Leaner cuts make the best burgers, because fattier cuts come with baggage—more gristle and sinew that can make them hard to chew even after grinding. Incorporating extra fat (in this case, butter) into lean ground meat before cooking does more than just add flavor; it also dials up the juiciness on the inside of the burger and encourages browning in the pan for faintly crisp edges. This works well in any burger recipe, particularly ones that call for leaner meats like chicken, turkey, or fish. Starting with a lean cut and adding in your own fat also allows you to control how much fat ultimately ends up in your burger.
Whenever working with ground meat, shape the patties with a gentle hand. The meat will adhere as it cooks to create a cohesive burger. If you pack the patties too tightly, the meat will bind too tightly, and you’ll end up with tough, dry, chewy burgers. Our favorite technique is to start with a loosely packed ball of meat and then gently pat it down to a 3/4-inch-thick disk.
The key to thick skillet burgers with a crisp, seared exterior and a juicy medium-rare interior is a two-step process: first a hot sear on the stovetop to create a nice brown crust and then a visit to a relatively low, 300-degree oven to bring the interior of the burger to medium-rare or medium without leaving the exterior leathery or burnt. (For beef, 125 degrees is the goal for medium-rare; 130 degrees for medium.)
Meat ground at home has much better texture and flavor than supermarket ground beef. What’s more, by purchasing intact cuts of meat and grinding the meat yourself, you know exactly what’s in your burger. No pink slime here, and you can safely cook to medium-rare without worry. We’ve found that a food processor is an excellent tool for grinding meat at home, producing a coarse grind that’s perfect for burgers. But the food processor doesn’t grind the meat as finely as a commercial meat grinder, so stray pieces of gristle are more obvious. To avoid these pockets of chewy gristle, purchase a cut of meat that has little sinew, like sirloin steak tips (aka flap meat), and inspect the meat closely after it’s ground. Low-sinew burgers are also lower in fat, but don’t worry about the lower fat content producing dry or tough burgers—that’s why we add butter to the mix.
We recommend grinding sirloin steak tips for these burgers, but short ribs and well-trimmed chuck roast also have the right texture and fat content (you still should add the butter). Avoid the round, which has a tendency to have liver-like flavors.
To make sure our thick burgers are cooked correctly, we sear them in a skillet (for a flavorful brown crust) and finish cooking them in the oven. But that’s not the end of the story; it is imperative that you let the cooked burgers sit undisturbed for 5 minutes before tucking into them. Why? Heat forces the meat’s juices to the center of the burger, and if you cut (or bite) into a burger straight out of the oven, those collected juices will spurt out. A short rest allows the juices to redistribute evenly back into the meat so that the burger is moist and juicy.