Learn the secrets of grilling a really good hamburger on a gas grill (or a charcoal grill). It is oh so easy if you know a few secrets. Great burgers can be yours.
Introduction and My Rating
This is a technique I use almost weekly. The burger goes from refrigerator to your mouth in less than 20 minutes. So please enjoy learning how I frequently cook at home.
If you're an accomplished griller, just move on. This is a tutorial for newbies and those who just can't seem to get it right.
This is not the gourmet burger. I'm not grounding meat. I'm not stuffing the burger, and I am not mixing in various things. We are going to learn to grill store-bought ground beef and make a darn nice meal easily in a way you don't have to keep looking back at a recipe. How is that for a goal?
Funny story (skip this paragraph if you just want to get on with it). In Lee Iacocca's autobiography, there is a section that talks about the Ford Motor Company executive dining room having the best burgers ever. When the chef was asked about his technique, he demonstrated the method starting with a whole beef tenderloin going into the meat grinder. Great starts will give great results. I don't start that way, and I assume you won't either.
I love this. I'm sure I have done this a thousand times.
Most of us will start with store-bought ground beef, which is fine. Use 80/20 ground beef is an easy answer. Skip to the next section if you want.
There is a difference between hamburger and ground beef. Ground beef has a variable amount of fat, but the fat is from the beef being ground. Hamburger can have up to 30% fat and fat, from trimming other cuts can be added. I choose #1, not #2.
Most burger gurus suggest 20% fat for the moistest, tasty burger. I think they are right. Fat does taste good.
I sometimes go all the way down to 10% and still come out acceptable, but you need to be careful. You can go lower fat by adding something to retain moisture like my Healthy Low Fat Burgers or American Test Kitchen, adding a panade of milk and bread.
Your grill can be a gas grill or charcoal grill. It does not matter for this to work. Just get it as hot as you can. You may again skip to the next section.
You are cooking a relatively thin patty of meat rapidly, so direct high heat is correct. While my very hot Weber runs 650 degrees plus surface temperature and you might "only" get 550, the results will be about the same.
Some gurus suggest you must use charcoal. If true, I can't grill a burger since I don't have a charcoal grill. Use what you have. Just get it very hot, cleaned, and oiled.
- Do not compress the meat. Pat it into shape. If you use a burger press, just use it to shape.
- Indent the center of the burger to prevent "puffing." This seems strange, but it is a must-do. Without this, the center will puff up thicker, and it will be hard to get to the correct internal temperature. The outside will almost burn and will dry out — all bad things. I'm starting with a 3/4 inch thick burger and compress a 1-inch diameter area about 1/4 inch.
- Flip once. Don't play with your food, and don't keep poking it to check the temp when you know it's not done. I think the more you flip, the more juices drain and the more flare-ups. The more pokes, the more moisture drains. Cook for about 5 minutes (I use a watch with a second hand) on the first side, flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the second side. I then check the temperature and will add cheese in the last 30-60 seconds if you want.
🌡️⏰Temperature and Time
The minimum safe internal temperature for ground beef is 165°. But not much higher, or you have a hockey puck. No discussion allowed. I'm playing the Doctor card here. You will not eat or serve ground beef that has not reached 165 degrees.
I don't care what some idiot tells you about it tasting better. You can get seriously ill or die. A good thermometer is a must. I use a Thermapen, and it is worth every cent of the almost $100 it cost. But you can get good results for $15.
How long to cook the burger on the grill? There is no exact answer. For this technique, 8 to 9 minutes is the best answer. But the real correct answer is as long as it takes to get to 165° internal temperature.
But there are lots of variables: The size and thickness of the burger, the start temperature of the meat and the grill, and how frequently you open the grill and flip are the most important ones.
Buns, seasoning, and add-ons
I'm a big fan of good baked goods. A cheap bun will ruin your great grilling. The meat needs to fit the bun.
I'm OK with the burger overflowing the bun some, but I don't like a large bun and smaller burger. Since we are learning the basics, a standard burger bun fits a 1/3 pound burger well, and that is what we will do here. I do like to brown the bun up for a few seconds on the grill.
Seasoning, just some salt and pepper will do. I'm using my Homemade Everyday Seasoning Salt - 7:2:2 since we love some garlic. I'm also adding some cheese just to show you how.
But I Need a Vegetarian Option: When ready to cook, the grill should be on high. This recipe fits quite well with my Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Final Recipe Comment:
Like many things, once you get your basic method down, then the variations can flow. This is a darn good burger as made and is basically what I have done a thousand times. Not to say it is not a special meal, but it is an excellent quick everyday type of meal. I'll take an excellent meal frequently. But make it bigger, make it smaller, stuff-it or whatever.
I won't tell you this is the greatest burger in the world, but it is very, very good. Someday I will try the Ford Motor Company or the American Test Kitchen method. I'm sure they are wonderful, but this is everyday cooking. So let's do our burgers right. You will be glad you did.
Preheat grill on high. Clean and oil.
Start with 1 pound 80/20 burger. Divide into 1/3 pound balls. They are the size of a tennis ball.
Safety note: Always wash your hands for safety before and after touching ground meat. Pat gently into 3/4 inch thick 4 inch patties. Give them a good sprinkle of salt and pepper on both sides. I'm using my 7:2:2 (salt, pepper, garlic).
Press one inch round 1/4 inch deep indentation into the center of one side.
Grill over direct heat with a closed lid. Flip after 5 minutes. The center one in the picture does not have the indentation (more on that later).
Grill another 3-4 minutes and check the temperature. Get to 165 then add cheese for about 30-60 seconds if using cheese.
The rear burger is the one cooked without the indentation. The burger without the indentation was 145 when the others reached 165. It took two more minutes, but more importantly, it puffed about 1/4 inch, was about 1/2 inch smaller diameter, and was over charred and dried out the surface, all from the lack of the indentation.
I don't feel a great need to rest the meat before serving. By the time you place it on the bun and do things to it, it has been enough time.
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How to Grill an Excellent Hamburger – A Beginner Tutorial
- 1 pound ground beef - 80/20
- Salt and pepper to taste OR 7:2:2
- buns and fixings
- Preheat grill on high. Clean and oil.
- Start with 1 pound 80/20 burger. Divide into 1/3 pound balls. They are the size of a tennis ball.
- Pat gently into 3/4 inch thick 4 inch patties. Wash hands for safety before and after touching ground meat.
- Give them a good sprinkle of salt and pepper on both sides. I'm using my 7:2:2 (salt, pepper, garlic).
- Press an one inch round 1/4 inch deep indentation into the center of one side.
- Grill over direct heat with closed lid. Flip after 5 minutes.
- Grill another 3-4 minutes and check the temperature. Get to 165 then add cheese for about 30-60 seconds if using cheese. I don't feel a great need to rest the meat before serving. By the time you place it on the bun and do things to it, it has been enough time.
- I suggest 80/20 ground beef for routine use.
- Wash hands for safety before and after touching ground meat.
- Cooking time varies by your grill and the burger, so cook to a final temperature never by time alone.
- 165° is the minimum internal temperature for ground beef.
- Follow the secrets listed below.
The Three Secrets To Getting it Right
- Do not compress the meat.
- Indent the center of the burger
- Flip once if possible. Don't keep poking it and flipping.
Editors Note: Originally published August 17, 2013, it has gotten some attention but not what I believe it deserves. It has been updated with refreshed photos and discussion along with a table of contents for easy navigation.
Nutrition is calculated on meat only.