Ask anyone you know what he or she likes to grill and more often than not one of the top answers will be burgers. The problem is, many of these burgers end up being dry and flavorless due to any number of factors including the type of meat being used, the cooking temperature used, the amount of time they spend on the grill, etc.
But worry no more! Today Grillocracy's got 10 tips for reaching burger perfection.
Selecting the Right Meat
When it comes to burgers, fat equals flavor. Plus it helps to ensure that it’s nice and juicy when it comes off the grill; the kind of burger that has fat running down your chin as soon as you bite in to it. When shopping for meat, skip the lean ground beef and go straight for the 80/20 blend (usually comprised of ground chuck), the perfect combination of meat to fat for an ideal burger. Alternatively, you can experiment with your own signature blend of beef by grinding it yourself at home (see our recent post on grinding your own meat here), keeping in mind that you’ll still want to shoot for that ideal 80/20 blend so you may have to add some white beef fat if using leaner cuts.
Overworking the Meat
Once you have your ground beef, it’s time to form the burgers. For many people this means adding a ton of ingredients to the meat including bread crumbs, eggs, dry seasonings, chopped onions and other such nonsense then mixing them all together until it’s been worked into a big meaty blob. The problem is that by overworking the beef, you are almost guaranteed a tough, dry burger as all of that mixing has not only made it extremely dense ala meatloaf, it has also left a large portion of that tasty on your hands as it warms during the mixing process. As with most things, keeping it simple is the key to success. Divide your meat into even portions (I shoot for 6-8 ounces per burger) and very gently form it into patties, working it as little as possible in order to ensure that the juices can flow freely throughout the burger as it cooks. The goal should be to still see as much of the grind as possible while also having a patty that will keep its form when placed on the grill.
Ensuring the Burger Fits the Bun
When forming your burgers, always bear in mind the fact that the patties will shrink during the cooking process as they begin to tighten up. In order to compensate for the shrinkage (and thereby ensure that you and your guests are eating more beef than bun), always add another ¾-1 inch to the diameter of your buns when forming the patties.
Adding an Indentation
In addition to shrinking during the grilling process, burger patties tend to balloon up in the center thereby leaving you with something more reminiscent of a meatball on a bun than a burger. The solution to this problem, however, is already on hand. Once the patties are formed, simply press your thumb into the center in order to create an indention that will compensate for the swelling.
Seasoning the Meat
Now that you are no longer mixing a mess of seasonings and other stuff in to the beef, it’s time to add the flavor. The key to seasoning burgers is to wait until the last possible moment as the salt and/or other seasonings will pull moisture from the meat. Preheat your grill and just before you take the patties out to be cooked, give both sides a healthy dusting of your favorite dry rub seasoning or my favorite, a simple Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper mix.
Using the Right Heat
It’s time to grill your burger, but you'd better be sure that you’ve got enough heat to create a nice crust on the burger. The key, however, is to find the right balance between an exterior that is perfectly seared burger and one that is bordering on burnt as you wait for the interior to reach the desired level of doneness. To reach perfection, simply create a two-zone fire, placing the majority of the hot coals on one side of the grill to create a hot (400+ degrees) side for the initial sear and a cooler side over which you can move the burgers should the exterior start to burn.
Cleaning Your Grill Grates
Nobody wants a burger that is studded with remnants of your last cookout. Once the grill comes to temperature, use a heavy duty grill brush or a crumpled ball of tin foil held by a set of long handled tongs to scrap the grate clean. Next, take a ball of paper towels, clamp it with a set of long handled tongs, and dip into a small bowl of cooking oil. Wipe the grates with the oiled paper towels and you’re ready to get grilling.
Pressing and Flipping the Meat
When grilling the burgers, the secret is to let the grill do its thing with as little interference from the cook as possible. While the oiled grate will cut down on sticking to a degree, there is still a likelihood of losing part of that much sought after crispy crust if you flip too soon. Instead, let the burger cook uninterrupted for approximately 4 minutes per side during which the meat will begin to tighten and the burger will naturally release itself from the grate. In addition to flipping burgers too early, another common mistake made by grillers is to press the burger with a spatula. While the flames created as the fat is pressed from the burger and on to the fire might look cool, the departure of that fat also means that you’ll end up with a dry (and squished) burger.
Cooking to the Correct Temperature
You’ve done everything perfect thus far so don’t mess up your burgers by overcooking them. While experienced grillers can estimate level of doneness by touch, it’s worth investing in a good instant read thermometer such as the Thermapen from Thermoworks so that you can ensure the burgers (and all meat and fish, for that matter) are done to perfection. Note, however, that the internal temperature will continue to rise slightly once the burger is removed from the grill so aim for 130 degrees if you like your burgers medium-rare, 140 degrees for the medium, 140-150 for medium-well, or the USDA’s recommended safe temperature for ground beef of 160 (well done).
Resting Your Burgers
Now that the burgers have come off the grill, it’s not quite time to dive in. Set the burgers aside for 3-5 minutes to allow the internal juices to redistribute in the meat. Place the patties on the bun of your choice, add any number of great toppings, dress with your favorite condiments, and get eating!