COOKING THE PERFECT BURGER: TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE GRILL SEASON
With the season for grilling upon us, burgers will be big, showing up on plates for gatherings and weekday family dinners alike. This burger cooking guide will provide some simple tips and tricks to help you make amazing burgers at home, with golden-brown griddled buns, juicy, seared beef patties, and an assortment of delicious, fresh toppings and condiments.
The Beef on Beef (and Patties)
When making burgers at home, take a moment before cooking to consider your choice of ground beef. Begin by sourcing high-quality ground beef from a butcher or store you trust, aiming for 20% fat content. For the freshest ground beef, you can even grind your own from cuts of beef at home, which will provide complete control over the cuts of meat and fat being used.
To ensure your patties are equal in size, weigh them individually using a digital kitchen scale. To keep things a bit cleaner, cover the weighing surface of the scale with a layer of plastic wrap before adding the beef.
When gently shaping your beef patties, start with cold ground beef. Try not to over-shape or over-handle them, as the protein strands in the beef will start to denature and subsequently intertwine, resulting in a cooked burger with a springy, sausage-like consistency and bouncy texture. Instead, try shaping the patties with enough pressure to ensure that they come together quickly and will survive one flip while remaining intact.
Pressing the patties gently down onto individual, burger-sized squares of parchment paper provides a flat working surface, and makes it easy to handle them when it comes time to cook. Simply flip the patty onto the hot cooking surface and peel off the parchment paper.
If the burger patties are larger than six ounces, push a small dimple indentation into the center of each shaped patty—this will discourage the patties from bulging up and ballooning out in the middle as they cook.
Toppings and Condiments
Organize all of the desired toppings and condiments in advance, including some softened butter for the burger buns. In terms of cheese, we often go with American for burgers, although dozens of varieties from cheddar to Swiss; blue to provolone can work wonderfully. In terms of toppings and condiments, a traditional burger could include finely-shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced red onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and/or a bit of mayonnaise.
If you want to take things to the next level, add some cooked toppings such as caramelized onions, braised mushrooms, or even a sunny-side-up egg with a runny yolk! At the end of the day, whatever toppings taste good to you are the way to go.
In terms of buns, the novice burger-maker considers the bun as an after-thought, where a real burger enthusiast treats the bun with an equal degree of respect as the burger itself. A perfectly-griddled, golden-brown bun sets an amazing burger apart from the crowd, and serves as the foundation for the patty. If making thinner burgers, consider using a potato bun (like Martin’s) or a slightly sweeter brioche bun. If you are making thicker, larger burgers, consider using wider sesame seed buns that are more dense and less squishy.
Similar to a grilled cheese, a burger bun will toast unevenly if cooked over very high heat. To ensure that you get the most even and consistent color possible, give yourself ample time to griddle a buttered burger bun over medium heat in a non-stick pan, until the bun is perfectly golden-brown. Gently move the buns around as they toast, to ensure even coloring. If toasting in the oven, you can add a slice of cheese onto the bottom bun, to discourage the beef juices from soaking into the bun once the burger is assembled. Try to time things so that the buns are toasted and ready for assembly right after the burgers have been cooked.
Burger Cooking Tips
Always preheat the cooking pan or grill before cooking the burgers. If cooking indoors, turn on the exhaust fan, and add a few teaspoons of canola oil to the pan right before adding the burger patty, after the pan has gotten very hot. If using an outdoor grill, make sure to clean the grill grates thoroughly, both before and after preheating.
Season the gently-shaped burger patties liberally with Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper right before cooking. If the patties are seasoned too far in advance, the meat takes on a denser and more sausage-like consistency. For the black pepper, consider grinding whole peppercorns fresh using a pepper mill, instead of buying pepper pre-ground.
Cook the burgers on the preheated pan or grill for a few minutes, until the bottom of the burger is golden-brown. To check, lift an edge of the burger up carefully with a metal fish spatula and look at the bottom to ensure it is the proper color before deciding to flip it over. The desired thickness of the burgers will impact the cooking time and burger-to-condiment ratios, although the general cooking methodology stays the same.
When cooking a thinner patty, go ahead and add any desired cheese right after you flip the burger. If the patty is larger than six ounces, wait a minute or two before adding the cheese.
When the burger seems ready, use an instant-read thermometer to measure the internal temperature. For medium-rare burgers that are on the thicker-side, aim to take them off the grill when the inside of the burger registers a temperature of roughly 130˚F.
Most single burger patties weigh between two and four ounces, although some pub-style burgers can weigh in at eight ounces or more! If you decide to make a thicker, pub-style burger, be sure to allow the patty time to rest for a few minutes after it has finished cooking before assembling. The internal temperature of the burger will continue to increase after it is taken off the stove or grill.
After the burger is cooked and rested, assemble the components on the griddled bun, with whatever assortment of toppings and condiments you have prepared.
Potentially Useful Equipment for the Burger Enthusiast:
If you grill at night outside in the dark, consider buying a headlamp.
For consistent internal temperatures, buy an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
For more delicate burger flipping, a metal fish spatula is key.
For identically-sized patties, use a small digital kitchen scale.