Your grill is sitting patiently in the yard, ice pops are stocked in the freezer, and you even remembered to put out the citronella torches. Now it’s time to make burgers that help you live up to the name “Grill Master.” These tips have got you covered.
A Grill Master’s Tips for Epic Burgers
Published May 26, 2022.
Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter
Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!
Tender, Juicy Grilled BurgersPreground chuck patties may be easy to throw on the grill, but if you want ultrabeefy, tender, juicy burgers, start with steak tips—and open the freezer.
Buy the Right Beef
Do buy ground chuck. Cut from the shoulder, ground chuck ranges from 15 to 20 percent fat. This cut of meat will cook up into a juicier and more flavorful burger than ground sirloin or ground round will.
Do buy 85 percent lean ground beef (unless your recipe calls for something else, in which case, follow the recipe!). Using 90 percent or leaner can make for a drier burger.
Do have your butcher grind the meat for you if possible. Not all markets offer freshly ground meat, but if yours does, this is a great option. You can ask for any cut to be ground as coarse or as fine as you like. That way you know it’s fresh.
Do grind your own beef at home if you can’t find a butcher to do it for you. A food processor is as good a tool as at-home meat grinders, producing a coarse grind that’s perfect for burgers. To do this, arrange ½-inch pieces of beef chuck in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze the pieces until they’re firm and starting to harden around the edges but still pliable, 15 to 25 minutes. Working in batches, pulse the meat in a food processor. Spread the ground meat over the sheet, discarding any strands of gristle and large chunks of fat.
Don’t buy beef with the generic label of “ground beef.” This beef can come from any cut or a combination of cuts, so consistency is a problem. Plus, this ground beef might have as much as 30 percent fat, so greasiness can also be an issue.
Don’t buy brown beef. A brown color in store-bought ground beef is a sign that the meat is not freshly ground.
Don’t buy meat with juices at the bottom of the package. It’s not a sign that the meat is juicy; it’s a sign that the meat may have been previously frozen and thawed.
Grilled Bacon Burgers with Caramelized OnionWhy put bacon on your burger when you can put bacon in it?
Prep Your Patties
When shaping, don’t overwork the ground beef. It’s not Play–Doh! The more you handle it, the denser and more rubbery it will become when cooked. So gently divide the beef into individual portions (extra credit for weighing each portion so that they’re even). Then, with your cupped hands, shape the beef into patties. As soon as the patties hold together, stop.
Press the patties before grilling by making a shallow (¼-inch-deep) dimple into one side. The collagen, or connective tissue, in ground meat shrinks when cooked, which causes the bottom and sides of a burger to tighten and the center to bulge. Have you ever seen a burger that looks like a slightly flattened baseball? That’s what happened. The shallow dimple before grilling will ensure that the patties stay nice and flat on the grill.
Grilled Lamb BurgersFor more robust and interesting burgers, change that “ham” to “lamb.”
Don’t Let Them Stick
Nothing undercuts you looking like a grill master like your food sticking to the grill and you having to pry it off. To avoid this, preheat your grill. After adding hot coals, cover your charcoal grill and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding any food. Or heat your gas grill over high heat for 15 minutes, covered, to ensure that the cooking grate is ripping hot.
Scrub the hot grate with a grill brush to remove any residue that may stick to the patties. Then oil the grate: Grab a wad of paper towels with a pair of long-handled tongs; dip it in a bowl of vegetable oil; and then run it over the hot, clean grate to create a nonstick surface.
If you still have sticking issues, let the burgers sit on the grill for another 30 seconds before trying to remove them. Sometimes they just haven’t had enough time to develop a sturdy crust that will release from the grate. And if that doesn’t work, use a fish spatula. Its thin metal edges make it much easier to get a stuck burger off the grate.
The Ultimate BurgerThe ultimate burger is what you want it to be. This cookbook shows you how to get there with recipes for must-have classics and go-for-broke specialties plus DIY condiments, sides, boozy milkshakes, and more.
Take the Temp
If you want consistently well-cooked burgers, an instant-read thermometer is your best tool. Take the temperature by inserting the thermometer horizontally into the patty. You’ll get a truer reading than you would if you tried to go in from the top of the burger. Pull it off the grill as soon as it hits the doneness level you want.
Medium-Rare: 120 to 125 degrees
Medium: 130 to 135 degrees
Medium-Well: 140 to 145 degrees
Well-Done: 150 to 155 degrees
Give It a Rest
If you’ve ever had a burger that was so juicy that the bottom bun was sopping wet, it probably hadn’t rested. Let the cooked burgers sit on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet or on a platter for 5 minutes before transferring them to buns. This allows the juices in the meat to redistribute so that less leak out.
Grilled Steak BurgersMost so-called steak burgers are plain beef patties drowning in A.1. We wanted what the best steakhouses would be proud to serve: robust steak-like burgers with a deep, crusty char.
Top It Off
With the toppings, I keep things basic but high quality. Keep one principle in mind: A good burger should feature a combination of flavors and textures that harmoniously come together in every bite.
I’ll be team American cheese for the rest of my life, but I understand you cheddar lovers out there. For buns, lightly toasted potato buns are my go-to, but I think kaiser rolls and brioche buns have their place. Some sliced red onions, crunchy lettuce, and a good burger sauce are always going to enhance the experience.
If I’m hosting, I often just put out a tray of toppings and let each person dress their burger as they desire.
Now all you have to decide is what will be your drink of choice while grilling.