Find this and more than 175 other recipes in our new book, Comfort Food Makeovers, which features recipe makeovers of classic home-style meals and popular restaurant dishes.
The first recipe we’re tackling is the famous McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. We love a good fast‐food burger as much as anyone, but what we don’t love is the heavy feeling and greasy fingertips we’re left with afterward. We also don’t love the calories they come with: The original has 580 calories, while we got ours down to a respectable 380.
How did we do this? We combined lean ground beef with a little ground turkey to ensure that our burgers were leaner and less greasy. A bit of Worcerstershire sauce reinforced the savory, meaty notes. To keep our turkey patties moist, we mixed the meat with a panade, a paste of bread and milk, then covered the skillet during cooking to ensure that the burgers stayed juicy. We topped it off with classic American cheese, but of the reduced-fat variety, which offered the same flavor as the full-fat version. Our cheeseburgers were now way better—and better for you—than anything we’ve ever eaten out of a paper bag.
MAKEOVER SPOTLIGHT: DRIVE-THROUGH CHEESEBURGERS
1. Use 93 Percent Lean Ground Beef and Ground Turkey: We usually call for 85 percent lean ground beef in burgers, but that wouldn’t do in our lightened recipe. But we also couldn’t just substitute ground turkey for the ground beef—when we tried this, the patties didn’t taste meaty enough. Instead, we kept most of the beef—switching to 93 percent lean—and combined it with a small amount of ground turkey. A ratio of 3:1 gave us burgers that were hearty and offered big meaty flavor, but allowed us to cut the fat grams almost in half. A small amount of Worcestershire sauce amped up the beefy flavor of our patties.
2. Add a Panade for Moist, Juicy Burgers: To ensure that our turkey and beef patties were plenty moist and juicy, we added a panade, which is a paste of milk and bread typically used to help meatballs hold their shape and retain their moisture. When a panade is added to ground meat, starches from the bread absorb the milk to form a gel that, like fat, coats and lubricates the protein molecules, keeping them moist. The bread also absorbs and holds on to juices from the meat, so they stay in the burger instead of draining away.
3. Make the Burgers the Right Thickness: We found it essential to form the burgers so they’re the right thickness; this ensures that they’ll cook through in the right amount of time and be tender and juicy. We found it best to shape our cheeseburgers into patties that are 1/2 inch thick. If they’re any thinner than this, they will cook through more quickly and have a dry interior and burnt exterior. If the patties are any thicker, they will be underdone at the end of the cooking time and unsafe to eat due to the ground turkey.
4. Cook the Burgers Covered and Top with Reduced-Fat Cheese: To ensure the patties stayed moist, we cooked them covered. Also, we let them cook without moving them to enable the formation of a well‐browned crust. Once there was a nicely browned crust on both sides (we flipped the burgers after a few minutes in the pan), we topped the patties with cheese. Slices of reduced‐fat American cheese melted nicely and offered ultra‐cheesy flavor without a lot of fat, and covering the pan helped melt the cheese quickly so the burgers wouldn’t overcook.