How To: Keep Ground Meat from Sticking to Your Hands

Keep Ground Meat from Sticking to Your Hands

If you have ever attempted to mix and shape your own meatballs or burger patties, you may have endured bits of meat continuously and stubbornly sticking to your hands. This can make shaping more challenging than it should be.

Ground meat in any form—beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, or any other game—can become even more sticky if you have added eggs or salt to your mixture. However, there are few simple tricks to combating this sticky mess for clean, meat-free hands, and I am going to share them with you below.

Why Mix with Your Hands?

Some of you may be thinking, "Wait, why don't I just mix my meat with a utensil and then make my balls or patties?" You can do this, but there is a strong argument that mixing seasonings and other ingredients such as cheese, eggs, and breadcrumbs into your ground meat is best done with your hands.

Why? Because you can literally feel when your ingredients are incorporated and distributed evenly throughout the meat. Your flexible fingers are the perfect tools for doing this. Oftentimes you will use a utensil to mix your meat and then have to go in and finish it with your hands. You have dirtied an unnecessary utensil, and what is the point of that?

However, it is important not to "overwork" the meat with your hands. This can cause some negative effects such as melting the fat and reducing flavor potential. Bon Appétit also provides good reasons: "The light touch of your hands incorporates all of the ingredients without crushing the meat. You do not want to over-mix into a paste—full pieces of ground meat should still be visible."

What Makes It Sticky?

There are a few things that create meat stickiness. One I learned from NPR's The Salt is that once meat is ground, it releases a protein called myosin, which happens to be super sticky.

Also, raw meat becomes sticky the moment it comes in contact with heat. When you hand-mix, the fat starts to melt from the heat of your hands. Again, this is why overworking the meat can be a real problem. Lynn Curry of Rural Eating concurs. In fact, Cook's Country magazine recommends you only use lightly cupped hands to form your patties rather than mashing them flat with the palms of your hands.

Eggs (which are used in many recipes) act as a binder, but can also cause stickiness, so you may want to leave them out.

How to Prevent Meat Sticking to Hands: Trick #1

The most common advice given about working with ground meat is to wet your hands with cold water. Chef Jamie Oliver recommends it and so does About Food and Livestrong.

How to Prevent Meat Sticking to Hands: Trick #2

Another method is to rub your hands with olive oil so they are lightly coated. The olive oil is slippery and keeps the meat from sticking to your skin. (This trick also works when handling hot peppers to keep them from burning your skin.)

How to Prevent Meat Sticking to Hands: Trick #3

The last method I recommend is for those of you who are grossed out by the idea of handling raw meat. Wearing disposable plastic gloves is an easy and efficient way to keep meat off of your hands! (Gloves also keep you from getting Cheetos fingers when snacking!)

Don't feel like making a bunch of balls or patties at once? We have tips on how to best save your raw meat for later...lucky you.

More Tips on Making Great Burgers...

See how easy it is to eat a burger with no mess and keep your burger juicy and your bun dry. You should also learn how to use your thumb to make perfectly shaped patties every time. Have your own burger tips? Share!

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Photos by Tara Redfield/Food Hacks

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