The Art of Making Hamburger
By Bryan Salvage
Editorial Director
Making top-quality hamburgers requires top-quality raw materials, ingredients, processing equipment, and the desire to offer only the best.
One would be hard pressed to name a food product that’s more popular than the all-American hamburger. Billions of burgers are consumed annually at a variety of foodservice venues. And 9 billion pounds of ground beef is sold each year in the U.S. and consumed in approximately 97 percent of American households. Much of this volume is dedicated to making hamburgers,
“The dominant beef item in both foodservice and retail is the hamburger. It’s actually by a larger margin in foodservice because of quick-service restaurants [QSRs],” says Randy Irion, director of retail marketing, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).
More than 42 percent of total beef manufactured at retail is sold as ground beef, he continues.
“Most retail ground beef sold today is ground at the plant level. A minority of that product is ground at store level,” Irion adds. “Ground beef patties make up a fairly smaller percentage of the total.”
Ground beef comes in many grinds and brands. For example, on an annual basis licensed packers produce 68.5 million pounds of Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) ground beef. This includes ground round, ground chuck, ground sirloin, and non sub-primal specific grinds, says John Sticka, vice president of business development, Certified Angus Beef. “Our 80/20 ground chuck is our most popular program.”
When asked about the amount of hamburger patties made at processing plants, Sticka says that’s difficult to decipher.
“We know of that 68.5 million pounds, 45.6 million pounds is direct packer processed products – the Tysons, Cargills, Nationals, and Swifts of the world that sell that product in 10-pound chubs. We don’t know how much of that ends up in patty form. A number of our retailers will buy 10-pound chubs and slice quarter-pound or third-pound patties and present them in a family-pack or multi-pack product in the retail case,” he adds.
Just under 23 million pounds of CAB ground beef is generated at midstream by ground beef processors or grinding facilities. And virtually all this product will end up in patty form at foodservice, Sticka says.
“We have seen a number of foodservice distributors move away from grinding or manufacturing their own patties – either fresh or frozen—so that business has become concentrated within the grinding segment of companies that specialize solely in ground beef processing and patty making,” he adds.
The continuing growth of CAB ground beef programs is just one indicator on the growing popularity of ground beef. That 68.5 million pounds represents a 15-percent increase over the previous year, Sticka boasts.
“Grinds have been one of our fastest-growing categories year in and year out during the last eight years,” he adds.
What’s driving this growth? Sticka answers in CAB’s case the power of the CAB brand, plus customers and consumers are looking for quality differences. As a result, all ground beef products are not the same. All top-quality hamburgers begin with top-quality raw materials, but there are differences in ground-beef processing and patty-forming technology.
“A lot of attention is being given on how to produce product at volume chain speeds that duplicate the texture and bite of the hand-formed patty,” Sticka says. “Some of those systems are so proprietary we don’t know what they are!”
Focus on technology
Indeed, there is both an art and a science to making hamburger. And leading ingredient and equipment technology providers play a major role in the continuing evolution of the process. One of the most unique technology innovators is Beef Products Inc. (BPI), Dakota Dunes, SD, and its affiliated companies. BPI is the world’s leading supplier of boneless lean beef, as well as a supplier of a new series of high-quality pumps and grinders assembled at its new machinery manufacturing facility in South Sioux City, NE. These machines, designed by affiliate Freezing Machines Inc. (FMI), bring science and technology to the forefront.
BPI Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings are found in most ground beef made in the United States. BPI’s trimmings are incorporated by major packers and processors as an integral ingredient in their ground beef or hamburger blends. They are also used by most QSR (quick-service restaurants), HRI (hotel, restaurant, and institution) suppliers, and foodservice suppliers in the country. What’s more, these trimmings are approved for use in USDA’s AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) School Lunch Program.
BPI’s product is currently used in school lunch programs at blends up to 15 percent, however, most commercial grinds containing the product are at blend rates of 15 to 25 percent or more. Made to customer specs, the majority of BPI’s lean beef trimmings are finished as 94-percent lean, lean beef trimmings in 60-pound boxes. Seeing that consumer and customer demand is increasing for leaner products, BPI plans to introduce a 98-percent lean product.
Freezing Machines Inc. offers its new FMI-BPI Series of pumps and grinders.
“We needed high-volume grinders and pumps that were dependable, sanitary, and built to last – so we developed our own,” answers Eldon Roth, BPI founder and president, when asked why his company became involved in machinery building.
BPI pump and grinder features include:
• Innovative design
• Superior performance
• Designed for sanitation – features CIP (clean-in-place) technology
• Fully automated and operator friendly
• All stainless-steel construction for maximum hygiene
• Built and developed by a meat processor for meat processors
• Optional controls and monitoring through BPI’s master control center
BPI has been successful during its 24-year history in large part by designing its own equipment for its own unique processes. In fact, today BPI designs or modifies most of the machinery and systems used in its four plants: South Sioux City, NE; Waterloo, IA; Amarillo, TX; and Finney County, KS.
Meanwhile, Hollymatic Corp., Countryside, IL, has been a leading manufacturer of food processing equipment for more than 68 years. Harry H. Holly, company founder, is credited for inventing the first Hamburger-Patty Machine. Best known for the inventions of that machine and the Mixer/Grinder, Hollymatic carries a complete line of patty portioning machines along with a full line of mixer/grinders for the ground beef industry, says Rob Kovacik, customer service manager. Also available is the Model 120 Meat Bulker, which is an attachment for most industry standard 32/42 and 52 grinder head sizes. The Bulker automatically portions loaves of ground meat in precise weight from 8 to 32 ounces.
 “The equipment has evolved by answering the call for higher production and quality of end products,” Kovacik says.
Demands for machines with ergonomics in mind have also been addressed:
• A portioning fill system such as Roto-FLOW and Cut-FLOW, provide gourmet portions that are more tender, cook faster, and shrink less
• Paper-feeding systems now with patented side notch paper, eliminate paper chips and facilitate interleaving
• Hollymatic mixer/grinders can be connected together in Gemini or Tandem, which provides a continuous first and second grind operation. Seasonings and other additives can also be added during the mixing cycles to produce special recipes of flavored ground beef.
Hollymatic’s newest offering is its Model 900E Ergonomic Mixer/Grinder. The 900E has a 200-pound hopper capacity and is designed with an optimum loading and unloading height providing an ergonomic operation. The automatic forward and reverse mixing ribbon provides a homogenous mixture and superior product, Kovacik relays.
“The biggest challenge [in producing top-quality hamburger] is to ensure that the customer gets the highest quality, freshest end-product possible,” Kovacik says. “Producing ground beef in-store, in front of the customer, helps to reassure that the products they are buying are fresh. Fresh is best!”
Weiler and Company Inc., founded by Tony Weiler in 1939, manufactures grinders, mixer/grinders, mixers, material handling systems, and meat recovery systems. Early markets for Weiler equipment were in animal feed (fur ranching and pet food) and poultry. The first Weiler grinder in the edible red meat industry was delivered in 1961. Mixer/grinder units were introduced in the mid 1970s.
“While we remain strong in other industries, our predominant market today is the ground beef segment of the red meat industry,” says Nick Lesar, president and chief executive officer.
As the ground beef industry changed, Weiler changed to keep pace with industry needs.
“Recent years have seen drastic changes in the area of safety, functionality, sanitation, yield, and capacity,” Lesar says. “The company has focused on sanitation and functionality of its equipment designs. Sanitation relates directly to food safety. We consider this a paramount industry issue. Changes have occurred in general manufacturing processes and techniques, electrical controls, drive specifications, guarding, and materials. Changes in equipment design for ground beef production have been drastic, in some cases, and in other cases more subtle.”
Weiler’s Piranha™ machine was introduced to the ground meat and poultry industry in 2001. Its goal is reclamation of good, lean meat from the bone collection stream of grinders. It consistently achieves yields of 95+ percent with a temperature rise of less than 3°F. AccuPump is used for ground beef chub applications as an alternative to conventional equipment used to feed ground beef to chub machines. It delivers increased capacity and improved product texture, less smearing and fatting out, and improved weight control. This positive displacement pump results in reduced mechanical energy transferred to the meat. Maintenance costs are significantly lower than alternative equipment, the company relays.
The most recent Weiler machine for this special segment is the Dominator.
“This grinder meets the need for increased grinding capacity,” Lesar says. “Superior product texture and bone collection are achieved. Numerous enhancements have been incorporated into the ‘new generation’ grinder.” This machine is being unveiled at this year’s Worldwide Food Expo in Chicago.
Producing ground beef at higher volumes while maintaining or improving product quality is the biggest challenge facing industry, Lesar says.
“A simple definition of top-quality ground beef could be ‘superior particle definition with a minimum of smearing [fat and lean separation] providing for optimum product texture and yield.’”
Producing top-quality ground beef is directly related to the amount of mechanical energy introduced to the raw material.
“Generally speaking, the less mechanical energy, the better the quality of ground beef,” Lesar says. “The challenge is to offer the gentlest processes of introducing this mechanical energy, resulting in high-quality ground beef, acceptable shelf life, and maximized food safety. Weiler and Co. has taken great care in the design of the smallest details to accomplish this.”
Mixing is often an overlooked element of the ground beef process. Having a mixer that is not properly designed for ground beef manufacturing can render all efforts futile, Lesar says.
Design elements such as low RPM on the mixer paddles, counter-rotating and overlapping paddles, highly polished food contact surfaces, and positive discharge of the raw material using an unload screw [no discharge doors] all contribute to Weiler mixers producing a homogeneous batch in three minutes or less.
Temperature control is another important element in making ground beef. Weiler relays the most effective method is the CO2 injection system in the final mixer or mixer/grinder.
“Paying attention to the detail already mentioned will result in ground beef patties with high water-holding capacity, low purge, and high cook yield,” Lesar says.
Framarx Corp. was founded in 1966 by Lawrence Czaszwicz Sr., who had worked for Harry Holly for 20 years. This wax paper company specializes in manufacturing hamburger patty paper.
When Framarx started in the patty paper business, there were only a dozen or so different patty paper items that the meat processing industry used.
“Today, we have hundreds of item codes as the food business has evolved so dynamically,” says Lawrence Czaszwicz Jr., president, Framarx Corp. “Today it is not uncommon for a ground beef company to develop its own unique patty manufacturing and packaging systems with a specialized interleaving paper.”
Framarx is installing a new state-of-the-art piece of wax paper converting equipment this fall that will add quality, flexibility, and capacity to the company’s manufacturing capabilities, he says.
Food safety is a major challenge for the hamburger manufacturer.
“Our Good Manufacturing Practices are audited annually to give our customers documentation that we are GMP-certified,” Czaszwicz says.
Canton, MA-based Reiser has been in the ground beef business for more than 40 years. Their latest development for ground beef portioning is the new VEMAG HP25 used in conjunction with an integrated checkweighing machine for producing fixed-weight retail packs of ground beef, which are then subsequently packaged in modified atmosphere trays—the package of choice today for retail sales of ground beef, says Peter Mellon, president.
“Retailers today are demanding from their meat suppliers that they deliver case-ready portions of ground beef in fixed weights,” he adds. “Typically, they sell them in 1 pound, 2 pound, and family-pack sizes. We developed this system to ensure they have minimum giveaway in retail fixed-weight ground beef packs.
“The number-one challenge has been to help our customers satisfy the retailers’ demand for fixed-weight packages,” he says.
Reiser also offers its new VEMAG FM250 for making home-style gourmet hamburger patties.
“We introduced the FM250 three months ago, and it has been very successful,” Mellon says.
“Our challenge was to produce fresh hamburger patties with a superior bite and texture.” he continues. “People wanted a higher-quality product so we developed the FM250 system to make gourmet-style product that’s unlike the traditional product made on a plate-forming system using high pressure. We use extremely low pressure in forming the hamburger patty, which gives a superior bite.”
Formax® Inc., Mokena, IL, is the world leader in forming technology with a full line of systems meeting the needs of all hamburger processors, says Brian Sandberg, director of marketing.
The introduction of the first hydraulically powered Formax® forming machine in 1971 helped to popularize the American burger worldwide, Sandberg conveys.
“The original Formax® F•24® revolutionized the market with its speed, technology, and operational reliability – and is still operational today,” Sandberg says.
Processors welcomed this piece of equipment as a replacement for mechanical-style machines that were known for breaking down, he relays. “Since day one, Formax® has held a constant focus on our customers and their need to make superior products at the absolute lowest cost.”
Formax® technology ensures consistent product texture, superior productivity, exacting weight control, and the prospect of higher sales, he adds. Its forming systems include the Maxum700®, F•26®, F•19®, F•400®, and F•6® machines. All five systems can be equipped with our Paper Feed option for interleaving paper between the patties.
Value-added technologies include the Tender-Form® filling system and peripheral Cuber-Perforator. The company also produces productivity enhancing systems, including XP double-row tooling and the STS® Servo Shuttle Transfer System, also known as the Servo STS®. A bucket-lift system is also offered on all machines but the F•6® to assist in loading the raw material into the machine hopper.
The Tender-Form® fill plate takes the product flow through vertical holes, producing strands of meat similar to a meat grinder. Its advantage comes from the vertical columns of meat and the air spaces formed between them. When the meat is formed into patty shapes, the small spaces between the vertical strands assure a fluffier, homemade texture, Sandberg says. This process guarantees more efficient freezing and cooking since the hot or cold air can easily reach the patty center via the small space between the meat strands.
The Cuber-Perforator makes value-added patties that freeze faster, and it reduces energy consumption on the processors’ end. The perforations ensure a faster cooking patty, Sandberg relays.
Product evolution
Since the first F•26® was introduced, the company has made more than 55 significant improvements to its design over a 30-year span. Most of these upgrades were retrofittable to existing machines. Some of the improvements resulted from the natural progression of technology (i.e., relay controls were replaced by microprocessor controls, which were replaced by PLC controls, which eventually gave way to touchscreen controls) while others were based on field experience and customer input.
As the new century began, it became apparent that the needs of its customers had extended beyond what the F•26® design platform could support. This led to the development of the Maxum700®, which was engineered for unmatched performance in terms of productivity, product consistency, and food safety, Sandberg says. It was designed to increase product yields and maximize throughput with minimal process variation. Patties produced meet unwavering weight control, food safety, and appearance specifications. The Maxum700®’s servo mold plate drive promises smooth mold plate operation including complete control over the mold plate motion. Processors can adjust the various actions of the mold plate to enhance the quality of output based on the unique characteristics of the product being formed. These features are available at speeds up to 120 strokes per minute and production rates up to 8,000 pounds an hour.
The biggest challenges in producing top-quality hamburgers are controlling process variation, delivering better cooking characteristics, and ensuring the correct texture, Sandberg says.
“Formax® forming systems keep operators in control of the product flow, forming pressure, and more in assuring these requirements are met,” he adds. “Our PLC touch screen and computerized models further ensure consistency and maximize productivity with their capacity to duplicate performance and speed setup times. The PLC Touchscreen offers up to one-hundred product codes, all with preprogrammed or custom fill modes.
“With Formax, the natural texture of the product is also protected by the exclusive design of our forming systems,” he continues. “As product is conveyed towards the pump box, we time the feed screws alternately on and off to eliminate tumbling or overworking the product. Our hydraulic injection forming systems precisely control the product flow of each filling cycle, assuring accurate fills and consistent weight control..”
Consistency is key to routinely producing a quality burger. Although Formax® forming machines are designed to meet consistency demands, proper preventive maintenance enhanced by Formax® training classes and machine manuals help educate operator and maintenance personnel. Keeping track of the tooling life and changing tooling before quality becomes an issue is also essential in producing top-quality products.
NuTEC Manufacturing, New Lenox, IL, has offered patty formers for 21 years. The combined experience of NuTEC’s team in this market, however, is more than 90 years.
Patty-forming equipment has essentially evolved from foot-operated wooden machines in the 1930s to hand-operated machines to state-of-the-art hydraulic and electronic equipment in 2005.
“Today, NUTEC’s patty-forming equipment guarantees high-speed accuracy and consistent weight control,” says Mike Barnett, vice president. “One-hundred percent hydraulic, our machines require less maintenance, lower downtime, and reduce repair costs when compared to the mechanical systems of yesterday.”
NuTEC’s 780 Food Former was introduced in 2003. “This is our ‘monster machine’ that can produce more than 50,000 patties an hour. Designed to double capacity, it features double-conveyor belts and dual-sided mold plates,” Barnett says. “Up to seven quarter-pound patties can be knocked out in each row on our 34-inch wide model.
The 780 Forming Machine is designed for high-volume meat processors. It can replace multiple forming machines, Barnett relays.
“The completely hydraulic 780 assures minimal product working and guarantees high-quality, consistent shapes no matter what you run – beef, poultry, or pork,” he adds.
The biggest challenge in producing top-quality burgers is to consistently match the patties in size, weight, shape, and flavor, Barnett says.
Bridge Machine Co. Inc., Palmyra, NJ, makes patty machines ranging from table-top machines used in restaurants and catering companies to cruise ships to an eight-outlet patty machine producing 480 patties a minute across a 38-inch wide belt that is primarily used for cooking patties. The company has been in business for approximately 50 years.
“My father developed the first multiple-cavity patty machine ever made—Bridge Moulders — the Custom 150 was his first machine,” says Terry Bridge, president. “It produced 150 pieces a minute back in 1958.”
Bridge Machine has been successful with its smaller table-top machines.
“We’ve modified them over the years,” he says. “They produce high-quality patties that are fluffy, juicy, and not very compressed – hamburger attributes many consumers want.”
The company’s Accupat Food Shapers offer foodservice operators an economical table-top former for the production of patties or meat balls. Fluffy home-style patties are gently formed. Larger floor model Accupats offer high production of perforated, papered, and stacked home-made style patties. Patty production ranges from 1,200 to 6,000 PCs an hour.
Looking to the future
“In order to meet the demands of our fast-paced lifestyles, faster processing, freezing, and packaging will drive the [hamburger] evolution,” Barnett says.
“You’re going to see more pre-cooked, fully-cooked product on the market,” Bridge adds. “Processors will continue to push the envelope with respect to productivity, product quality, food safety, and machine hygiene,” Sandberg says.
“We’re starting to see a lot of retailers look at a patty program as a way to quickly add value in margin potential to their products in the ground beef section,” says CAB’s Sticka. “We’re also going to see more gourmet-type opportunities.  We’re also seeing case-ready opportunities continue to grow – either case-ready patties or chubs and in some cases even case-ready loaves. At foodservice, we’ll see a move towards pre-cooked, marinated, gourmet-type burgers.
“The push now is ‘how do we create a patty like Mom used to make?’ That’s the challenge for equipment manufacturers,” he adds. “How do we continue to produce a patty that has a hand-made look, feel, and texture? That’s what retail and foodservice are both looking for.”
“The thing that makes the hamburger so attractive is there’s no limit to the creativity from any person preparing it,” says NCBA’s Irion. “It can hold a variety of flavors, and you can doctor it up any way you like. We’ll continue to see people place much emphasis on making sure they get the highest-quality product with the longest shelf life and best appearance for consumers. There’s always room to revisit the process to give consumers a product that even better meets their needs. Good old-fashioned ground meat is still going to be the most popular product for years to come. Because it’s such a large category, items like pre-cooked burgers have an excellent chance of succeeding.”
Future evolution of ground beef production is going to include increased capacities without the need for additional floor space and labor. “Systems will be designed to incorporate HACCP,” Lesar says.
After all is said and done, the focus once again turns back to the need for consistency.
“Demands for fresh ground beef of higher quality and higher production will continue,” Hollymatic’s Kovacik says. “Controlling all of the variables of the process is essential to meet these demands. Hamburger is a staple of the American diet, Whether it’s in patty form, a meatloaf, or an addition to a sauce, gravy, or specialty item, ground beef will continue to lead meat department sales. Meat market managers are creating value-added products such as gourmet flavored patties and meat loaves that are made to specific recipe.” NP
Technology suppliers participating in this report include:
• BPI, phone (605) 217-8000, e-mail, or visit
• Bridge Machine Co. Inc., phone (856) 829-1800, e-mail, or visit
• Formax® Inc., phone (708) 479-3500, e-mail, or visit
• Framarx/Waxstar, phone (708) 755-3530 or (800) 336-3936, e-mail, or visit
• Hollymatic Corp., phone (708) 579-3700, e-mail, or visit
• NuTEC Manufacturing, phone (815) 722-2800, e-mail, or visit
• Reiser, phone (781) 821-1290, e-mail, or visit
• Weiler and Company Inc., phone (262)473-5254 or (800) 558-9507, e-mail, or visit