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How to Make the Perfect Burger

 

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Ahhhh, the classic hamburger. So simple, yet so complex. There’s a lot to be learned from a man who’s grilled literally thousands of burgers, so I thought I’d put together a basic handbook for taking your burgers to the next level.

At its heart, a burger really IS pretty simple; it’s all about the meat so get the best you can find. First and foremost, you’ve got to lose your fear of fat. Super lean ground beef may be better for your diet, but it makes really bad, dry burgers. The rendered fat is what gives burgers their flavor and juiciness. Shoot for a ratio of about 75% lean to 25% fat. If you’re able to grind your own meat that’s the ultimate, but at the very least try to avoid the pre-packaged stuff on the shelf. Who knows how long it’s been there? Ask your butcher to grind chuck for you fresh, and as coarsely ground as possible. I get mine ground with some added lamb fat too, just for the extra notes of flavor.

Once you have your ground beef, form it into patties — but gently, gently. It’s important not to overwork the meat or it will become tough and dense. Handle it as little as you possibly can. Five to seven ounce patties are the perfect size. Anything larger than that is just silly. Try to measure out all your burgers so they’re of equal size — this will ensure that they all cook evenly and at pretty much the same rate of speed. To avoid the dreaded “football blob” effect (when your patty bulges as it cooks) lightly press the center of each patty with your thumb, forming an indentation. That should keep your burgers nicely burger-shaped.

As far as seasonings go, again simplicity is key. Adding “stuff” to your burgers like onions, vegetables, eggs, breadcrumbs, etc, not only forces you to overhandle the meat, but reduces your perfect burger to the status of meatloaf. Don’t do it. If you’re using good meat, and of course you are, the only seasonings you’ll need are coarse salt and freshly ground pepper from whole peppercorns. That’s all it takes. Liberally season the outside of your patties with the salt and pepper just before they hit the grill.

Make sure you start with a super hot grill. When your patty hits the cooking surface you want to hear that happy, hard sizzle which means your perfect burger is on it’s way to forming a perfectly seared crust. Flip it after about a minute or two, when it’s no longer sticking to the grates, and sear the other side for another minute or two. At this point you can move the burger to a lower temperature to finish cooking through. Do NOT press down on the burger with the blade of your spatula. Let me say that part again. DO NOT press down on your burger with the blade of the spatula. You’re not making it cook any faster. Really, you’re not. All you’re succeeding in doing is squishing out the precious, flavorful juices and squirting them onto the fire below, probably making a flaming, smoking mess in the process. Don’t do it!

Thank me later. Instead, while you’re waiting for your burgers to finish, take the time to toast your burger buns on the grill. Personally, I like the soft seeded rolls best.

Cook your burger to medium for optimum beefiness and juiciness. If you’re using a meat thermometer to measure doneness, and of course you are, that’s 140 degrees. I know this is going to be hard for some of you to hear, but a properly prepared burger is supposed to be pink on the inside. Yes it is, I don’t care. If you’re cooking it until it’s gray all the way through and has no moisture left, you may as well just eat a charcoal briquette right out of the bag. What’s the point?

Get creative with your toppings! Lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, pickles, mushrooms, grilled onions, garlic mayo, guacamole, pastrami — really anything goes! Burgers match best with great weather and good company. Enjoy!

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About Elliot Chrem

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Barbeque is my passion and I've been deeply devoted to the art of grilling for over 10 years. I am the chef/proprietor of a successful BBQ catering business where I bring the joy of spectacular grilled food to any event. My weekly glatt kosher gourmet tailgate party before every Jets and Giants home game at New Meadowlands Stadium always draws a crowd of hungry and appreciative football fans! My website is TheSmokeyGrill.com.

 

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11 Responses to How to Make the Perfect Burger

  1. avatar says: SarahEats

    Can you teach my husband how to grill? Seriously – this is an awesome guide! I am hungry for burgers!

  2. Bring on 4th of July. Serious need for the perfect burger.

  3. Wow, thank you, this is a great guide, I can’t wait to make burgers.

  4. I am not sure I can lose my fear of the fat, is there any way to get a good juicy burger without all the fat? What about Bison?

  5. I liked everything except for the advice to cook burgers to medium. I’m from Canada and up here, burgers that aren’t cooked all the way through are quite rare (pardon the pun). The risk of E. coli O157:H7 outweighs the benefits of a juicier burger in my books. (Steaks and roasts are a different story!) Other than that, thanks for the tip about not squishing burgers with the spatula! Very helpful.

    @MandyCooks: Bison is so lean it makes for a pretty bland burger, even with toppings like BBQ sauce. Ground bison might be best for uses other than burgers, like pasta sauce and casseroles. As for fear of fat, try choosing low-fat or fat-free toppings to compensate for a juicy burger. If you watch your fat intake for the rest of the day, there’s no harm.

  6. MMMMM…. makes me want a hamburger right now!

  7. Thank u Elliot- great post- My friends rave about your Barbeque parties!!!!

  8. Elliot- I love! this post. Hubby always makes fun of me when I put the indentation in the burger after I saw Bobby Flay do it. I’m going to show him this post. In the upcoming issue of our mag I decided not to tell people to salt the burgers bc of the inherent saltiness in kosher meat but honestly I do love and agree with a little kosher salt and certainly pepper on burgers. Love your contributions to our site!

  9. @Mandy — Eat everything in moderation. A juicy, fatty, beefy, awesome burger once in a while won’t hurt you. It’s the summer!

    @Katherine — Freshly ground meat, kept cold and handled quickly won’t allow the bacteria time to multiply fast enough to harm anyone with a normal immune system. No excuse to eat an overcooked burger. :)

    @Jamie — Liberal application of kosher salt and pepper on the outside of the burger just before it hits the hot grill promotes the formation of an excellent crust. Try it!

  10. @hostess — if you’re at a BBQ that I’m catering this summer, come over and introduce yourself!

  11. any advice for chicken or turkey burgers for those of us who don’t eat red meat?

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