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!