The taste test: shop-bought burgers

What did you make of the Great Equine Panic? Taste test had no doubt as to what was required: a blitzkrieg tasting of the nation’s shop-bought burgers. And before the stable door might close, we were determined to include a horse burger, something which the panel was quite looking forward to.

Thirty years ago the Gluttonous Pig (GP) used to patronise an Italian restaurant in Covent Garden specifically because it served an exquisite horse carpaccio; he also ate a fine horse casserole in Mantua. Another member of the panel was recruited to demonstrate that cuisine trumps sentiment any day: the Horse Fancier (HF) owns two magnificent hunters and a herd of Shetland ponies but happily eats horse at her favourite Venetian eatery. She was joined by the Discerning Litigator (DL) who, not long ago, had accompanied the Horse Fancier on a riding tour of Argentina. Neither was remotely fazed at the prospect of a horse burger.

What were we looking for in a satisfying burger? The genuine taste of beef rather than the deadening thud of unidentified meat. Not too fatty or gristly, not suspiciously over-seasoned, not minced to an indeterminate paste ... I could go on. We called in 10 burgers from supermarkets, butchers and specialist suppliers. Most frozen varieties had been withdrawn by the time we got going but Birds Eye and Iceland were still available.

Let’s be fair and remember that they are low-budget products which you might well disguise with a bun, lettuce, tomato and a heavy anointment of ketchup or mayo. But they were hardly the highlight of the sampling, coming near the bottom. Iceland’s Quarter Pounder was “gristly, chewy” (DL) and had a “dull, school-dinners flavour” (GP). (A few batches of this product had tested positive for traces of horse DNA but were swiftly withdrawn from sale.) Birds Eye Original Beef Burgers had “too much onion” (HF) and tasted “industrial” (GP). But these two were not the worst.

Absolutely at the bottom came a couple of offerings from two of our most respected supermarket groups. Essential Waitrose British 100% Beef Burgers were unsullied by the rice and rusk used to bind and bulk out several of the patties. But this did not save them from sharing the rock-bottom slot: “seem synthetic” (HF); “engine-oil flavour” (GP). Joining them was Tesco with its Quarter Pound Beef Burgers. The beef was the poorest of the tasting, with far too much connective tissue: “over-seasoned gristle” (DL); “jaw-fatiguing chewy marathon” (GP). I suppose you get what you pay for (or, these days, several things you didn’t). So how did the horse burger do? Well, I’m coming to it – you’ll be surprised.

Our top three, predictably, hailed from premium ranges. Third was Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Ultimate Steak Burgers: “not too bad” (HF); “reasonably lean with well-judged seasoning” (GP).

Second were the frozen horse burgers from Exotic Meats, self-styled as “untainted by beef”: “substantial with an authentic whiff of offal” (HF); “meaty, heavily seasoned with nutmeg to the fore” (DL); “grown-up taste with mild, gratifying flavour of liver” (GP). Once revealed, we connected these descriptions with our memories of horse carpaccio – lean, tasty, and a robust but not overpowering flavour.

But our comfortable winner was Waitrose hand-pressed Aberdeen Angus Steak Burgers: “that’s meat, by God!” (DL); “beautifully beefy” (HF); “satisfying, lean, honest, rough-chopped – a yeoman burger”. No DNA test required, no FSA inspection necessary – this is the one to go for. And if you don’t have Waitrose or Ocado in your area, you could consider an equine snack – hurry, while stocks last.

The Winners

1. Waitrose Hand-Pressed Aberdeen Angus Beef Steak Burgers

£4.29 for two (270g)

2. Exotic Meats Horse Burgers

£3.95 for two (220g)

3. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Ultimate Steak Burgers

£3.29 for two (340g)

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