Science & Technology

Building a Better Burger

Istock photo

Students create new recipe for a Wisconsin restaurant chain.

In its pursuit of a better burger, a Wisconsin restaurant had to look no further than the UW.

Gilly’s Frozen Custard sought help last fall after a market study suggested that the restaurant’s beef didn’t stack up to the quality of its custard. Jeff Sindelar, a UW associate professor of animal sciences and a UW-Extension meat specialist, proposed a friendly competition that could also serve as a hands-on learning opportunity.

In January, sixteen student volunteers split into five teams to develop a new recipe. They faced a few parameters: the burger had to be a quarter-pound, hand-pattied, 100 percent Angus beef, juicy, and replicable within a certain price per pound. Students began by experimenting with the different cuts, grinds, and fat- content levels of beef. From there, the challenge required trial and error to find the right flavor profile — and coming to work with an empty stomach.

“We ate a lot of burgers,” says Abbey Thiel x’14, an undergraduate food science student who is hoping for a career in product development.

After several rounds of judging, Gilly’s selected the recipe from Between the Buns — a team of Thiel; Cherry Lam x’15, a graduate food science student; and Seth Schulz, an associate outreach specialist.

Gilly’s adopted the recipe — adding special seasoning and slightly altering the grind — for its Green Bay and Sheboygan locations.

“You put a lot of time and effort into projects for school, but it really doesn’t go anywhere after you hand it in,” Thiel says. “So, it’s pretty cool that [Gilly’s is] selling my burger right now, and all the customers are eating a burger I designed.”

Published in the Fall 2013 issue


  • Rasheed November 8, 2013

    Just what the unhealthy state of Wisconsin needs: more fat.

  • Melissa November 11, 2013

    @Rasheed – Nowhere in this article does it say that the winning recipe has a higher fat content than the recipe it replaces. Who knows? Maybe UW created a better-tasting recipe that is actually healthier than the original.

  • Amy Deering November 11, 2013

    Thank you to ALL the talented UW-Madison undergrads and grads who participated in Gilly’s new burger Research and Development project. There were so many great recipes that we had our customers weigh in on the final tasting. The recipe created by Team “Between the Buns” is 100% fresh Angus Beef from multiple cuts. It’s an excellent product and VERY delicious. Gilly’s is proud to serve this burger and pleased to have been part of this real life educational project. The University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Meat Science & Food Science programs deliver! Thank you to Dr. Sindelar for creating a Gilly’s Burger project for your students. It was a fantastic experience for everyone. – Amy Deering, VP of Corporate Marketing at Gilly’s Frozen Custard, LLC

  • Ian November 11, 2013

    @rasheed: Wisconsin actually ranks 28th in obesity, and according to the United Health Foundation, ranks 16th in overall health. We are by no means the healthiest, but as far as America goes, we’re not doing that badly.

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