Adding value

Then there’s value-added blending. “This includes adding other ingredients to the ground beef blend like bacon, mushrooms, onions, peppers, cheddar cheese, bleu cheese and other ingredients. You see these ‘value-added’ products more in retail than food service, although places like Five Guys are using it,” Mr. Schweid said. “Those kinds of additions enhance the burger experience. Consumers are looking for more and different kinds of products than what they’d find in a restaurant.” Some restaurants are serving “belly-burgers” – a blend of ground beef and pork belly.

There are many ways to add ingredients to burgers. Some are added in the center of the burger, like an empanada – ground beef and vegetables, for example. Or ingredients spread throughout the patty – infusing it with bacon. Limitations on what can be done with blending depend on whether it’s fresh or frozen. The shelf life of the product can be shortened by some ingredients, Mr. Schweid said.

“Ground beef blending can involve using different cuts of beef to get different fat ratios,” said Nick Beste, owner of Man Cave Craft Meats in Minneapolis. “We can blend different flavors, spices, cheeses and jalapenos. You name it, we can do it.”

Half of what Man Cave sells is bacon burgers, using bacon ends to make its best-selling product.

Ground beef on production line
The blending of ground beef products is affecting the patty-making process.

Another reason for blending is the desire for consumers to eat meat products, including burgers, that are hand-fashioned, rather than coming from a machine, Mr. Beste said.

“Many people would rather have ground beef patties that are fashioned by hand, rather than being made by machines. So we are making our patties like that. And blending is a natural fit for that kind of product manufacture,” he said.

Mr. Beste said ground beef blending technology has evolved along with his company’s growth. “From product blending come bigger mixes of ground beef. At one time, we used a 20-lb. chopper. Now we do hundreds of pounds in a batch, so this blending technology has contributed to our company’s growth.”

The blending of ground beef products is affecting the patty-making process, as well. “Hamburger patties used to be quite coarse. Now the patties that are made are a lot looser – some people in the industry call them ‘airy.’ That’s due to the different cuts of beef that make up the product,” Mr. Beste said.

He pointed out that blending in value-added ingredients to ground beef affects the process in many ways, as well as creating products quite different from the “tried and true” hamburger. And when ingredients like bacon, cheddar cheese, bleu cheese, and various vegetables are added, both the blending process and the final products undergo big changes.

“Blends are affected quite a lot by many different factors – the color of the ground beef, the grain and the shelf life,” Mr. Beste said. “And if there are different cuts of beef, as well as pork, chicken and turkey added to the product, it won’t always hold together the same way.”

He also described how ingredients are added to the ground beef blends. “We usually bring them in at the end of the process of making the ground beef products – as close to the patty-making process as possible," Mr. Beste said. "Otherwise, the binder gets too blended together. If that happens, it affects the grinding process, and the ground beef becomes too much of a paste – that is something we definitely don’t want."

Shweid & Sons burger patties
Schweid & Sons offers patties made with brisket.

There are some limitations on the blending process. “We don’t want the meat to be too coarse,” Mr. Beste said. “We’ve also talked about the possibility of adding ingredients like peanut butter to ground beef, so we’ll see how things like that might work out.”

Mr. Beste also talked about how equipment has to be adjusted to accommodate different ingredients in the blending process – grinding sizes for one thing. He said, “Picture a big stainless steel drum. You put beef into it. It uses a blade or a mixer to blend the meat cuts and ingredients.”

The equipment and technology for blending is extremely versatile. And whether the burger contains several cuts of beef, value-added ingredients or both, the ground beef processor and the consumer end up with a premium, tender burger that looks and tastes like it was made by hand at home.