Going veg doesn’t mean you have to give up burgers. There are lots of plant-based ingredients you can make delicious burgers with. But if you’ve ever had a veggie burger that falls apart while you’re cooking it or when you take the first bite, you know it’s a less than great experience. Burgers made with meat and/or eggs have lots of sticky saturated fats which help them hold together but vegan burgers don’t have this fat so they often fall apart. Is it possible to keep the saturated fats out of our burgers and still have them hold together? You bet! After a lot of experimentation and a lot of burgers that just didn’t hold up, I finally got a hand on how to keep my veggie burgers from turning into mush. Here are some tricks for making veggie burgers that won’t fall apart.
1. Use an Egg Replacer
As mentioned, eggs help veggie burgers hold together because they have saturated fats. For an eggless burger, use a different type of binder. I like to make a “flax egg” by combining 1 Tbs. ground flax seed and 3 Tbs. warm water and letting it sit until it gels. You can also make this type of egg replacement with chia seeds or psyllium husks. Agar agar gets gelatinous when mixed with an equal amount of water. You can also create a binder by combining cornstarch, tapioca starch or arrowroot powder with warm water.
2. Add Sticky/Starchy/Dry Ingredients
Besides using an “egg” binder, other sticky ingredients can help hold the burger together. However, some sticky ingredients are also wet so you don’t want to use too much of them. Mashed potatoes, beans and lentils are sticky as are nut butters, tahini, tomato paste, mustard, barbecue sauce and vegan Worcestershire sauce. Some dry ingredients get sticky get they get wet such as breadcrumbs, flour, oats, rice, quinoa, barley, ground nuts and seeds, spices and cornstarch. If your burger mix is too wet, adding these will create a type of paste. You don’t want to use a lot of sticky ingredients though, you want the mixture to hold together but not feel gooey.
3. Keep Track of Unmeasured Moisture
Veggies, especially raw veggies, hold a lot of water which will get released during cooking. This is also true for other ingredients such as beans or tofu. This can turn your burger to mush. If a recipe calls for shredded onion, carrots or zucchini, squeeze them dry before adding them to the burger mix. Alternatively, you can cook the veggies or beans before adding them to the mix (make sure to let them cool first). Make sure your tofu has been pressed and drained of excess water. Keep in mind that some ingredients added for flavor such as ketchup or soy sauce will also add moisture. Always add ingredients a little at a time while checking the texture of the mix.
4. Do the Mash
You can certainly make your burger mix by hand; I usually do. Make sure all the ingredients are mashed well and chopped finely. Use a potato masher, a fork or your hands. While it’s nice to see and taste the individual ingredients in the burger, pieces that are too big will fall out and keep the burger from holding together. If you use a food processor, process until everything is just combined but don’t turn it into a soup. The mixture should feel firm and hold together. It shouldn’t be too wet or sticky when you touch it. When you form the patties, the mixture should not stick to your hands too much. If it does, you need more dry ingredients such as flour or bread crumbs. If the mixture is too dry, it will crumble when you try to make patties. Add more sticky ingredients.
Learn to use your judgment rather than following recipes to the letter. Just because the recipe calls for ½ cup of bread crumbs doesn’t mean you need to use the whole amount or that you can’t use more. Use your hands. Get a feel for the consistency of the burger mix. Is it holding together well? Does it feel too loose? Sometimes one tablespoon more or less of bread crumbs or flour can make all the difference.
5. Making Patties
Most recipes say to make the patties and then refrigerate them. I used to do this and when I would go to make the burgers, they were moist and didn’t hold together well. Being in the fridge adds moisture we don’t want. Refrigerate the whole burger mix in a bowl for 30 minutes or so, bring them out and come close to room temperature and then make the patties when you’re ready to cook them. They will be firmer and hold together better while cooking.
I also used to form my patties by hand. No matter how hard I tried to make even burgers, even scoring the mix and separating it into equal portions, I always ended up with 6 different sized burgers and one little, itty bitty one left over. Now I use a mold. While it might feel fun to make free-form patties like they do on cooking shows, using a mold will accomplish two things: (1) ensure that you get equally-sized burgers that are the perfect diameter and thickness and (2) make denser burgers because you will pack the burger mix into the mold. My burgers used to be too large and too thin, like frisbees. They didn’t fit on the buns and they always broke. Now, I use a 3 1/2″ ring sprayed with cooking oil and my burgers are thicker, denser, and don’t fall apart.
Burgers can be baked in the oven until crisp and browned, cooked in a pan or grilled. If you are still worried about them holding together on the grill, you can pre-cook them in the oven for 15-20 minutes so they will be firmer when they reach the grill. The grill or pan should be hot and the oil should also be hot before adding the burgers. This way, the burgers will sear and form a crust. If the pan and oil are not hot, the burgers will slowly warm up, create more liquid and fall apart. Don’t’ crowd the burgers in a pan or they will steam and get mushy. Cook them in batches if your pan isn’t large enough.
Place the burgers in the pan or on the grill and don’t touch them until they sear. If you try to move them too early, they will stick and break apart. When a burger is ready to be moved, it will release easily from the pan or grill. Since veggie burgers are still more fragile, I flip them using two forks rather than a spatula. This gives them more support. If you use a spatula, use a very thin one that will slide under the burger easily. When done, the burgers should be crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. And delicious, your burgers should be delicious.
7. Burger Recipes
The number of burger recipes is only limited by our imaginations. Burgers can be made out of almost anything. Check out 10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With for great ideas and recipes. Then read How to Make Flavorful Veggie Burgers for tips on how to make the most amazing tasting burgers.
Need help getting started? Here are some awesome recipes that will have you singing the praises of veggie burgers from the rooftops: White Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers, Mushroom Barley Grillers, Baked Broccoli Burgers, Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burger, Portobello Eggplant Burger with Cauliflower Cashew Cheese, Roasted Beet Burger Patties, Vegan Eggplant Crunchburger, Hoisin Black Bean Burger with Spicy Sesame Sauce, Kidney Bean Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce, Zucchini and Corn Veggie Burgers, Quinoa and White Bean Burger, Daikon Patties, and even Vegan Burger King. These are just a sample of all the incredible veggie burger recipes on One Green Planet.
The next time you’re craving a burger, try these tricks to make a delicious veggie burger that doesn’t fall apart. Do you have any tricks of your own for making great veggie burgers? Share them with us in the comments.
Lead Image Source: Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burger