Tips for Making Tasty, Juicy Burgers Every Time

Hamburger and Flames on Barbeque Grill
Jamie Grill/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

A good burger seems like the essence of simplicity. But if you've ever turned out burgers that were more like dry, flavorless hockey pucks than juicy, beefy patties, you know that things can go wrong. It doesn't have to be this way.

8 Tips for Grilling the Perfect Burger

With these eight easy tips for grilling the perfect burger, you'll get the best hamburgers every time.

Select the Best Meat

Burger authorities agree: the best, juiciest burgers are made from ground beef chuck, which is about 20 percent fat. Less fat makes a drier burger (although there are still ways to turn leaner meat into a good on for tips). Meat labeled "ground beef" or "hamburger" can be up to 30 percent fat, and can be a combination of different cuts of meat.

Coarse Grind

Select a piece of chuck and have your butcher grind it (even if you're buying meat at a supermarket, the butcher department should be able to help you). Ask for a "coarse" grind. Or, for the freshest burger, grind your own with a meat grinder or pulse in the food processor (cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes first). An advantage to this is that there are fewer worries about contamination and you can safely cook your burgers medium-rare if that's how you like them.

Don't Handle the Meat Too Much

The heat from your hands begins to melt the fat and makes the patty too dense. Move it lightly from hand to hand and loosely make a patty 3/4- to 1-inch thick (no thicker, or you'll have to cook it too long).

Don't Press Down on the Burgers When Cooking

Pressing down on the burgers during cooking makes for a denser burger, and also squeezes the juices out of the meat. Don't do it.

Make an Indentation in the Top

Have you noticed that your burgers tend to form rounded tops when cooking, causing the condiments to slide off? So did the folks at America's Test Kitchen. They found that by pushing down slightly in the center, creating a round area about 1/4 inch lower than the surrounding meat, made the burger come out flat. Use the back of a spoon or bend your first two finger joints and use the flat surface between the knuckles of your index and middle fingers to make the indentation.

Try Different Types of Meats, or a Combination

Almost any kind of ground meat can be used to make burgers; you can even mix together different ones. Some interesting combos: pork with beef, chicken with lamb, or even buffalo with beef. For flavor, try mixing some fresh sausage into the meat.

Add Flavors to the Meat

Many people just want great beef, straight up, with salt and pepper. But it's also fun to add flavors, and if you are using leaner ground beef, you can add things that also lend moisture. Note: When adding other ingredients to ground meat, use a spoon or spatula to avoid warming the meat with your hands.

  • Finely Minced Vegetables: Onions, mushrooms, or mild chiles are especially good for adding moisture to lean meat. You can also take a lean cut of meat and add some olive oil for good fat, although this will cook faster than meats that are naturally fattier.
  • Liquids: Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are perhaps the two most common liquids to add to burgers. Most recipes call for about a tablespoon of liquid per pound of meat, but recipes vary: some use just a teaspoon, others two tablespoons. Wine is another possibility, or, for blander meats, concentrated beef stock or Better Than Bouillon.
  • Spices: Other than salt and pepper, almost any spice in the cabinet is a good addition. Garlic or onion powder is probably the most common, but you can try anything from chili powder to Asian spices to Middle Eastern to packets of salad dressing mix (but watch the sugar on that one).

Use a Hot Grill or Pan

Get the grill or pan really hot. If using lean meat, oil the grill or put a little oil in the pan. Put the burger in and don't move it until it naturally releases. Some people turn it at this point (and then flip again later). Others cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is, the type of meat (leaner meat cooks faster), and how done you want it to be. Then flip the burger and cook on the other side until done, about 2 to 3 minutes more.

If you have a thermometer, cook until the meat is 160 F., unless you have fresh meat ground at home. In that case, you can take them off around 140 F if you like a more flavorful burger.

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