10 Tips for Making the Perfect Burger
Chef Jonathan Waxman shares his advice on how to make the perfect burger this grilling season
Undoubtedly one of the most frequently cooked items of the summer grilling season, burgers are certainly an all-American food. Of course, there is a wide range of burgers, from simple to complex, and ‘perfect’ arguably means a different type of burger for each person. There are thin, flat griddle ones and thick, charred burgers cooked on the grill. They can be topped with Maine lobster, dipped in French onion soup, or served straight up with just the basics (and maybe some gooey cheese on top).
Many chefs out there have mastered the art of the burger, whether it’s Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch down in Atlanta or Minetta Tavern in New York City, relying on their superior skills or the unique mix of the high-quality meats. But since most of us don't grind our own beef or plan to mix short rib into our patties, how can home cooks create this perfect burger at home?
We’re not talking about getting complicated, just the all-American basics to help you achieve that juicy, flavorful hunk of meat that satisfies like nothing else can. From finding the right ratio of lean to fat meat, mastering the technique of properly melting cheese (and avoiding the drip over into the grill), we’ve got tips and tricks from grill master Jonathan Waxman.
Celebrated chef and co-owner of Barbuto in New York City (and former Top Chef Masters cheftestant), Waxman shares his tips and advice on cooking the perfect burger so that any home cook can learn to master the art themselves.
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Give everything a thorough mix, it’s good to get your hands in for this, then shape into burgers. “Squash the burgers really flat before you cook them. As they cook the meat will constrict, which will make the burgers smaller and fatter. Flatten them down with a spatula during cooking,” suggests Cassie, our food editor.
“Don’t add salt to the ground meat before it’s shaped, it’ll draw the liquid out of the meat leaving you with a dry burger. Instead sprinkle the outside with salt as it cooks,” adds Cassie.
The pure burger
In its simplest form, the burger is nothing but minced beef and seasoning. Leiths Meat Bible, a book devoted to the cult of the carnivore, is of this school, although it does allow for some optional chopped onion and herbs. I mix 675g of chuck mince with a finely chopped onion, a little thyme and some salt and pepper, shape them into burgers, and chill before popping them on a hot barbecue.
As someone who habitually adds egg as a binding ingredient, I'm surprised at how well these hold together on the grill. Although cooked medium rare, however, the interior is still a little chewy. A solid effort, with a nice beefy flavour, but there's room for improvement.
The next recipe I try comes from Larousse Gastronomique. Their entry on one of the world's finest foodstuffs is snottily Gallic in its brevity, but they do condescend to share their formula, which includes 400g minced beef, 50g chopped onion, 1 tsp chopped parsley, and 2 eggs. They make the mixture a bit sloppy, but once the burgers have chilled, they hold together nicely. Cooked, however, they're a definite disappointment: the egg has made them dry and fibrous, although, as one of my crack burger tasting panel notes generously, it has given them a deliciously crunchy exterior.
Top 10 Tips for Cooking the Perfect Burgers and Hot Dogs
It’s prime time for making burgers and hot dogs, whether you’re throwing them on the grill or cooking indoors. Take these classic foods to the next level with our top 10 burger and hot dog tips.
10. Marinate Hot Dogs for a Flavor Boost
You already probably marinate chicken and perhaps steaks for extra flavor, but hot dogs? Yup. Cut cross-hatch patterns in the hotdog so a marinade consisting of ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, and some spices can seep in.
9. Be Gentle When Forming Burger Patties
Pack ground meat like you’re cradling a newborn baby and you’ll get a better crust when you cook the burger, because the surface won’t be completely smooth.
8. Steam Buns While Boiling Hot Dogs
Kill two birds with one stone: while your hot dogs are boiling on the stove, use the steam to warm up the buns in a strainer or straining pot lid on top of the pot.
7. Get the Perfect Burger Shape with a Shallow Indentation
If you’re a stickler for the perfect burger form and want to avoid the common but sad bulging-in-the-middle shape, make a shallow thumb imprint in your burger patty before cooking. It produces a more evenly cooked burger compared to other burger-shaping methods (deeper indentation, no indentation, or one with little slits). Or for a very different kind of burger, turn burger patties into edible bowls so you can skip the bun.
6. Smash Burgers Properly
Maybe you’re a fan of the smashed burger rather than a fuller patty—lots of delicious browning! In that case, know how to smash your burger for maximum flavor and juiciness: Smash just once within the first 30 seconds, Serious Eats’ Food Lab informs us.
5. Salt Burger Patties Right Before Cooking for the Perfect Texture
Just as you don’t want to pack the ground beef too much, you shouldn’t put salt in too early, because it will make the patty tougher. Wait to salt the patty until right before it hits the pan or grill and you’ll be rewarded with juicier burgers.
4. Flip Burgers as Often as You’d Like
As with steaks , burger flipping strategies can be somewhat controversial. Flip just once? Every couple of seconds? Well, data suggests that if you flip the burger multiple times, it’ll cook more evenly and much faster .
3. Use Water to Keep Burgers Moist
One of the secrets of cooking a perfect burger is actually water. Add water to the pan in the grill and the steam will cook the sides of the burger perfectly . And ice water added to the burger could keep the burgers juicy and seasoned evenly .
2. Spiral Cut Hot Dogs Before Grilling
Regular hot dogs are great at the grill, but if you want to take it up a notch, make a spiral cut into the dog . You’ll get more surface area to capture that great grilled flavor and relish and other toppings.
1. Grind Your Own Burger Meat
With nothing but a food processor and a freezer, you can grind your own burger meat for healthier , safer , tastier, and better quality burgers. When it comes to making the best burgers and hot dogs, it’s all about controlling the fine details.
Gordon Ramsay Shares His Secrets for the Perfect Burger
Gordon Ramsay: master chef, TV host and apparently quite the burger connoisseur. The volatile English chef stopped by Good Morning America this week to share his tips for making the perfect burger, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
To begin with, Ramsay is very particular about the meat he uses. “The secret to a burger is in the blend," he says. For Ramsay, that means a mix of both chuck, for texture, and brisket, for flavor.
Ramsay also stresses the importance of seasoning the patties, including the edges, once they have been shaped to the correct size. Next, Ramsay suggests placing the burgers in the fridge the day before to let them firm up. He believes this step is especially important for your burgers as it ensures that they stay intact on the grill.
The next day, you will want to pull your burgers out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature while you get prepped. As Ramsay points out, letting your burgers warm up a bit will ensure that they cook evenly and that you avoid the age old conundrum of burning the outside of your burgers while they remain raw in the middle.
Once you throw your burgers on the grill, Ramsay says to leave your patties alone as they cook. "The more you move them, the more chance you&aposve got of breaking the burgers,” he explains.
Lastly, Ramsay recommends toasting both sides of the bun and giving both sides of the finished burgers a light brushing of butter to give them a little extra flavor. When it comes to toppings, Ramsay keeps it pretty classic by adding tomato, lettuce, mustard, mayonnaise, grilled onions and cheese, which he throws on top of each burger for 30 seconds before they come off the grill.
For more burger recipes to enjoy this Memorial Day weekend, check out our 10 best-ever burgers for Memorial Day here.
Burger Grilling Tips
Knowing how to grill burgers properly is just as important as making great patties. When you&aposre ready to start grilling hamburgers for your hungry crowd, keep these tips in mind:
- Timing: Grill your burgers over mediumꂫout 14 to 18 minutes, turning just once about halfway through cooking.
- Don&apost Press Burgers: We know it&aposs tempting, but don&apost use your spatula to press down on the burger patties while they&aposre on the grill (unless you&aposre making a smashed burger). Instead, just leave them be. Pressing will squeeze out the juices, which you want to stay inside to keep your burgers moist.
- Flip Smart: Use a spatula or tongs ($15, Amazon) to turn your burgers to help them keep their shape.
- Test Doneness: Don&apost worry about the color when you&aposre deciding if your burgers are done. Instead, insert an instant-read thermometer ($15, Amazon) through the side of the patty so the point is in the center. As long as the inside of your burger registers 160ଏ, it&aposs done and safe to eat, even if there&aposs still a little pink in the center.
7 Tips & Tricks for the Juiciest Grilled Burgers You’ll Ever Make
Labor Day weekend is finally here and grilling season is still in full swing, so (assuming you can find ground beef at the store), there are probably plenty of burgers in your immediate future. Feel free to play around with the usual formula, but whatever you do, don’t let it be an overdone, leaden disc of sadness. Ensuring tender, juicy burgers and not dry, dense hockey pucks has to do with both sourcing and technique. Chowhounds have shared a few simple tricks and tips over the years, starting with buying the right ground beef.
Some say you shouldn’t actually grill burgers (more on that below), but we say if you do, just do it right.
How to Grill Perfect Burgers
Tip #1: Avoid extra-lean grinds. The higher the fat content of your ground beef, the moister the patty. A burger with beef that’s 80 percent lean (i.e., 20 percent fat) is luxurious and juicy, Brandon Nelson explains on Chowhound.
Dry Aged Ground Beef, $9/pound from Porter Road
For even better burgers.
Tip #2: Minimal handling is just as important. Form the patties gently, compressing as little as possible (this applies even if you’re making a smashburger—more so, maybe, in that case). Just as overworking pastry and dough will make it tough, so will over-handling your meat. (While we’re on the subject of handling meat, proper food safety technique will also help prevent foodborne illness, the bane of any BBQ.)
Tip #3: Make an indentation in the middle of each patty. Just press your thumb (not too firmly) into the meat and the divot will prevent it from puffing up and will allow it to cook evenly, mike0989 says. This one is also endorsed by Jon Lemon, culinary director of Bareburger see more BBQ tips and tricks from chefs.
Tip #4: Don’t press the patties with a spatula as they cook—that just forces out the juice. Your spatula is strictly for flipping, and only once.
Tip #5: Keep in mind there’s carryover cooking time, so pull the burgers off the grill just shy of your target doneness. They’ll be just right when they hit the table, cstr says. Conversely, pull them off when they already look perfect, and by the time they hit your bun, they’ll be overdone.
Tip #6: If you just can’t resist buying lean ground beef, try adding a bit of water to it, valerie says. A little extra moisture helps even well-done burgers stay juicy and tender, even if they’re made from 90 percent lean ground beef. Mix in 1/4 to 1/2 cup water per pound of ground beef before forming your patties to reap the tenderizing benefit of H20. Some chefs tuck an ice cube into the middle of the patty for the same effect.
Tip #7: Try stuffing it with cheese and adding fat via toppings. The classic Juicy Lucy is a great option for anyone who wants a really luxurious burger, since it’s full of molten cheese:
Along those lines, adding fatty, moist condiments like aioli, bacon jam, ripe tomatoes, and sliced avocado will help boost your burger’s juicy factor (and flavor), but can’t totally save a bone-dry patty, so follow the tips above to ensure your burgers stay perfectly moist on the grill, and then go to town with the toppings.
Check out 15 Non-Traditional Burger Recipes for Summer BBQs for ideas. Or you can take a cue (pun fully intended) from Gordon Ramsey and just grate butter straight into your burgers.
Plot Twist: Should You Be Grilling Burgers at All?
There are those (chefs included) who advocate against cooking burgers right on your grill grates, as you can lose a lot of the flavorful juices and fat—which sometimes also causes flare-ups that char your meat to a crisp (in a bad way). Many suggest placing a cast iron griddle on your grill for cooking burgers to get a perfectly seared crust and juicy interior, and maybe still a lick or two of smoke.
Classic American cheeseburger
Serves: 4 / Prep time: 10 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
1½ pounds ground chuck (80% lean)
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
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.
From "Weber’s Ultimate Grilling: a Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genuis” by grill master Jamie Purviance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99).
The Epicurious Blog
"I&aposve always been obsessed with making a perfect hamburger -- there&aposs nothing more American than a burger," says Michael Symon, Iron Chef, co-host of The Chew, and chef/owner of B-Spot Burger chain, now with six locations in the Midwest, plus three more opening later this year.
Symon&aposs a true burger guru--a trait that runs in his family.
"My grandfather and dad both make a good burger but since I even when I was a kid, I always wanted to make them a little better," he says. Elevate your homemade burger from ordinary to extraordinary with Symon&aposs top burger grilling tips, then come back to the blog tomorrow for the recipe for his ridiculous "Fun Guy" Mushroom, Onion and Blue Cheese Burger.
Michael Symon&aposs Burger Commandments
Burger Commandment #1: Thou Will Get Your Butcher to Grind Your Meat
"I like a 1:1:1 ratio of short rib, sirloin, and brisket that&aposs coarsely ground because I think it tastes more like a steak. The finer the grind, the more you&aposre trying to hide the meat."
Burger Commandment #2: Thou Will Remember That Size Does Matter
"The perfect burger is 5 to 6 ounces. I like a little thicker, pub-style burger as opposed to a diner-style burger because I like to be able to order my burger by temperature."
Burger Commandment #3: Thou Will Not Pack the Burger Tightly
"A lot of people make the mistake of packing the burger really tightly but you want to form it until it just holds together."
Burger Commandment #4: Thou Will Season the Outside of the Burger Only
"Keep it simple: use only salt and pepper and don&apost season the inside of the burger. You&aposre going to need more salt than you instinctively think. There&aposs nothing wrong with salting the meat right before putting it on the grill, but what makes a burger extra juicy is when you season it ahead of time, giving it a minimum of two hours or a maximum of 12 hours."
Burger Commandment #5: Thou Will Do "The Thumb Press"
"Make an indentation in the middle of your burger with your thumb to keep your burger from shrinking up. This is my grandpa&aposs method that I moved into my arsenal."
Burger Commandment #6: Thou Will Never EVER Press Down On The Patty with Your Spatula
"You&aposll make all the juices run out and you want to keep them in there."
Burger Commandment #7: Thou Will Flip Only Once
"I use my Spidey senses to know when it&aposs time to flip the burger, but there&aposs nothing wrong with using a meat thermometer. Order your burger the way that you&aposd order a steak. If you&aposre over a medium-high heat and have control over your flames, for a medium-rare burger, it&aposs time to flip in about three to five minutes. If you&aposre making a rare burger, it needs two minutes per side. One of the biggest mistakes that cooks and young chefs make is moving their protein too much. The char is a really important part of the flavor. If I get a burger that doesn&apost have that great caramelization, I&aposm not happy."
Burger Commandment #8: Thou Will Always Make Sure Your Cheese Is 100 Percent Melted
"There&aposs nothing worse than getting cold cheese that just sits there on top of your burger. The cheese is the burger&aposs co-host. Put the cheese on top of the burger while it&aposs on the grill, spray it with meat drippings if you have some, then cover it with a pot lid until the steam melts the cheese. I love a burger topped with Danish blue cheese, especially."
Burger Commandment #9: Thou Will Butter Your Buns
"To me the bun is every bit as important as the burger and the cheese. The ratio between bun and burger needs to be just right and the bun needs to be soft--I don&apost like a hard bun. Use a potato, challah or brioche roll, butter it, then place it on the grill."
Burger Commandment #10: Thou Will Remember That Toppings Don&apost Always Go On Top
"Tomato always goes on top of the burger and lettuce needs to always be underneath so it can catch some of the juices from going through the bun."
Do you promise to obey Michael Symon&aposs Burger Commandments? Tell us your top burger commandments in the comments, below.