Making your own burgers is an easy way to flex your kitchen creativity, and you can make all kinds of different burgers with different combinations of toppings, relishes, and even different kinds or alternatives to traditional burger buns.
But if you’re cooking your burger patty and notice some white stuff coming out of it while cooking – you’re probably worried that your burger patty has gone off, or if this white stuff is unsafe to eat. You don’t have to worry – this white stuff is totally harmless. It’s basically protein and water that forms up when meat is exposed to high heat.
White spots on a cooked burger patty
The white stuff is nothing more than a mixture of protein and liquid that is held intact by the muscle fibers in ground beef (which is the meat that makes up the bulk of your burger patty).
When ground beef is exposed to the high heat of cooking, the muscle fibers shrink up and start contracting, releasing excess moisture that is mixed with protein that lives in the fibers. When this protein and water mixture comes into contact with a hot pan, it turns into a whitish goo that leaks out.
This white stuff isn’t toxic at all, but is more of a mild annoyance, as you need to skim it off and away from the pan or griddle before it starts to burn.
White spots on a raw burger patty
Depending on the meat to fat ratio these white spots can be pockets of fat. Those trapped pockets of fat add more flavor to your burger. However, white spotty areas can also appear from freezer burn and meat that has gone bad.
If your burger is not fresh It is wise to properly examine it. Smelling it usually provides a good indication if your meat is bad or not. Never consume meat that is off or you’re not sure about. You’re better off throwing it away than getting sick.
Lean vs fatty burger
Lean burgers usually have less risk of producing white stuff while cooking as compared to a fatty burger. Why is this so?
This is because fatty burgers, made of fatty ground beef, can hold more moisture. More moisture means a higher chance of water and protein mixture leaking out of your burger patty, in the form of the white stuff you see while you cook your burger at high heat. Fatty burgers are usually labeled 70/30, which means 70% meat and 30% fat.
Lean burgers contain less fat, and therefore hold less moisture that can be turned into white stuff leaking out while cooking. They are usually labeled 80/20, with 80% lean meat and 20% fat.
Is my burger patty safe to eat?
If you see white stuff coming out of your burger while you cook it, you don’t have to worry. This white stuff is perfectly safe to eat, as it is naturally occurring protein and liquid that was already inside your burger patty anyway.
The best method to check if your burger patty is safe to eat is to smell and touch your burger patty. If you smell your patty and you catch a whiff of strong ammonia, or a rotten smell, trust your human instincts! Throw that burger patty into the trash.
Touching your burger patty also lets you check if your burger patty is safe to eat. If your burger patty has a very mushy texture, or if there is a slimy residue that comes off on your hand after you touch it, then there’s a high chance it’s gone off.
That slimy residue most probably contains food-borne bacteria that will cause food poisoning if it contaminates surfaces that you prepare food with or eat from, so wash your hands with soap after doing this.
In what conditions does this occur the most?
Your burger patties are made up of ground beef, and ground beef shrinks and contracts rapidly when it is exposed to the high heat of a cooking surface such as a pan or a griddle.
If you’re cooking your burger patties from frozen or if you don’t let your burger patties thaw completely before cooking, you increase the likelihood of this white stuff coming out from your burger patty while you cook it.
This is because cold ground beef, when exposed to a blazing hot surface, shrinks rapidly due to shock in temperature, and these rapid contractions cause excessive moisture to leak out of your burger patty as it heats up.
In turn, the protein that exists in the muscle fibers of your ground beef also leaks out with the moisture, thus causing the white stuff to happen while you cook your burgers.
What about white spots on my burger patty?
Let’s talk about white spots on your burger patty now. If you see white spots on your burger patty, you’re most probably looking at freezer burn.
What is freezer burn? It is basically something that happens when you store meat such as beef, poultry, or fish in the freezer for an extended period of time, without an airtight container or wrapped in saran wrap.
Freezer burn happens when the moisture in your meat is exposed to excess air that comes into the packaging. This excess air turns into cold air that freezes the water molecules in your meat as a result of the subzero temperatures.
The freezer burnt areas of your burger patty can still be eaten, but they are essentially dry and tasteless as the moisture sublimates in the freezer. Trim off these parts if you can before you cook your burger patty.
Can I reduce or stop this from happening?
To reduce the likelihood of white stuff coming out of your burger while you cook it, you should defrost your burgers completely before cooking it. Then, when you cook, start with medium heat to let the burger patty come up to temperature in a gradual way.
You should see less, or no white stuff coming out of your burger patties this way, as the protein and water remain intact as the ground beef adjusts to the heat.
Finish off your patty with high heat to get that perfect sear on your burger patties.
When it comes to white stuff on your burgers, there is a difference between freezer burn, which is white spots on your burger patties when you defrost them, and white stuff, which is a protein and liquid mixture that leaks out of muscle fibers as they contract as a result of the high heat of cooking.
Allow your burger patty time to adjust to the heat of cooking and don’t throw frozen patties immediately into a blazing hot cooking surface, and you’ll have perfect burgers each time – with none of the white stuff in your way.
Photo altered by simplelifesaver.com | Photo attribution: amirali mirhashemian