How to Make the Best Burgers

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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 cooking techniques.

Keeping Burgers from Sticking to the Grill

SCRAPE CLEAN

SCRAPE CLEAN

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.

SLICK DOWN

SLICK DOWN

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

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 Keys to Success

Three common mistakes to avoid in the quest for the perfect burger.

DON'T UNDERSEASON

Grilled Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomato Skewers

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.

DON'T OVERWORK

Grilled Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomato Skewers

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!

DON'T PRESS

Grilled Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomato Skewers

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.

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

 

Burger Bulge

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.

FLAT PATTIES

FLAT PATTIES

If you start with a flat burger patty...

BULGING BURGERS

BULGING BURGERS

...you'll end up with a bulging burger like this one. 

DIVOTED PATTIES

DIVOTED PATTIES

Pressing a small divot into the center of each patty...

FLAT BURGERS

FLAT BURGERS

...keeps the burgers from bulging. The result? Perfect burgers. 

Start With the Right Beef

Most recipes simply call for "ground beef," but, as any supermarket shopper knows, the choices are much more varied. What are the differences between ground round, ground chuck, and ground sirloin? And what about fat content, which can range as low as 7 percent?

 

To find out, we prepared burgers using each type of ground beef and held a blind tasting, asking tasters to comment on the taste and texture of each burgers The results were clear; differences between the cuts were obvious and noted across the board. Types of ground beef are listed below in order of preference.  

 

Ground Chuck

Cut from the shoulder, ground chuck ranges from 15 to 20 percent fat and was favored by our tasters for its "rich" flavor and "tender," "moist" texture. The best choice for burgers.

Ground Sirloin

Tasters found ground sirloin a bit "dry" in burgers, though it did have "good beef flavor." Cut from the midsection of the animal near the hip, ground sirloin usually ranges in fat content from 7 to 10 percent.

Ground Round

Lean and tough, ground round comes from the rear upper leg and rump of the cow. Tasters rejected the round as "gristly" and "lacking beef flavor." The fat content ranges from 10 to 20 percent.

Ground Beef

Any cut or combination of cuts can be labeled "ground beef," so consistency is a problem. Because ground beef may have as much as 30 percent fat, greasiness can also be an issue. Our tasters dismissed the ground beef as "mushy," with an "old boiled beef taste."

 

 

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