Hamburgers are one of the most common meal items at backyard get-togethers and picnics every summer. Properly cooking a hamburger is an art form that requires both patience and knowing how to tell the difference between levels of doneness.
Grill masters looking to make burgers just like the pros can use some of our tips and tricks to get great results every time they throw some patties on the grill. Follow along as we show you the steps we take to make delicious hamburgers your family and friends are sure to love.
A Guide to Grilling the Perfect Burger, From Rare to Well-Done
The first thing that you'll need to understand about grilling the perfect burger is how to tell the difference between levels of doneness. Most people prefer a hamburger cooked to medium-rare or medium-well, but we all know someone who won't eat beef unless it's all the way well-done, and also those folks that prefer their burgers still mooing a little bit.
Understanding the Levels of Doneness for Hamburger Patties
The United States Department of Agriculture says the minimum internal temperature of ground beef must reach 160°F to be considered safe. At that temperature, ground beef is well-done, but poses very little risk of causing food-borne illness. Ground beef is considered rare when cooked to 125°F.
When we are cooking ground beef hamburgers, we tend to shoot for an internal temperature of about 145 to 150°F for a medium-well burger.
Rare ground beef will be bright red in the center with very little change in color to the edges. Once ground beef has reached a medium temperature, the center will be pinkish red while the outer edges will be lighter brown and the surface will begin to get a crust. A well-done ground beef patty will be brown or gray all the way through with a thick crust on the outside.
You can pay attention to the juices coming up while grilling burgers to get a good idea of when they are done. You want to see clear juices when cooking burgers on a charcoal grill.
Perfect 1/2 LB Grilled Burgers
There are a couple of common issues that people run into when grilling hamburgers. The first is that many burger patties tend to curl up on the edges, causing the edges to burn while the middle remains uncooked. Another common problem that people encounter is burgers that come out tough and dry even when they are not overcooked. Both of these problems can be solved by handling the raw ground beef in a different manner.
One of the keys to making burgers like a pro is starting out with your ground beef properly chilled. As ground beef begins to warm up, the protein and the fats begin to separate, which makes the meat sticky and results in burgers that lose all of their moisture when they're cooked. Starting with the meat cold will give you the time to add seasonings and flavors, shape the meat into patties, and have them ready to go on the grill before the fat separates.
Ground Beef Fat Content
When you go to the butcher counter, you're likely to find various fat content amounts, typically represented as protein and fat percentages. Lean ground beef is typically 97% protein, 3% fat.
One of the things that we've learned over the years making excellent burgers is that fat content matters. We like to aim for 90/10 ground beef when making burgers.
Shaping the Perfect Burger Patty
The best way to flavor hamburger meat for hamburger patties is to start out with the ground beef and a large mixing bowl and combine your seasoning, salt, and black pepper separately.
Sprinkle some of the seasoning over the meat and then gently work the seasoning in. Try to work the meat as little as possible while mixing the seasonings completely into the ground meat.
A pro tip for flavoring hamburger patties is to add the seasonings when grinding the meat in the first place.
One of the tricks that we use to get professional burgers is to use a food scale while we shape our patties. Most of the people that we know like either a quarter-pound or half-pound hamburger.
Instead of making two different burger patty thicknesses and risking over or undercooking some of the patties, we make burger patties at a quarter pound each so people who would like to have a half-pound hamburger can simply double up. That means you will start out making balls of ground beef that weigh 4 oz each.
On a silicone baking mat, cutting board, or other food prep surface, gently press each burger patty into a disc using the palm of one hand to cup the edge and create a disc. Try to make the edges of the patty slightly higher than the center. This shape allows the burger to expand as it cooks and prevents shrinkage and curling edges. Make the burgers slightly bigger than the hamburger buns for the perfect burgers.
It's a good idea to use butcher paper or parchment paper as you make them to prevent them from sticking together. This also makes it easy to put the burgers on the grill when you're ready. After you have shaped the burgers put them back in the refrigerator so that their temperature stays low until you're ready to throw them on the grill.
How to Check a Burger's Internal Temperature
Checking the internal temperature of a hamburger patty can be a bit of a challenge since the patty is so thin. Checking the patty on the grill will likely give you an incorrect reading because you will also be getting temperature from the heat source.
We typically will select a burger patty, remove it from the grill, and check the temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer to determine the doneness of the burgers – one advantage of using the food scale to measure the burger patties by weight is that each patty will cook in approximately the same amount of time.
Just place the probe through the side and to the middle to get an accurate temperature from the thickest part.
Tips for Building Better Burgers
Hamburgers are fun for family gatherings because they provide an opportunity to use lots of different toppings to create unique combinations.
One of the best things you can do to build a better burger is start out with high-quality ingredients. Thinly sliced onions, crisp Romaine or iceberg lettuce, and sliced tomatoes are popular condiments.
You can also make caramelized onions and bacon that pairs perfectly with our Bearded Butcher Blend BBQ Sauce for a Southwestern-inspired burger. And you can add cheese while the burgers rest after they finish cooking to avoid flare-ups.
Don't forget about buns, either. Toasted buns with mayo or Miracle Whip and ground mustard are an excellent compliment to a perfect medium-rare burger. After all, the best burgers demand high-quality buns.
What Not to Do
There are a couple of mistakes that we see people make all of the time when making hamburgers that we want to talk about briefly.
The biggest thing that causes many people's hamburgers to come out dry and tough is using a spatula to press the burger down onto the grill while it's cooking. All this manages to do is push the fat out of the meat and results in dry meat.
If you're going to use a burger press to make smash burgers, you'll want to use a griddle to cook your hamburgers. This way you won't be losing all of the fat content.
Another thing we have noticed is the idea that burgers should only be flipped one time to be properly cooked. There is no scientific reason for not flipping burgers more often and in fact, you will get a more evenly cooked burger by flipping the burger three or four times as you cook it.
Grilled Burger FAQ
Q: Why do fast food Burgers taste different than homemade burgers?
A: The biggest reason that fast food Burgers taste different from homemade burgers is the fat content. Fast food chains tend to use ground beef that is between 20 and 30% fat which adds lots of flavor and juiciness.
Q: Why do my burger patties curl up on the edges?
A: The most common reason burger patties curl up when you cook them is the shape. Making a slight cup shape when forming the burger patties helps to prevent the edges from tightening and shrinking, which causes curling. Overworking ground beef can also cause the meat to shrink as it cooks, leading to cupping and curling.
Q: What is the ideal internal temperature for hamburgers?
A: USDA says that the minimum internal temperature for ground hamburger meat should reach 160°F to be considered safe. However, this is considered well-done, and we typically do not cook our hamburger patties to that high of an internal temperature. Our target is typically 145°F to 150°F for a medium hamburger patty that is slightly pink in the center.
Making hamburger patties like a pro isn't as difficult as it seems. Starting out with high-quality beef that has the appropriate ratio of protein and fat, using high-quality seasonings like our Bearded Butcher Blend seasonings, and making sure to keep the meat cold while shaping it into burger patties are the tips that will give you the best chance of professional-level hamburgers.
Now, you might have noticed that we didn't talk about grilling times. That's because the time will vary significantly based on the type of grill, how hot the grill grates are, and how thick the patties are. We highly recommend using a thermometer to get accurate levels of doneness rather than trying to time things.
The most legendary burgers are built with excellent condiments and fresh ingredients. Choosing good burger buns and adding perfect sides makes a burger cookout even more fun.
For some mouth-watering recipes, check out some of our favorites: