Five steps to the perfect grilled hamburger

by DaniGirl on April 9, 2010 · 16 comments

in 5 things, Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

It’s true, not that long ago I considered “cooking” to be preheating the oven and opening the box. It’s also true that while I’m a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the wholesome food movement, I’ve embraced it with my whole heart. When I was blogging the other day about my 5-ingredient chicken fingers, it got me thinking about some of the other culinary skills I’ve acquired over the last couple of years.

You know what I cook really well? Hamburgers. Grilled hamburgers. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! And so with a weekend pending and BBQ season upon us, I thought I’d share five tips to hamburger perfection. (No, my entire cooking repertoire does not revolve around the number 5. I don’t think.)

1. Start with ground meat. What I mean here is forget the frozen pucks, and skip the pre-formed fresh patties, too. Did you know you pay more just for them to make little circles out of your ground beef? Take off your rings and get your hands dirty, it’s worth it! (I haven’t tried ground chicken or turkey yet, but more power to you if you can get away with it. My persistently low iron likes a little red meat a couple of times a week! And while extra lean is best for you health-wise, the extra fat in lean pretty much burns off on the grill, so you can save a few more pennies there.)

2. Don’t overhandle the meat. Break it up with a fork in a big bowl. Dump some breadcrumbs or oats on top, and either a whole egg or just the yolk. Add a little salt and pepper, and if you’re like that, chop up 1/4 cup or so worth of onions and throw that in there. A splash of Worcestershire sauce gives it a little zing, too! Stir it up just enough to combine the ingredients, but try not to overmix it.

3. Make perfect patties. I finally figured out how to keep my burgers from bulging in the middle. I take roughly enough hamburger so that I can close my hands around it, and rather than making a ball and then squishing it into a patty, I form it directly into a disk. A fine distinction, ’tis true, but it makes the difference in a burger you can get your jaws around!

4. Only flip it once. This is key!! On a hot grill, cook for about six minutes, flip, and cook for another five. Baste with bbq sauce if you must — I often forget. If you’re making cheeseburgers, add cheese and cook for one more minute… just enough to make it melty but not runny. Again, it’s a fine distinction!

5. Use the new skinny buns. Have you tried them? A nice crusty kaiser bun is nice, too, but we love those new thin whole-wheat buns. A little bit of a chewy compliment to the burger itself, and just perfect!

Creatures of habit that we are, we usually have baked beans and a nice leafy salad with hamburgers. What do you think? At the very least, now I know what I’m making for dinner tonight!

Edited to add:
as I was typing this up, I knew I was forgetting something! Bonus tip: do not, under any circumstance, squish the patties on the grill!! All the yummy juicy moisture will run out, and your burgers will be dry.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jody April 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Now I am hungry for burgers. Mmmmm.

2 Roz April 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm

i agree 150% about flipping only ONCE.

also, i add horseradish and chopped parsley (along with all of the other stuff you mentioned) into the patty (secret ingredients!)

3 Steve April 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm

My burgers also contain garlic, and BBQ sauce directly in the patties. Gotta have the garlic!

4 Gus&Otto April 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Love the tips. My biggest issue is that my burgers don’t stay together on the grill. They always fall apart/crumble into pieces. I read somewhere that you should not use lean meat in burgers and that’s why they fall apart. Any opinion on that?

5 Miche April 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I hope you meant egg yolk.

I hate yoke in my patties.

(And delete me too, please!)

6 DaniGirl April 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

No yoke, I did mean yolk — thanks Miche! Fixed!!

Gus&Otto, the yolk and breadcrumbs/oats is what helps them from crumbling, IMHO. You have to strike a balance that is moist but not wet.

Steve, yes! A little BBQ sauce instead of the egg yolk works well to moisten it up, too. And of course, garlic goes with everything!

7 Miche April 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Sometimes, instead of using salt, we use a splash of soy sauce for a different flavour. Once in a while we’ll mince mushroom and put that in too. (Not too much if it’s raw though. It holds a lot of water and the burger will fall apart when being cooked.)

8 Jen April 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Oh, we love burgers around here! If we’re being extra bad, we’ll use medium ground beef… oh, so juicy!! Also, sometimes we just add Keg (or Montreal) steak spice to the meat – nothing else. It’s got kick!

And a rule of our grill, don’t ever squish your burgers on the grill with the spatula, you’ll end up with one dry burger.

I’m so having burgers for dinner tomorrow night šŸ™‚

9 Carly April 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Mmm, despite being in the throws of a stomach bug my mouth is watering at the thought of BBQ burgers! Thanks for the tips and sharing your recipe.

Do you know what your recipes are missing though? Photos!!!

Captcha: attainable :o)

10 Amber April 9, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I am going to try making my own burgers, now. Thanks for the inspiration!

11 2Hirondelles April 10, 2010 at 9:34 am

I always use extra-lean and my burgers don’t fall apart. I’ve used steak spice or a tiny bit of onion soup as seasoning, but will definitely try horseradish. I always make my burgers fairly thin and w-i-d-e, and go around the edges with my thumb, sort of ‘tucking in/smoothing out’ the edges (maybe that’s why they stay together?) They will shrink to the perfect size and thickness for buns when cooked.

PC whole grain thin buns – absolutely the best. Had a regular take-out burger while on the road the other day and the bun was just way too doughy.

Does anyone else find that today’s lean ground beef is the medium of about 10 years ago? Just so they can charge us more. Grrrrr.

Dani, you should put up a poll in a few days and see how many of us had burgers between today and then lol.

12 Karen April 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

I also add dijon mustard to the meat as well as the other stuff you mentioned. I totally agree that timing is everything. I cook them for the exact same amount of time as you. I have also found that if you don’t have time to watch them carefully putting them on the side that doesn’t have the heat on also works really well.

13 Shan @ the fairy blogmother April 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Since starting weight watchers I’ve been making burgers for my husband and I with ground chicken or turkey. It’s all about saving points where you can. I do the bread crumbs and the egg then I tend to mix it up. Last week I added a splash of VH General Tao stir fry sauce. This week I picked up a bottle of Thai peanut sauce for the purpose of burger making. I’ve also used Buffalo wing sauce. I have to say since switching to ground chicken, we haven’t missed beef burgers much and the variety of different flavours the chicken allows us is really great too.

I will say ground chicken does not have the same texture as ground beef when you’re mixing it up. It’s a lot more “mushy”. So be very careful of overworking it.

14 Finola April 10, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Sounds delish!
Just curious, but what motivsted you to move away from preheating to real cooking? I have never really enjoyed cooking, but I want to like it. Right now Hubby does most of the cooking and he is great, but I would like to push myself to get in the kitchen more often and learn to do some real cooking. I know I could do it, but I haven’t found the motivation yet.

P.S. 43 comments on a four line post about underwear?? Wow, you rock! And yes, I commented šŸ™‚

15 DaniGirl April 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Hey Finola,

It’s been a long, slow journey from processed to real food for me and, because I am the main cook, for the whole family. Mostly, it was necessity — I needed to learn how to cook because I was worried about the crap in the processed food and the cost of it. I don’t know if you were reading then, but about a year and a half ago I lost 30 lbs, so that made me pay a lot of attention to how we eat as a family. Then I read Michael Pollen’s In Defence of Food, which pretty much pushed me further down the road to where I am now.

I stopped stressing over cooking and started enjoying it when I learned to break it down into manageable chunks, and when I started finding foods to cook that everyone enjoys — thus the heavy rotation of chicken fingers, hamburgers, tacos and fajitas at our place!

(LOL about the underwear — I know! Even after five yrs of blogging, it never fails to amaze me that I post I work on for hours will get two comments while a throwaway like that gets half way to a hundred. Go figure!)

16 Chantal April 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I tried home made burgers last summer and had a hard time with them. I will try again with your directions! Thanks

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