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How to Grill the Best Burgers
We tested all sorts of methods for mixing, shaping, and grilling backyard burgers, and even talked with grilling expert Steven Raichlen! Here is our take on the perfect grilled burger.
Grilling season is upon us, and this year I’ve decided to master the art of America’s summertime grilling favorite—the hamburger.
My aim: a burger that is easy to throw together on a weeknight, flavorful enough to stand up to the person who adds every condiment known to mankind to his or her burger, and yet balanced enough to satisfy the minimalist burger eater (ketchup only, please!).
How to Grill the Best Burgers
Ask an Expert: Steven Raichlen
Steven Raichlen, author of more than 30 books, founder of BBQ University, and television host to multiple shows on the subject of grilling and smoking, including the recently released Project Fire, generously took time out of his day to teach me a few things about how to grill the perfect burger. We discussed charcoal verses gas grills, the best fat to meat ratio, and one mistake newbies make when tackling the all-beef patty.
Armed with information from Raichlen, a mountain of research, my own experiences, and emails from friends and family members, I set out to make my version of a Classic Backyard Burger.
First Things First: Start With a Clean Grill
Just like you want to use a clean skillet with a little oil to cook dinner on the stovetop, you want to start with a clean grill with oiled grill grates when making dinner on the grill.
Raichlen suggest starting by scrubbing your grill grates with a grill brush to remove any built-up residue from past meals. Then oil the grill by dipping a folded paper towel in oil and using grilling tongs to rub the oil soaked towel on the grates.
Buy an 80/20 Mix of Ground Beef
A burger can be seasoned a hundred ways to Sunday, but it means nothing without a solid foundation. For a juicy, flavorful burger, skip the extra-lean ground beef patty blends and use ground beef with a higher fat content.
Ground beef with an 80/20 mix is the best for grilled burgers—this means a mix 80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat. The 80/20 ground beef you would buy in the supermarket is usually ground chuck, which is great for burgers. (Something leaner like 90/10 is usually ground sirloin, which tends to dry out when cooked over the high heat of the grill.)
Raichlen actually prefers mixing ground chuck and ground sirloin to create his own mix of 80 to 83 percent beef and 17 to 20 percent fat
I opted for 80/20 ground chuck because it’s easily available in most supermarkets, but don’t be afraid to ask your butcher to grind your own blend or grind a higher fat-to-beef ratio.
Keep the Meat Cold
The heat from your hands combined with room-temp ground beef can melt and smear the fat. This prevents the fat from binding with the lean meat, causing too much of it to render during the cooking process, resulting in a dry, dense burger.
The solution is to keep the meat cold and shape the patties as quickly as possible.
Leave the ground beef in the refrigerator until you’re ready to season it and form the patties. Then mix the ground beef just until it comes together and not a second more. Form it into patties and put them back in the fridge until you are ready to grill.
Don’t Over-Mix the Ground Beef
Less is more when it comes to mixing the ground beef and forming patties. If you’ve eaten a burger that crumbles apart as you eat it, that was mostly likely a result of someone overworking the beef. The results are similar to what happens with a broken emulsion. You are trying to get the fat and the protein to bind together, but if you overmix it, you will “break” the binding, causing your burger to dry out, crumble, and lose flavor.
- Here’s what to do: Evenly sprinkle your seasonings over the ground beef and use your hands to fold them in gently.
- How to know when the meat is fully mixed? Years ago, an old friend of mine who is a charcuterie expert and chef taught me a little trick. After mixing your ground beef with any spices or other add-in ingredients, take a piece the about the size of a quarter and flatten it to the palm of your hand. Turn your palm down. If the meat sticks, you’re good to go.
Size Matters With Burgers
Some people like the idea of a huge hamburger patty spilling out over the edges of the bun, and some believe it should be a perfect fit (I fall into the latter category). But no one wants a burger that’s smaller than the bun.
To correctly size your patties to fit on your buns, make your burgers about 1-inch thick at the edges, and one inch larger than the bun.
This takes into account the inevitable shrinkage that happens during cooking.
Should You Dimple Your Patties?
All over the Internet and in cookbooks, you will find burger recipes that will instruct you to make an indentation in the center of the patties, usually about the size of a thumbprint or a tablespoon.
The goal of “dimpling” is to prevent the burger from puffing up in the center. But does it really work? Like everyone else, I wanted to prevent puffing, but I also wanted to minimize shrinkage with my burgers, so I tested it out.
I found that a thumbprint or tablespoon indentation prevented center puffing, but the burgers still shrank. Making a wide, shallow depression in the patty, however, worked like a charm. Think of a salad plate rather than a donut.
- Shape your patties so the outer 1/2-inch of the patty slightly taller than the middle.
One more tip: Rather than smash the patties together in your hands, place approximately 5 oz of meat on a tray or platter lined with parchment. Gently flatten the top of the burger and make your wide shallow depression (“dimple”) with one hand while pressing your other hand against the sides form a circle. This creates a depression without overheating or overworking the ground beef.
Charcoal vs. Gas Grill
For Raichlan, the best choice for grilling burgers is always wood or charcoal because of the additional flavor and charring that happens with those grills.
“It’s more versatile. You get a hotter, drier heat which give you a better sear,” Raichlan said. If you use charcoal, you can add different kinds of wood to contribute to the smokiness and enhance the overall flavor of the burger.
However, millions of Americans prefer gas grills because they are easy to use, and you don’t have as much of a mess. Don’t worry—you can still cook a great burger on a gas grill!
- To grill with charcoal or wood, Raichlan recommends investing in a chimney starter. It’s a tall box or cylinder with holes in it. Paper is crumpled up in the bottom and the coals reset on top. Position the chimney starter on the bottom of grate of your grill, and light the paper. You will have hot coals in 15 to 20 minutes.
- If you’re using a gas grill, open the lid, turn on the gas, and light the grill. You want to get your grill up to 450 to 500 degrees before adding your patties.
How Long to Grill Burgers
In general, follow these total grilling times:
- For rare burgers, cook for 4 minutes total (125°F)
- For medium-rare burgers, cook for 5 minutes total (135°F)
- For medium burgers, cook for 6 to 7 minutes total (145°F)
- For well-done burgers, cook for 8 to 9 minutes total (160 °F)
Please note that the USDA recommends cooking ground meats to an internal temperature of at least 160°F, which is well done without any pink in the center. Cooking burgers to other degrees of doneness should be done at the cook’s discretion.
All this said, ultimately, the time it takes for a hamburger to reach a certain temperature depends on how hot your grill is and how thick your patty is. In my tests, my 1-inch thick, 4-inch diameter patties were medium done at 5 minutes total (2 1/2 minutes on each side), and well done at 6 minutes total (3 minutes on each side).
Raichlen suggests checking the temperature of the burger by inserting the meat thermometer through the side, not through the top; this gives you a more accurate reading. You can also use Elise’s handy dandy finger-test guide.
Flip – Don’t Press! – Your Burgers
Once you put those patties on the grill, don’t press them down. Pressing forces the fat and flavor out the burgers, which results in dry, bland patties.
However, feel free to frequently flip your burgers. Raichlen once believed it was best to let the burger be and only flip once during cooking, but he has since changed his tune and cites research that says it frequent flipping cooks a burger more evenly.
When to Add the Cheese
Add cheese about 1 minute before the burger is finished cooking. Some of my favorite flavors are Swiss, cheddar, and Havarti.
When to Toast the Buns
I’m a toasted brioche bun kind of girl. They are rich with butter and sturdy enough to hold all of my fixings and my burger, but also they squish down and are easy to bite through.
Whichever buns you prefer, butter the top and bottom of the bun, and then plop them on the back of the grill, out of direct heat, until they are golden. Start toasting the buns when you have a minute left on the patties.
Don’t Forget to Rest Your Burgers
Resting isn’t just for humans. Let the burgers rest for a minute after they come off the grill. This allows time for the juices to redistribute throughout the burger, giving you a more flavorful experience.
Ways to Flavor Your Burgers
Once you’ve mastered the basic burger in the recipe below, feel free to get funky with your flavors.
You can blend different cuts of meat, add mushrooms, anchovies, herbs, or cubes of cheese. I’m a big fan of lemon zest in my burgers, because it helps cut the fatty flavor of the beef. Ultimately, the choice is yours. As long as the patty is meaty and juicy, you can’t go wrong.
tips to help you grill burgers to perfection
Americans consume some 50 billion hamburgers a year. What’s so hard about shaping some ground meat into a patty and cooking it?
Meat experts, cookbook authors and chefs say plenty.
We use the wrong grind of beef. We handle the meat and shape them wrong. We cook them wrong.
People need to realize burgers need fat, says Bill Hoemke, meat manager at Royal Oak’s Hollywood Market. That’s why he and most experts strongly recommend ground chuck that’s 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat.
“That fat gives you the most flavorful burger,” Hoemke said. Other leaner options, he said, are ground beef that is labeled 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat or ground sirloin, which is 90 percent lean and 10 percent fat.
“With those leaner grinds the burgers will be drier,” he said.
More on freep.com:
In “Weber’s Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius,” author Jamie Purviance writes that the ground meat shouldn’t be overworked.
“Super-squashed, packed-down patties lack the minuscule air bubbles necessary for creating food burger texture and collecting the sublime melting fat and juices,” he writes.
Burgers need to be meaty and mighty. We want flavorful and seasoned blends to pair with flavorful toppings.
Speaking of toppings, cheese is the most popular topping for a burger. It’s followed by lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle according to nationaltoday.com.
And when it comes to cheeses, Americans love American cheese on a burger. But cheddar is a close second followed by Swiss, pepper jack and provolone.
And so, as we head into Memorial Day and celebrate Tuesday’s National Hamburger Day, here’s our guide to grilling burgers to perfection.
What kind of beef should I use?
Choose beef with fat in it. Most cookbooks and burger aficionados say the ideal choice is 80/20 beef chuck. This means it’s 80 percent lean and has 20 percent fat. You can go somewhat leaner if you like with ground beef labeled 85/15. Any leaner be sure to add some moisture like Worcestershire sauce or wine to prevent the burger from drying out. And if you can, grind your beef.
How do I grind my own meat if I don’t have a meat grinder?
You can come close using a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Choose the cut of meat you want — chuck, round, brisket, short rib, sirloin — and make sure it’s super cold. Cut it into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to get chop into smaller pieces. Don’t process it too much or the meat will get mushy.
How should I mix the ground meat?
Make sure it’s cold and always mix the meat gently so it just comes together. Do not over mix. If you over mix the meat (the same holds true when you make meatballs and meatloaf) the meat will be more compact and not as tender.
Should I season the ground meat?
You can, but don’t let the seasoned meat sit too long. According to Weber’s Purviance, allow 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper for each 1½ pound of ground beef. You can mix it in the meat or sprinkle on the outside of the formed patties. If you do the latter, Purviance advises to refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes or less to allow the seasoning to distribute. If you let it sit longer the salt will draw moisture out of the meat, he writes.
What’s an ideal amount of beef to use for each burger?
Plan on a burger that is 6-ounces before cooking. Use a scale if you have one make sure burgers are all an equal size. That 6-ounce burger is an ample size for serving as your main dish. But you can make them any size.
What’s the best size shape for a burger?
You want to match the size of the patty with the bun. Figure there will be shrinkage, so shape the patty about ½-inch larger than the bun. Generally, a 4-inch in diameter patty, with a dimple in the center, that is at least ¾-inch thick will suffice.
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Why should I make a dimple in the center of the formed patty?
If you don’t do this, the burgers will end up more of a round shape and puff up like a tennis ball. The burgers won’t fit the bun and you end up with a top bun that slides off. That also means that you’ll be eating more bun than burger with each bite.
How do you make the dimple?
This is an easy and not to be skipped. Once the patty is formed, use the back of a soup or teaspoon or your thumb to make an indentation, about 1/3-inch deep and 1-inch wide in the center of the patty. When the burgers cook, the indentation slowly rise and you get a nice, flat even top.
What’s the best way to grill?
Burgers like high heat. This helps form that exterior crust. Cook them on the non-dimpled side first over direct heat. Once a crust develops, flip them over and cook on the other side. Do not press down on the burger. When you do this, you’re beating up that poor burger and pressing all the juices out.
How long should burgers be grilled?
That depends on how you like them done. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) safe internal cooking temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees. That means it’s well done. And the cooking time will depend on the thickness of the burger — but generally at least 5 minutes per side. If you like it at less done than that and depending on the thickness, figure about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare or 130-135 degrees and 150-155 degrees for medium-well.
Here’s some recipes to help you out:
Brie burger with caramelized onions and spicy mayo
Brace yourself: this burger is a tasty keeper. The creamy and rich tasting brie meets a spicy mayo.
Serves: 4 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 35 minutes
1 to 1¼ pounds 90% lean ground sirloin or ground beef of choice
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons white wine, optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 jumbo onion, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch slices
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce (see note)
⅓ cup reduced-fat or regular mayonnaise
3 ounces brie cut into 8 slices
4 thin sandwich buns or bun of choice
4 pieces green leaf lettuce
4 slices tomato
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, wine, salt and pepper. Shape into four equal-size patties about ½-inch thick, making an indentation in the center of the patty; set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion slices, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté about 15 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Sprinkle with brown sugar and continue to cook until the onions become deep brown in color, about 15 minutes more. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the sweet chili sauce and mayonnaise; set aside.
Preheat the grill to medium-high and oil the grates when grill is hot. Or heat a skillet with a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Grill the burgers about 4 minutes one side, flip and move to a cooler part of the grill and continue cooking, about 5 minutes more or until they reach desired doneness. Or if using a skillet, turn and reduce the heat and finish the cooking. About 2 minutes before removing from the grill, place 2 pieces of brie on top of each burger and allow it to melt.
Build your burger: Toast the buns if desired. Spread one tablespoon of the spicy mayonnaise on each bun half. On the bottom half, place a lettuce leaf and top with tomato and a burger. Place a generous dollop of caramelized onions on top of the burger. Top with other bun and serve.
Cook’s note: Look for sweet chili sauce near the Asian ingredients in most grocery stores. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or egg rolls.
From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
494 calories (42% from fat), 23 grams fat (9 grams sat. fat), 43 grams carbohydrates, 32 grams protein, 611 mg sodium, 97 mg cholesterol, 7 grams fiber.
Grilled bacon burgers with caramelized onions and blue cheese
Serves: 4 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
8 slices bacon
1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled and chilled (1 cup) (optional)
4 hamburger buns, toasted if desired
Process bacon in food processor to smooth paste, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Cook bacon in 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until lightly browned in spots but still pink (do not cook until crisp), about 5 minutes. Drain bacon in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate and let cool completely. Reserve bacon fat.
Add 2 tablespoons reserved fat to now-empty skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and salt and cook until well browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
Break ground beef into small pieces and spread into even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with bacon and gently toss to combine using 2 forks. Divide beef mixture into 4 equal portions, then gently shape each portion into ¾-inch-thick patty. Using your fingertips, press center of each patty down until about ½-inch thick, creating slight divot.
For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Season patties with pepper. Place patties on grill, divot side up, and cook until well browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip patties, top with blue cheese, if using, and continue to cook until well browned on second side and meat registers 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare) or 130 to 135 degrees (for medium), 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer burgers to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve burgers on buns, topped with onions.
From “The Ultimate Burger” by America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, $26.99).
Classic American cheeseburger
Serves: 4 / Prep time: 10 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
1½ pounds ground chuck (80% lean)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 thin slices mild cheddar cheese
4 sesame hamburger buns, split
Mayonnaise, ketchup,and/or mustard
4 to 8 slices ripe tomato, each about ¼-inch thick
12 dill pickle chips
4 leaves iceberg lettuce, torn to fit buns
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400 degrees to 450 degrees). In a bowl, using your hands, gently mix together the ground chuck, salt, and pepper.
Divide the meat into four equal portions in the bowl. Gently form four patties of equal size, each about ¾-inch thick. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1-inch wide in the center of each patty.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the patties over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until cooked to medium (about 160 degrees), 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice.
Turn the patties only when enough crust has developed on the surface of the meat to ensure they will release easily without sticking from the grates.
During the final minute of grilling time, place a cheese slice on each patty to melt.
As soon as you’ve added the cheese, toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat.
To build each burger, spread the bottom half of the bun with mayonnaise, top with a patty, and then layer with 1 or 2 tomato slices, 3 pickle chips, and lettuce. Spread the top half of the bun with ketchup and/or mustard and close the burger. Serve at once.
how to grill the perfect burger
This post for “How to Grill the Perfect Burger” is in collaboration with the Wisconsin Beef Council on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.
It feels like we are just kicking off summer, but I’ve already been enjoying all the summer eats.
One of my favorite ways to celebrate the warmer weather and late nights is by slapping a few burgers on the grill!
I don’t know about you, but grilled burgers are one of the very best ways to really celebrate summer. And today I’m sharing all of my best grilled burger tips!
how to make perfectly grilled burgers, every time
- Tip #1: Pick your favorite cut of beef: For burgers, I like to go with 85/15 or 80/20. Most burger chefs and avid connoisseurs will tell you 80/20 but the dietitian in me creeps in and says hey, there’s nothing wrong with 85/15! And there really isn’t – as long as you don’t overcook it, season it properly and top it with all the goods, you’ll still be in burger heaven.
- Tip #2 Chill the patties: Keep the patties in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. Putting cold patties straight on the grill will help you achieve that juiciness on the inside of the burger, and it also helps the burger patties stay together rather than falling apart.
- Tip #3: SEASON! Grab that kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper and season those burgs! Yes that’s right, you don’t need anything special, just good ol’ s and p. I recommend forming your patties first, then generously seasoning both sides of the burgers. Many years ago when I was “studying” how to make the perfect burger, I “dissected” my favorite restaurant burger to figure out why it was so darn good. And come to find out, I just needed to add a bit more salt and a lot more freshly cracked black pepper. If you think you’ve added enough pepper, go ahead and add a bit more. You simply won’t regret it.
- Tip #4: Get the grill hot before adding anything to it. It’s easy to get impatient when you know a juicy burger is just around the corner, but just like with most cooking techniques, you don’t want to add the burgers to the grill while it’s cold. Wait for the thermometer on the grill to read between 350 and 375, then it’s time to throw the patties on (seasoned, of course – see tip #3).
- Tip #5: Give it a little grease. While the grill is heating up, give your burgers a quick slather of oil so they won’t stick to the grill grates. I also like to brush a little oil on the grill just before adding the burgers to assure minimal stickage. Some people use cooking spray, but this can cause flare-ups, which isn’t exactly a good thing when you’re holding your hand over the grill (I don’t know about you, but I like my eyebrows!).
- Tip #6: Flip once. Again, with all the burger excitement happening, it’s easy to want to play around with the burgers as they cook, but if you flip too soon or continue to open the lid of the grill to move things around, the burgers just aren’t going to cook properly. You’re looking for a nice browned crust on the bottom (usually takes 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness), then one flip to cook the other side. Once you’ve flipped them (and depending on how long you’re cooking them), grab those slices of cheese and slap them on so they are melty and ooey gooey by the time the burgers are done. They need about a minute or two to melt.
- Tip #7: Use a thermometer. If you’re not a total burger expert (and even if you are!), an instant-read thermometer is your friend. Insert the probe into the side of the burger, right into the center, and it’ll tell you exactly how done your burgers are. Ground Beef should be cooked to a safe and savory 160ºF. Color is not a reliable indicator of Ground Beef doneness. Due to the natural nitrate content of certain ingredients often used in meatloaf, such as onions, celery and bell peppers, meatloaf may remain pink even when a 160-degree Fahrenheit internal temperature has been reached.
- Tip #8: Let the burgers rest after cooking. With any cut of meat, it’s important to give it a little rest after you take it off the grill – say, about 5 minutes. This will allow the juices to redistribute, so rather than biting into it immediately and the juices running all over you, if you let it rest, those juices will mostly remain in the burger for optimal eating.
- Tip #9: Toast the bun. I see this as not optional. You’ve spent all this energy cooking a juicy, flavorful burger, and if you serve it on a soft, cold bun, it’s not going to do you any favors. So, give those burger buns a quick brush of oil and lay them on the grill until the edges are lightly browned and toasty. You won’t regret this extra step. Whether your buns are brioche, whole wheat, sesame or Hawaiian-style, just be sure they’re ones you really love and that go well with your toppings.
let’s talk burger toppings
Now that you’ve crafted the most amazing burger, it’s time to talk toppings. We could go on and on here, but I think you probably know what your fave burger toppings are by now. You could go with the traditional ketchup, mustard, pickle and onion.
You could also add thick slices of garden tomatoes and some crisp lettuce. You could also add some mayonnaise because… who doesn’t love mayonnaise on their burger. And in this version, I’m also adding heaps of sliced green olives because I have a soft spot for a good olive burger.
I grew up in Michigan, which means I grew up loving olive burgers (they’re found on pretty much every restaurant menu!), and have brought the trend to my own Wisconsin home. They’re THAT good.
If you’re feeling up to it, you could also add a bunch of other fun toppings like bacon, a fried egg, avocado or guacamole, caramelized onions, multiple and unique cheeses, fun aiolis like garlic or chipotle, BBQ sauce, and the list goes on.
Whatever you do, just be sure to start with a perfectly grilled burger and a toasted bun. I promise it’s life changing.
beef nutrition facts
Did you know that 93% lean Ground Beef is lower in calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium while also higher in high-quality protein compared to plant-based meat substitutes?