Help me be good at hamburgers

Two part question: I’m bad at grilling hamburgers. I usually just buy pre-made burgers from the grocery store, and then grill them either too long, or I obsessively check them every 60 seconds, and still have a hard time knowing exactly when they’re done.

So first of all, anyone have any favorite recipes for making good hamburger patties from scratch?

And second, I’m a real novice at actually using the grill. Who’s got some good tips for the actual cooking?

I realize we’re basically mid-winter, but no time like the present to start working on my skills for the summer.

I’m no expert, but I know what I like when it comes to grilling a burger on my gas grill.

No recipe, a good burger doesn’t need anything. I buy around a pound of meat, usually 85% lean since I want fat for a good burger, and form it into 4 burgers. Refrigerate for a few hours so they don’t break apart.

Set all burners on the grill on high for about 10 minutes. I am looking for well over 500º on my grill’s thermometer. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Since you will lose some in the cooking process, don’t be shy here. I grill about 2 minutes a side, putting cheese on them after the first turn. The time is not set in stone. Since the meat is fatty it will get flare ups, and sometimes they are a bit too thick, etc.

Toast the bun of course because that makes a burger 10x better.

Minimum 20% fat in your ground beef. You can get fancy and grind up a custom blend of chuck, shortrib, brisket, $200/lb wagyu, whatever, but tbh, some grass fed 20% chuck from the grocery store is fine, especially since the grill is gonna kinda dominate the flavor anyway (in my opinion).

Gently shape into loose balls of your preferred weight, then pat into patties. Go slightly larger than your bun and put a slight divot in the middle, both to account for the beef tightening up and “shrinking” as it cooks. Try not to overwork the meat here. Just shaped together enough that they don’t fall apart on the grill is good enough.

Season both sides well with salt and black pepper immediately before cooking. Definitely do not salt before shaping; it can break down and cross link muscle fibers in a way that gives your burger an unpleasantly sausage-like texture.

Medium to medium high heat, maybe grease the grill lightly with an oiled towel, then set down the burgers. Watch for flare ups from the grease. Get a good sear on each side; a good sign is that the meat will often stick to the grill initially, but as the crust forms, it will release and be easier to flip. How long that takes depends a lot on your grill. Practice makes perfect. Use a probe thermometer to monitor internal temp to a few degrees shy of your preferred doneness, then pull the burgers and let them rest. Carryover cooking will get them the rest of the way to the target temp. If your patty shaping, grill heat, initial beef temp (rested a bit out of the fridge so they’re not cold) are pretty consistent, you’ll eventually get a feel for times that work best and can ditch the thermometer. Again, practice is good!

If your heat was too high or you got lots of flare ups and the outside is in danger of burning unpleasantly before the center is done to your liking, move the burgers over to a cooler section of the grill to cook via indirect heat for a bit.

As others noted, things like melting cheese directly on, buttering and lightly grilling your buns, maybe grilling discs of onions till lightly charred as a topping, etc., are all good ways to add extra flavor via good toppings using your grill’s abilities.

I don’t have a recipe, but for how to cook them, hard and fast is usually the best way. When I’m doing something on a grill or that’s a nice piece of meat, I like to bring it up to room temperature before cooking. The thing I’m trying to avoid is a bunch of well-done rubbery meat around a Medium or Medium Rare center. So I want to hit the outside as hard as I can, as fast as I can, to develop char/sear/Mailliard while still letting the center come up to proper temp, around 140-145 or so for a burger.

This thread might be of help.

I’ve learned you only press the burger down ONCE while one side is still raw, and then never again when pan frying. For the grill, you have to wait for the burger to cooks on one side, then press it before flipping, else it mushes into the grate. Also don’t have too hot of a flame on the grill, else it just burns it.

Also only salt one side and only flip once. YOU WANT IT MOIST AND JUICY.

I’ve been making thinner burgers, and then stacking them, I am actually making a burger today, so I’ll take a photo later. :)

I too am guilty of overcooking over smashing, and making poor quality hamburgers, but the videos and just some general reading over the last month, have really upped my burger game.

I use my(gas) grill All The Time. Even at 20 degrees F outside.Burgers are easy - even with premade ones.

Required materials:
-80-85% (15-20% fat) burgers - I usually get 1/4 lb patties. Anything below 80 has too much fat and you’ll get flare ups. Above 85% is too lean.
-Good buns. They do make a difference. I like Arnold’s Sesame Seed Sandwich Bun
-A digital timer (whether stand alone or on your phone)
-A grill with a thermometer

  1. Preheat your grill to 500-550 at High Heat
  2. Turn the heat down to somewhere between Medium and Medium High for all burners
  3. open the grill, throw your patties on, close the grill, and keep it closed
  4. Set a timer for 4 minutes for Medium Rare, 5 minutes for Medium (1/4 lb patties)
  5. open the grill, Flip the burgers, close the grill. Do Not Squish The Patties. Flip and release.
  6. Set a timer for 4 minutes for Medium Rare, 5 minutes for Medium (timing may be different on your grill)
  7. Remove burgers, place on buns.
    Optional: toast the buns during the last minute of grilling. If doing so set timer one minute early, throw the buns on and get the grill closed ASAP.

Seriously - that’s it. Cooking is the application of heat and time. Get decent ingredients (even store bought is good), get the heat right, wait the right amount of time… and that’s it.

Most people mess it up by overdoing it (squishing the patties, opening the grill too much, etc.)

Winter is a actually fine time to get started! In fact, you might consider getting your technique up to speed on a stovetop griddle or skillet, where you don’t have to worry about the flare-ups and highly variable temperatures of a charcoal grill.

Assuming you’re not grinding your own beef, get 80% ground chuck from your grocery’s butcher counter. Avoid the store-brand 2 lb tubes of ground beef, because who the hell knows what’s in it. They are cheaper—for a number of reasons, and none of them are good.

Start with chilled meat (you don’t want the fat smearing everywhere), and go gently while you’re forming the patties. I mix in sauteed chopped onions, cocking a snook at Kenji Lopez-Alt, but the general rule is to leave the beef unadulterated, except for adding some salt and pepper just before cooking.

This. As it cooks, the patty will shrink from the sides and rise in the center, which is where the “divot” instruction really helps. I’d also recommend you resist the temptation to go too thick. You want your patties flatter, rather than taller. Thick burgers do have the advantage of not drying out as much, but OTOH they’re harder to judge when it comes to doneness. Definitely explore thicker burgers later if that’s your thing, but to start with I’d concentrate on getting a good sear with a fast cook.

Get a hot, lightly greased surface going. Slap the burgers on and leave them severely alone (another cock-snook at Kenji Lopez-Alt, who thinks you should continually monkey with them. Maybe when you’re as accomplished as he is you can, but beginners, and I still include myself here, should stick to letting the burgers do their thing).

Then when the burgers “release” from the grill/pan and become easy to lift, turn them. Cook awhile longer, until you see juices bubbling up through. They’re probably done now. Preferences vary wildly, but I like my burgers cooked to the high side of medium, especially with store-bought ground beef.

Finally, I’d stick with simple sesame seed hamburger buns, rather than giant fancy buns. The bun is just a handle; the point of the hamburger is the burger and its condiments, not the bread.

The only thing I will add is that I often/usually marinate my patties in teriyaki for a bit. Learned that in Hawaii, and I love them that way.

And yes, toasted sesame buns FTW!

Oh, that does sound good. I’m going to try that.

This so much. Don’t worry the meat to death. It makes you look like a dork and the more fat you push out of the meat the worse it will taste.

Our method here is to sous vide for a couple of hours at 128-130 (i think that’s the temp, but I can double check) then sear briefly in a scorching hot pan (usu cast iron).

The best thing to do is to buy an inexpensive but reliable instant read thermometer. Obviously there’s a ton of techniques that are going to make a huge difference, but consistently cooking things to the correct temperature is going to be the #1 thing to being able to enjoy your food every time. No techniques are going to save you if you over/under cook something.

These are $35 and work great.

The recipe I most commonly use, which my family swears by:

  • 500 g ground beef meat (preferably juicy/fat)
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 handful oatmeal
  • A dash of worcestershire sauce (1-2 spoons?)
  • Salt/Pepper to taste.

The egg and oatmeal is to bind the meat together. The worcestershire sauce brings out the umami.

I agree that if you have good quality, coarsely ground meat, then letting the meat speak for itself works fine. But after several years of experimentation, the above is my go-to recipe for the standard store-bought meat.

With respect to how to grill them, I’ll let others share their expertise. We like ours well done, so my approach won’t work for everyone.

We do them inside on a cast-iron grill pan heated by a gas stove. Otherwise similar to what Courteous_D describes. Grill should be very hot before you set the meat.

We use the same cast iron for steaks, chicken, etc. Very worthwhile investment

This is almost the same type of recipe I use and swear by. Burger purists will balk at the addition of egg as a binder. I don’t do oatmeal though.

1 lb 80/20 beef
1 egg
1-2 dashes of worcestershire sauce
1 dash of dried onions
1 dash garlic powder

Work in the egg and spices, but don’t go crazy and over-work, just enough to combine.

Form into patties (4 per lb) and make sure to have a divot in the center, otherwise your burgers will become squashed meatballs when they heat up and contract. Cover each side with kosher salt and black pepper.


Use an instant read thermometer until burgers are medium rare, let sit to finish to medium. If you are worried go to medium and let sit to medium well. Add cheese at some point when you are done flipping, and let it melt on.

The egg is key here, as it helps bind the meat and it does a TON to retain moisture in the burger, which is probably the easiest thing to mess up and end up with a dry patty.

Also, rather than grilling, use a skillet, because it offers way more surface area for crust formation.

What you are describing there is what I would call meatballs or meatloaf, not burgers. I bind those with egg and panko, usually, and maybe worcestershire if I have it. But to each his own!

That’s exactly what I thought. I’m not saying they are bad, but if there’s anything in the meat except meat, my mind puts those under “Meatloaf Sandwich.” I have done beef/pork and beef/bacon patties, but those taste quite different from a good, crispy fried all-beef patty (Maillard reaction FTW). Still burgers I guess, but not Beef Burgers.

If I may simplify things. No disrespect to the fine folks above.

If you want meatloaf, sure, go add a lot of stuff to your burgers.

Otherwise use reasonably coarse ground beef. Salt. And maybe pepper, but I do the pepper after cooking.

Do the thumb dimple. If the meat is freshly ground you can do rare and other temps. If it’s a package of mystery meat from fridge case I suggest at the very least med well.

Flame away. And do me medium rare please. :)

Hang the beef on meat hooks and grab your favorite flame thrower. Remember, short controlled bursts.

Nuke the cows. Let the cooks sort them out. :)