A perfectly grilled burger is a thing of art. Burgers seem like an easy meal to make, but often, homemade burgers turn out dry, misshapen, and altogether disappointing. There are several tricks you can use at home to get restaurant-quality results every time you grill a burger. We'll walk through some of the ways you can step up your burger game easily at home.
Picking the Right Ground Beef
Most people will purchase ground beef at the supermarket in prepackaged, frozen containers. There is nothing wrong with this type of beef, but if you have the opportunity to get fresh ground beef from your butcher, you'll have even better results.
If you are looking to really set your burgers on a different par from run-of-the-mill, you should invest in a meat grinder to make custom ground beef. A meat grinder will also give you the ability to make burger patties from bison, turkey, and wild game.
The Best Fat Content for Burger Patties
You want a significant percentage of fat for the juiciest burgers possible. While it is feasible to make delicious beef burgers from low-fat beef, you'll run the risk of cooking dry, flavorless burgers.
Instead, opt for ground beef that is as close to an 80/20 mixture as you can find. What this means is that the product is 80-percent lean beef, typically ground chuck roast, and 20-percent fat. The extra fat helps you cook burgers to a perfect char without overcooking the center.
Preparation is Key for the Perfect Grilled Burger
The actual cooking part of making hamburgers on the grill is a very fast process. The key to getting great results is to spend the time beforehand to properly prepare the burger patties.
The first thing you'll want to do is start out with your meat very cold. Once the meat begins to warm up, the fat will begin to separate from the beef which will result in dry burgers. Once the fat separates, it will not reincorporate.
We like to put thawed ground beef in a stainless steel bowl in the refrigerator for several hours before making it into patties. The bowl holds cold temperatures and is the perfect surface for mixing flavoring ingredients.
Stainless steel mixing bowls are also very easy to clean at the end of the day, even when they are coated in fat.
How to Flavor Ground Beef
Probably the biggest mistake that people make when crafting burgers at home is they overwork the meat. Overworking simply means that the beef is mixed too long and too hard. When you handle ground beef, you want to work the meat as little as possible to get the desired results and no more.
With your ground beef in a bowl, sprinkle the ingredients you are using for flavoring over the meat (here's our favorite recipe). Using your hand, break and fold the ground meat to mix the ingredients through all of the meat.
Remember that the less you handle the meat, the better, but also don't use too much force in an effort to get the task over with quickly.
We usually put the flavored ground beef back in the refrigerator for at least a few minutes before moving on to shaping the patties.
The Best Way to Shape Burgers by Hand
Many homemade burgers start out looking like perfect, beautiful patties but come off the grill shrunken on the sides and swollen in the middle. This is most often caused by the way the burgers are shaped.
Have you ever had a burger that was crumbly? That is another consequence of over-handling that often happens when shaping the burger patties.
It used to be common practice to roll up a ball of beef, slap it on the counter, and pound it into a disc. Instead of beating your burgers into submission, try this technique:
- Roughly shape about 1/3 lb of ground beef into a patty shape.
- Place it on your cutting board or work surface and cup one hand into a semi-circle shape.
- Using the other hand, gently press the ground beef against your hand. The cupped hand will help create a nice, round shape while the pressing will leave a gentle depression across most of the surface.
When you are done, you'll have a vaguely saucer-shaped patty that is about one inch thick and slightly larger in diameter than your buns.
After you have shaped your burger patties, you can place them on pink butcher paper and stack them. Keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to grill.
If you are making a lot of patties, but won't need to cook all of them at once, you can freeze them at this point and have ready-to-go burgers on hand for the next impromptu backyard barbecue.
Getting Your Grill or Barbecue Set Up
When you cook burgers, you want to use hot, direct heat to sear the meat, locking in flavorful juices and giving your grilled burgers a nice texture and flavor. Setting up the grill or barbecue correctly is key to getting excellent results.
The first thing you'll want to do is make sure that your grill grates are good and clean. Take the time to make sure you aren't cooking last week's barbecue chicken skin into your burgers. It'll throw off the flavors and may even introduce unhealthy chemical by-products when the old food burns off.
You'll want to get the grill or barbecue to high or medium-high heat. You should shoot for a grill temperature of 450 to 500-degrees for the perfect burger. Allow the grill grates to get good and hot, then use a cloth dipped in cooking oil to wipe the grill grates. Use a pair of barbecue tongs or heat-resistant gloves to prevent burning yourself. Applying a light coat of oil before grilling burgers also helps to keep anything from sticking in the future.
Your grill or barbecue is now ready for cooking burgers. The hard part is done, now it is almost time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Grab the burger patties out of the refrigerator – it's time to get grilling.
Tips for Grilling Burgers
When you put the burgers on the grill, you'll want to place them so that they will get direct heat. Work quickly to place your burger patties so that they will cook at the same time. Cooking times for grilling burgers are short, so don't close the lid and walk away.
How Often to Flip Burgers
Here is a subject of great debate, and one that doesn't have an easy solution. There are essentially two schools of thought – flip it once or flip it a bunch. Both methods can produce excellent results, so we'll discuss the pros and cons of both.
Results with the One-Flip Method
With the one-flip method, you'll wait until the first side of the burger is cooked, then flip and cook the other side. This method gives you the best char marks, but can also result in a burger that is too well done on the edges.
You'll want to cook the burgers for about three and a half minutes on each side. You'll notice clear liquid forming on the surface that indicates the patty is ready to be flipped.
This method is probably the most common one used by the average backyard barbecuer, and it produces good results.
The external parts of the burger will have a slightly overcooked area, while the inside of the burger will be a perfect medium-rare. Aim for an internal temperature of 125-degrees for the perfect doneness.
Results with the Multi-Flip Method
By flipping the burgers every twenty seconds or so, each surface cooks more evenly. This method also produces a more quickly-cooked burger that has less of an overcooked exterior while still achieving the ideal internal temperature.
When you grill hamburgers and flip them more often, you won't get the perfect char grill marks, but you'll get a juicier burger patty.
You'll want to make sure that you oil your grill and start hot. Otherwise, the burgers will stick and you'll end up struggling to flip the patties.
This method gives you medium-rare burgers in only about five minutes, cutting the total cooking time by around two minutes.
Cooking Times for Different Levels of Doneness
We usually shoot for medium-rare for our burgers, but we also know that there are people who won't eat anything that isn't well-done. Rather than simply waiting until that burger bursts into flame, you should use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that you are hitting the perfect level of doneness.
- Rare: Internal temperature will be between 115 and 120-degrees. The meat will be bright red and may have some visible blood. Very little char on the outside. Cooking time will vary between four and six minutes.
- Medium-rare: Between 120 and 130 degrees will give you a medium-rare burger. This burger will have a decent amount of char and will show grill marks. About one-third of an inch will be grey, while the inside will be pink and juicy. This takes between five and eight minutes.
- Medium: Temperature will hit between 130 and 140-degrees for a medium. You'll notice significant char and prominent grill marks. The center will be light pink with the majority of the meat being cooked to a grey color. Count on anywhere from six to nine minutes.
- Medium-Well: The meat will register temperatures between 140 and 150-degrees. At this level of doneness, the burger will be thoroughly cooked and will have dark char on the surfaces. It takes about seven to 12 minutes to cook burgers to this level.
- Well: Well-done ground beef will register temperatures above 155-degrees. A well-done burger will be cooked completely and will have no red or pink at all. The surface of the patty will be tough and crispy. Count on about 12 minutes or longer to get to this level.
The United States Department of Agriculture says that ground beef should be cooked to 160-degrees. The best way to limit the risk of getting sick from ground beef is to limit opportunities for cross-contamination while handling the meat. Keep the meat cold until you are ready to cook it.
It's All In the Prep
When you grill burgers on a gas or charcoal grill, you'll get excellent results by making sure to prep your ground beef ahead of time. You'll get the best burgers of your life by following the tips that we shared with you in this article.
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