May 22, 2013

If you've noticed the ballooning sizes of the great American burger in recent years (honestly, who needs a patty that is two-thirds of a pound!), you might wonder how you can have your burger without blowing your nutrition budget. It's a challenge, but it's one we think we've mastered in a delicious way over and over. (See our collection of Healthy Grilled Burgers.)

Here, a step-by-step guide through the tweaks and what they mean to the calorie count.

For this comparison, we analyzed our Simple, Perfect Fresh-Ground Brisket Burgers and compared them to an average cheeseburger recipe that doesn't appear outlandish or overly fatty (no cheese stuffing here).

The Patty6 ounces vs. 4 ouncesMany recipes call for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef to serve 4, or 6 ounces per burger. This monster patty can be unwieldy and difficult to cook. We prefer 4-ounce patties, which provide a much better ratio of beef to bun. Once cooked, a 4-ounce burger is about three ounces of grilled meat.Savings: 4g total fat, 1.75g sat fat, 100 calories (raw)The Beefground chuck vs. ground sirloinGround chuck has an 80/20 ratio of fat to protein. (The ratio is a percentage by weight, not by fat. In other words, in 1 pound of chuck, 3.2 ounces, or 20 percent is fat; the rest is protein.) Ground sirloin, the grade we typically recommend, has a 90/10 ratio. Brisket is a very lean, flavorful option, too. Grind it yourself or ask your butcher.Savings: 6.7g total fat and 2.9g sat fat (ground sirloin vs. ground chuck)

The Cheese1-ounce slices vs. 1/2-ounce slicesIt might seem a fine line to cut your cheese so thinly, but it saves on both fat, calories, and sodium. Plus, it's important to have a whole slice so you'll have equal coverage across your burger. That ensures a bit of cheese in every bite. If you can't find thin-sliced cheese, ask your deli counter to make your slices extra thin.Savings: 4.4g total fat, 3g sat fat, 54 calories, and 92mg sodium

The Mayoregular vs. light canolaYou don't have to sacrifice a creamy burger topping just to save on fat and calories. Switch from regular mayo to a lighter canola mayo (such as Hellman's), and you'll save big. Both burgers called for 8 teaspoons of mayo; that's 2 teaspoons per burger. Regular mayo adds up to 7g fat, 2g sat fat, and 67 calories per burger. Use a lighter canola mayo, and you're only adding 27 calories, 3 g total fat, and 0g saturated fat.Savings: 4g fat, 2g sat fat, and 40 calories (per two teaspoons)

Final NumbersThe original cheeseburger recipe had 812 calories, 54.3g fat, 21g sat fat, and 1033mg sodium.

Our lightened version of the same recipe has 417 calories, 23g fat, 7.4g sat fat, and 542mg sodium.

So yes, a burger can be made lighter -- and it's still very delicious.

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