Build a Better Burger with Seven Easy Steps

I’ve made some pretty terrible burgers over the years.  Some of my “burgers” have turned out too dry, some too tough, some charred beyond repair, some that morphed into chunky little pucks that resembled meatballs, and some shouldn’t have even qualified as burgers…(The pièce de résistance of my burger disasters: turkey burgers with black beans…which is still a running joke around my kitchen table.)

Since it’s burger season, a post for you backyard burger-burners like me. My top secrets to build a better burger…

1)  Choose the right meat.  Lean meat isn’t the best choice for a great-tasting burger because   fat = flavor. Most burger enthusiasts select ground meat that is approx. 80/20, or 80% lean. If you use leaner meat, you might risk a patty that turns out dry or lacking in flavor. Conversely, if you select a grind that is too high in fat, and you may get too much burger shrinkage. (Note: you can also grind your own meat to create a blend you love.)

2) Pat the patty…but not too much. Many of us have made the mistake of over-working a hamburger patty, which results in tough meat. To avoid toughness, gently form the ground meat into patties. Your burgers will shrink a little once the burger cooks.  As such, remember to make the patties a little larger than the circumference of your bun, so you’ll have a perfect fit once cooked (that way you’ll get bun and burger in every bite). Tip: to ensure your patties stay flat and don’t rise too high press a dent into the centers.

3) Season your meat. The burger purists will tell you to save the “extra stuff” (like my black beans mentioned above) for casseroles and meatloaf. Real burgers should taste like burgers.  I usually heed this advice, and opt for simple seasoning like salt/pepper and a little garlic/onion, etc.

4) Use a HOT grill (or skillet, if you’re going diner-style). If you use a grill that isn’t hot enough, you risk over-cooking your burger which will result in dry meat.

5) Flip it…and flip it good. Your burger patty will immediately cling to the hot grill and release when ready. You want to be ready to flip when the burger is. Try to only flip your burger one time. My grill-master reference has taught me that a burger is ready to flip once the juices start to rise and pool on the surface of the patty. Whatever you do, avoid compressing your burger while cooking, or you’ll force out the juiciness.

6) Butter those buns. Or toast them at least. In my humble opinion, the very best burgers are served on a homemade bun with a buttered and lightly toasted center.  But again, there are a few schools of thought on burger-to-bun ratios. Choose the bun that’s right for you. 🙂

7) Have fun with the fixin’s! Gourmet burgers have become a raging trend the last few years, so get creative.  Cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, coleslaw…add your favs.

*Post reviewed by grill-goddess, meat-master, and food scientist “JV”. Trained in meat science and a (perfectly) seasoned culinary queen, she’s a true authority on the topic of better burgers.

2 thoughts

  1. Hey, after searching around the web for “food science” I ran across this site. Good stuff! I read somewhere, that when you salt the meat, only season the outside after you have formed the patty, and not the interior. Salting the interior could result in a denser patty, like you mentioned above when you work it too much. I have been seasoning my burgers like this and the results have been a good loose texture. What are your thoughts on that?

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