Beyond Beef: 10 Surprising — and Healthy — Burger Alternatives

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Our safari-like guide to burger meats that are healthy alternatives to standard 80/20 beef

Beyond Beef: 10 Surprising — and Healthy — Burger Alternatives

In our list of the 101 Best Burgers in America, The Daily Meal’s Dan Myers writes:

“In a recent interview, meat-blending master Pat LaFrieda shared some of the key characteristics of the foundation of a great burger: the patty. LaFrieda has found that ‘An eight-ounce burger, inch-thick, is perfect for a barbecue — it can get a good sear without overcooking it.’ What it’s actually made of, or not made of, matters, too; the butcher likes to keep it an all-beef affair and thinks that mixing in additions such as beans and red peppers makes it ‘taste like meatloaf. It no longer tastes like a burger.’ Finally, not all meat blends are created equal, and he warned us that the meat-to-fat ratio should be 80/20 because ‘Anything else is a marketing ploy.’”

Not every burger is a gut-crunching two all-beef patties, with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. Not every burger is beef. There is an increasingly large camp of nutrition-conscious folk, in fact, who say that beef isn’t as healthy as we once thought it was. Many people cite its potential to cause cancer and high levels of fat as reasons not to eat beef. An example of high-fat beef is the previously mentioned (and calorically dense) 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio of beef that most burgers thrive on.

For comparison’s sake, we’ve listed the nutrition information for 10 exotic, surprising alternatives to the standard American all-beef patty (each at four ounces or a serving size very close to four ounces). A four-ounce serving of 80/20 ground beef has about 287 calories including 23 grams of fat and 20 grams of protein.

All of the following healthy beef alternatives have more protein than they do fat, immediately making them more tempting burger options than our beloved 80/20. The real question, however, is: Can you stomach these rather exotic meats served grilled and sandwiched between two buns?

Alligator

According to our piece, What Do Snake and Other Exotic Meats Taste Like?, alligator tastes quite a bit like frog, but maybe with a hint of rabbit and crab. It’s difficult to cook because it’s so low in fat, and the end result is usually tough and chewy. One brand of premade alligator patties lists a four-ounce patty as having 230 calories comprised of 14 grams of fat, four grams of carbs, and 21 grams of protein; while alligator is the first ingredient in these particular patties, the second is pork, increasing its fat content. Looking for some great ways to cook gator? Try one of our best alligator recipes.

Antelope

Antelope

Photo Modified: Flickr / Jeremy Keith / CC BY 4.0

Tired of the deer and antelope playing? Ready to eat one of those damned playful antelope? Try an antelope burger from one of the 10 Best Game Restaurants in America like Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon in Pennsylvania. Four ounces of ground antelope has roughly four grams of fat, no carbs, and 24 grams of protein, totaling 128 lean, gamey calories.

Bear

Bear

Photo Modified: Flickr / Naotake Murayama / CC BY 4.0

Bear meat doesn’t turn up on menus too often (if at all), but plenty of hunters have eaten it, usually reporting that the meat is very tough, greasy, and gamey. One hunter who wrote an article for Slate about cooking bear took a different approach: He dry-aged it to tenderize it, and, when pan-seared, it wasn’t tough or strongly flavored, but had a flavor similar to venison. Bear burgers were also a big hit. Four ounces of bear meat will total about 180 calories comprised of roughly nine grams of fat, no carbs, and 23 grams of protein.

Camel

Camel

Photo Modified: Flickr / Sakena / CC BY 4.0

An article in Serious Eats reviews one camel burger, stating that it supposedly has no fat and no cholesterol. This camel burger, said to be a great alternative to beef and chicken, wound up being served overcooked and, overall, provided for quite a tasteless experience. Regardless, one site claims that four ounces of camel meat has one gram of fat and 24 grams of protein. Looking to try for yourself? Head to Safari Express in Minneapolis and try its raved-about camel burger.

Kangaroo

While it may be hard to find kangaroo meat served in restaurants, certain companies can ship kangaroo meat so that you can make your own ‘roo burger at home. With a gamey taste that is similar to bison crossed with venison, kangaroo meat is, in fact, leaner than bison and a bit more moist than venison. One brand of ground kangaroo contains 110 lean calories per ounce, comprised mostly of 25 grams of protein with just one measly gram of fat.

Llama

Llama meat, said to have a flavor similar to that of beef and lamb but slightly sweeter, is a regular feature on the plates of those in the Andes. While chef Robert Irvine’s llama burgers include both llama and beef, a five-ounce portion of just llama meat comes in at around 180 calories, comprised of five grams of fat and 22 grams of protein.

Moose

Moose

Photo Modified: Flickr / Virginia State Parks / CC BY 4.0

We aren’t trying to ruin your childhood, but it turns out that Bullwinkle may be one of the most nutritious burger bases out there. Each four ounce serving of moose meat has less than one gram of fat and about 25 grams of protein, totaling 115-odd calories. Check out our best ground moose recipes here.

Ostrich

Ostrich

Photo Modified: Flickr / Frankie Roberto / CC BY 4.0

Looking for about 190 relatively fatty calories? Each four-ounce serving of ground ostrich will have nearly 10 grams of fat and about 23 grams of protein, and we’re willing to bet that you didn’t know ostrich (as well as emu and rhea) is considered red meat. This flightless bird is said to have a subtle taste that can be easily manipulated by marinating and seasoning.

Reindeer

Reindeer

Photo Modified: Flickr / Bernt Rostad / CC BY 4.0

According to Kanye West, reindeer meat tastes like Christmas, but most people say that it’s sort of beef-like with a wild, gamey touch. Norwegians eat about 300 grams of reindeer meat — purportedly better-tasting than venison — annually. One site estimates that four ounces of reindeer meat has 144 calories comprised of about 26 grams of protein and 4-odd grams of fat. Sorry, Santa, we’ll be trying reindeer burgers between now and Christmas.

Zebra

If you were to enjoy a 3.5-ounce serving of zebra meat, it would total 175 calories, six grams of fat, and 28 grams of protein (assuming that it wasn’t from a restaurant pawning off horsemeat as zebra). According to the Independent, it’s a little bit sweeter than beef, with a slightly gamey flavor. Because it’s relatively low in fat, it’s also very tough and chewy, and is best cut into thin strips and quickly pan-fried or slowly braised. In the spirit of the patty, though, zebra burgers are another great way to consume this exotic meat.