We Americans like our burgers big and lusty. So if you try serving a burger made with the four ounces of lean meat, considered a standard serving (3 ounces cooked), it will seem smaller than a hockey puck. Seared on the back-yard grill, it is also likely to be almost as hard and dry as one. And the leaner the meat, the less flavor you can expect.

Still, we need to side-step the unhealthy desire to tuck into a steer-size burger packed with enough saturated fat and cholesterol to give your cardiologist a heart attack at your next check-up. To find a way to have a nutritious burger and enjoy it too, I took on the challenge of creating a healthful, good-sized burger that's packed with flavor.

I started with ground sirloin, because it's 90 to 92 percent lean, compared to around 15 percent for ground round and 30 percent for chuck. Besides good flavor, ground sirloin has the nubbly texture that makes a great burger.

Chefs know that meat should be loosely knit when forming a good burger. They press it just enough to hold together, then chill it and grill it straight from the refrigerator. Some even tuck an ice cube into the center of their burgers to keep the meat moist as the ice melts during cooking. But with a three-ounce serving, the meat must be combined with something else to achieve a satisfying portion for many of us. This is the next challenge.

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I found that bread crumbs, oats and most other fillers make a hamburger resembling grilled meatloaf. So do mashed potatoes (a favorite meatloaf trick of mine), along with the egg required to hold things together. Although temporarily stumped, inspiration soon struck. I mixed in some grated onion and leftovers from a can of refried beans. The burger came off the grill crusty on the outside and moist inside, with a nice flavor.

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For fun, I added a minced jalapeno pepper and some ground chili powder. Building on the Southwestern accent of this two-fisted burger, I sometimes top it with salsa instead of ketchup. I also like it served with the usual favorites - ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, tomato and onion slices, and some lettuce.

Big Chili Burger

Makes 4 servings.


  • 8 oz. extra lean ground sirloin
  • 1/2 cup canned fat-free refried beans
  • 2 Tbsp. minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a bowl, lightly mix together meat and beans with a fork until well combined. Mix in onion, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder, salt and pepper. (Be careful not to over-mix or you will end up with a tightly-compacted mixture that tastes unpleasant; it should be light.) Gently form mixture into four 4-inch patties.
  2. Cook burgers on pre-heated grill or ridged grill pan, turning them once, until a meat thermometer inserted in their centers registers 160 degrees (about 8 to 10 minutes). Hot burgers crumble easily, so handle carefully, using a wide spatula.
  3. Serve immediately, preferably on toasted buns, topped with sliced tomato and onion plus some well-drained salsa.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
95 calories,
3 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat),
6 g. carbohydrate,
13 g. protein,
2 g. dietary fiber,
444 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Low-Fat Meat, 1/2 Starch