fat than skinless chicken breast. But the beef delivers eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc, and three times more iron.

Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
20 min


  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican preferred), crushed
  • 1 lb well-trimmed grass-fed (preferably organic) beef chuck steak, ground
  • 4 whole-wheat hamburger buns, split
  • ½ ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into 8 slices
  • 4 organic romaine lettuce leaves
  • 4 slices organic tomato
  • Optional garnishes: salsa, spicy brown mustard, ketchup (without high fructose corn syrup), giardiniera (Italian relish of pickled vegetables), or pepperoncini peppers


  1. Oil a grill or grill pan with the olive oil. Coarsely chop the garlic on a chopping board. Sprinkle the salt over the garlic; use the side of the knife to “cream” the garlic into a paste. Sprinkle on the pepper and oregano and mash them into the paste. Combine the mixture with the ground chuck, mixing lightly, and form it into four ½-inch-thick patties.
  2. Place the burgers on the grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill covered for 5 minutes. Turn the patties; continue grilling, covered, 3 to 4 minutes for medium doneness. To lightly toast the buns, place them on the grill, cut sides down, during the last minute of cooking. Serve patties in buns with avocado slices, lettuce, tomato and optional garnishes of your choice.
  3. For big appetites, you can put two patties on one bun.

Reduced-Carb Options

Replace one-half of the bun with a slice of toasted, sprouted whole-grain bread and the other half with a romaine lettuce leaf. Or, for a bread-free version, wrap the burger in a big lettuce leaf.

Recipe from the book ChefMD’S Big Book of Culinary Medicine by John La Puma, MD, and Rebecca Powell Marx.

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size 1 burger
  • Calories 326
  • Carbohydrate Content 25 g
  • Cholesterol Content 51 mg
  • Fat Content 13 g
  • Fiber Content 5 g
  • Protein Content 26 g
  • Saturated Fat Content 3.5 g
  • Sodium Content 523 mg
  • Sugar Content 4 g