8 Tips for Making the Perfect Burger

“And If I’m in luck, it’s broiled hockey puck…” (Tom Lehrer, “She’s My Girl”)
Ah, the glorious hamburger.  So delicious.  So simple.  Or is it?

We’ve all been there.  At least I have.  Burgers that are either still frozen in the middle, or turned into broiled hockey pucks.  Over the years, I’ve come up with a few techniques that will ensure you get the perfect burger every time.

This post isn’t as much a “recipe” as it is “a technique.”  So without further ado, here are my 8 tips for cooking a perfect burger every time.

Use only fresh ground beef.  Forget that frozen crap. 

Freezing breaks things down at the molecular level, which is okay for long-cooked soups and stews because they’ve already been broken down in the cooking process, but for beef, forget it.  Use fresh ground beef.  Period

Use beef that’s at least 20% fat (so, 80-20).

I know there are those fat-o-phobes out there who insist on using 90-10 because they believe that it’s a “healthier option” but if you want a good burger, it’s got to have some juiciness to it.  The only way to ensure this is by making sure that it doesn’t dry out on the grill, so a 20% fat content is a must.

Form the patties yourself. 

It’s cheaper that way.  Don’t add anything to them and try to handle them as little as possible in the formation process.  When you form them, make them flat and at least 1/4 inch larger in diameter than the buns you intend to put them on.  They’ll shrink on when you cook them, and no one likes to take their first bite of burger only to find that there’s a golf-ball of beef somewhere in the middle of the bun surrounded by toppings.  Speaking of which…

thumbburgerUse your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each patty.  This will ensure that when they plump up on the grill, they don’t over plump.

If you’re going to season your patties before they hit the heat, now is the time.  Never work seasoning into the meat.  A light dusting just prior to placing them on the grill should be good enough.


Your cooking surface doesn’t matter (grill, cast iron, griddle), but it has to be HOT.

Like, really hot.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a grill, a griddle, or a cast-iron skillet.  It’s gotta be screamin’ hot.  This is not low-and-slow cooking, this is hot-and-fast.  You’ll want your cooking surface to be 400F minimum.  How do you know when it’s hot enough?  If you’re using a flat surface, such as a griddle or cast iron pan, a droplet of water or two should sizzle and disappear instantly.  Conversely, on the grill, you can use the “hand test” – you shouldn’t be able to hold your hand three inches above the grill grates for more than about 2 seconds.  Want to take the guess work out of it?  Spend a few bucks on one of these babies.  Once it’s hot enough, place your patties on a HOT surface, thumb-indent side UP.

Flip them ONCE. 

How do I know if they’re ready to flip?  When I see a puddle of juice beginning to collect inside the hole I made with my thumb.  Usually 3-4 minutes per side.  Never smash your burgers down with a spatula.

If you’re adding cheese, put it on in the last minute or so of cooking.

The cheese doesn’t need to melt off the burger and into the grill grates or onto the cooking surface.  Best way to accomplish this?  Let your cheese come up to room temperature beforehand and add it at the last minute – it’ll be a lot softer that way.

Use High Quality Buns

See the bun in the featured picture at the top of this post?  That’s a brioche roll.  They’re $1.49 for 8 of them in the bakery section of my local grocery store (the “Pantry Essentials brand – the cheapest brand at my store, fit only for little-league baseball cookouts, are $1.99 for 8, by the way).  If you want to move your burger from “standard” to “gourmet” use a great roll instead of a standard burger bun.

And here ends my tips for making the perfect burgers.  Any other thoughts out there?

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