How to Make the Best Burgers
A burger might seem quite simple to prepare, but not all burger recipes are created equal. Whether it’s for a pan-seared burger made on a stovetop, or a classic backyard burger served at a Fourth of July barbecue, the perfect burger recipe starts with the right ingredients, equipment, and cooking techniques.
We’ve assembled the cooking tips you’ll need to know to serve the very best burgers.
Hamburger Keys to Success
Three common mistakes to avoid in the quest for the perfect burger.
Just dusting salt on the exterior of shaped patties doesn’t cut it. Put the ground beef in a bowl. Lightly break up the meat with your hands and sprinkle evenly with salt. Use 1 teaspoon of table salt for 1½ pounds of ground beef, the amount you will need for four burgers.
Ground beef is not Play-Doh. The more you handle it, the denser and more rubbery it will become when cooked. After you’ve seasoned the meat, divide it into individual portions and, with lightly cupped hands, shape into patties. As soon as the patties hold together, stop!
Flip the burgers just once—after they’ve developed deep brown grill marks—and don’t be tempted to press on them. Pressing down on the burgers as they cook squeezes out the flavorful juices, which end up in your grill (causing flare-ups) instead of in your burgers.
Making a shallow indentation in the center of the patty is the first step toward a great burger.
The collagen, or connective tissue, in ground meat shrinks when heated. This causes the bottom and sides of the meat to tighten like a belt, which forces the surface of the burger to expand. To prevent a bubble burger, press a 1/4-inch divot, or indentation, in the center of each patty. The collagen will still tighten, but the indented meat won't bulge.
If you start with a flat burger patty...
...you'll end up with a bulging burger like this one.
Pressing a small divot into the center of each patty...
...keeps the burgers from bulging. The result? Perfect burgers.
Keeping Burgers from Sticking to the Grill
Heat your grill up before cleaning it with a sturdy grill brush. Any residual debris will come off hot grates much easier than cool ones.
Grab a wad of paper towels with a pair of long-handled tongs and dip them in a bowl of vegetable oil. When the towels have absorbed the oil, run them over the cleaned grill grate.
BUILD UP SEASONING
The oil will burn off at first. Continue to dip the towels into oil and slick down the grate; it will become "nonstick." When the grate turns black and glossy, your grill is good to go.
Hamburger Temperature Guide
Many of us depend on thermometers when we’re grilling expensive steaks, but when we grill (cheap) burgers, we think we needn’t bother. Wrong. For consistently delicious burgers cooked to just the right degree of doneness, don’t guess. Take the temperature in the center of each burger with an instant-read thermometer.
MEDIUM-RARE BURGER: 125 to 130 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes per side
MEDIUM BURGER: 135 to 140 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes per side
MEDIUM-WELL BURGER: 145 to 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes per side
WELL-DONE BURGER: 160 degrees and up, 5 minutes and up per side
What You'll Need When Making Burgers
You can’t count on the internal color of burgers to indicate doneness. You’ll need an instant-read meat thermometer to ensure perfectly cooked burgers, whether it’s rare, medium or well done, and every temperature in between. Just insert the tip of one of these temperature probes into your patty, and within seconds you’ll know the temperature of your burger.
A good grill spatula must perform many tasks well. It needs to help you easily flip your burgers (and transfer them from the grill). It needs to have a handle that is long enough to allow you to move burger patties around in case of a grill flare up. And it should perform other tasks like easily splitting a burger in half. Our winner does all that, and even has built-in bottle opener in the handle.
Cooking on a dirty grill is like cooking on a dirty pan. Not only will it impart foul flavors onto your burgers, a grill covered in residue is more prone to sticking, meaning your burgers will likely be torn apart and destroyed when you go to flip them or take them off the flame. The problem is that most brushes have wire bristles that wear down after just a few uses. Our favorite grill brush has a revolutionary design, so you can flip your burgers worry free.
A 12-inch skillet is a must for cooking burgers on the stovetop. We prefer a moderately heavy skillet (about 3 pounds is just right) with a stainless steel exterior and aluminum core. This combination produces burgers with a great crust and cleans up easily as a bonus.
What You'll Need When Making Burgers
Good old-fashioned yellow mustard is one of the essential condiments for burgers. We put seven national brands to the test and were surprised to find that an organic brand was our #1 choice to squirt atop our burger buns.
Burgers and ketchup go hand-in-hand, and there’s no point in ruining an excellent burger with overly sweet tasting ketchup that lacks any real tomato flavor. We compared eight brands to find the best brand to partner with our backyard burgers.
“Bad” bacon might not exist, but when it comes time to adorn our burgers with smoky goodness, some brands are better than others. We tried various supermarket bacons to determine the best brand for our bacon burgers.
Tangy, salty cheddar is the test kitchen's favorite cheese for topping a burger. But when we compared different samples of prewrapped cheddar slices in the test kitchen, we found a wide range of flavors and texture. The best samples added a tangy sharp accent to our burgers. The others were oddly sweet, waxy, and stuck to our teeth as tightly as they stuck to the burger patties.
Our Favorite Burger Recipes
Minneapolis taverns are famous for serving a burger they call the Jucy Lucy, a moist beef burger stuffed with American cheese. But keeping the Lucy juicy and holding the cheese inside the burger took several rounds of test kitchen testing. The solution was all in how we formed the burger.
At roadside restaurants all over New Mexico, ground beef patties are grilled to a crusty brown and topped with fire-roasted, chopped chiles and a slice of cheese. Mild Anaheim chiles and spicy jalapeños give the burger a complex chile flavor.
Smokehouses feed their cooking fires with hardwood logs, permeating the grill with the unmistakable aroma of wood smoke. Burgers cooked in these covered grill-smokers have no choice but to pick up great flavor. To recreate a burger like this in our backyard, we turned to wood chips that were soaked in water and placed in a foil packet before hitting the grill.
We love burgers loaded with a lot of flavorful toppings, but a “Dagwood” style burger can be nearly impossible to eat. To solve this, we put the toppings inside the burger itself: Fine-chopped, cooked bacon, shredded cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce were all mixed directly into the ground beef.
Tex-Mex burgers are flavorful, juicy burgers with a spicy kick. Our recipe can be made indoors on a skillet. Chipotle chiles add a smoky, spicy depth, while poblano chiles lend a mild kick to the burgers. And for added punch, we sauté the spices to intensify their flavor.
A California-style burger promises a reprieve from the standard lettuce, tomato, and ketchup. Jarred jalapeños helped heat up the burgers in two ways: The brine added a vinegary kick to the avocado relish, and chopped jalapeños helped flavor the beef. And shredded lettuce and alfalfa sprouts put the finishing touches on our authentic California-style burger.
For the ultimate steakhouse burger, we turned to a few secret ingredients. First, making a panade—a blend of breadcrumbs and milk—helped keep the burger moist, even when cooked to well-done. Second, we added bacon fat directly to the beef mixture.
Patty melts don’t have to be a diner-only burger. Because the burgers are traditionally cooked twice—browned once in butter and a second time while the sandwich is griddled, we kept the meat moist by incorporating a panade (a paste of bread and milk) into the meat. Putting rye bread and onion powder in the panade made the burgers even more flavorful.
Long Boy Cheeseburgers are a cross between a burger and meatloaf. They also feature an unusual ingredient: cornflakes. Indeed, the breakfast cereal provided a subtle sweetness to the burger. Serve these burger patties open-faced atop sub rolls, and top them with a ketchup-y glaze and shredded cheddar cheese.
This neon spread—made with cheddar, chopped pimentos, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire—tastes as bright as it looks. But for the burgers bursting with pimento cheese flavor, we needed to make our own pimento cheese from scratch. We also needed a way to encase the cheese within the burger patty so the pimento cheese didn’t come out until we took our first bite.