Summer is here, and it’s time to grill, and as everyone knows, hamburgers rule the dinner hour when they are cooked correctly. Here are a few tips on how to make your burgers the best around.
It’s All About the Meat
The perfect burger starts with the perfect meat. Some burger connoisseurs suggest grinding your own meat, allowing you to mix different cuts and different animal proteins to create the perfect mix of flavors and fat content. For those that don’t have a meat grinder or that kind of time, look for fresh ground beef with around a 20% fat content. Fat is flavor, and you want all the flavor in your burger. This is not a time to think healthy; this is a time to prioritize taste.
Keep Your Burgers Uniform
When preparing your patties, weigh the ground meat and measure the diameter of your finished patties to ensure they are all the same size. This will allow them all to cook at the same rate. Whether you like a quarter pound or a half-pound burger, be sure that they are all the same poundage and that the diameter matches up with the size of your hamburger buns.
Season Your Patties
Once your patties are formed, season them liberally. Go traditional with kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, or get a little fancier with garlic salt, ground dried mushrooms, or thyme. Whatever you choose, don’t add seasonings until right before the burgers go on the grill, seasoning side down. Then just before you flip the burgers for the first time, season the second side. Do not under any circumstances mix salt into your hamburger meat; only sprinkle it on the outside right before cooking. Salt in the meat will create a chewy, dense, awful texture.
Don’t Overwork It
There are many recipes out there for including mix-ins with the ground meat like sauces, egg, and bread crumbs. These are all great, but when adding them you need to be careful not to overwork the ground meat. If you want to incorporate mix-ins, ideally you would grind them with your meat in the meat grinder, or at least gently cut them in just before shaping our burgers. To be safe, go with the simple, classic all-beef hamburger with no mix-ins, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Add the Cheese
If you like your burger cheesy, there is a right way to add that dairy goodness to your patty. After you’ve cooked the first side and are ready to flip to side two, season your meat with your seasoning of choice, flip the burger, and layer on the cheese. The close the grill and let those burgers cook until your desired doneness. The oven effect of keeping the grill closed will melt the cheese perfectly on top of your burger just in time for taking it off the grill and laying it onto your bun.
Take It’s Temperature
To be sure your burger is cooked to your desired doneness, use a meat thermometer. Many electric meat thermometers come with a metal probe on a long wire so you can stick the probe into a burger, close the grill top, and monitor the temperature from a safe distance. Pull your burgers when they hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit for rare, 130 degrees for medium-rare, 140 degrees for medium, or 150 degrees for medium well done. Keep in mind that the larger the burger the more it will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat.
Dress to Taste
Now for the fun part, the fixings. You can put anything on your burger. You can go classic with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles. Or try something a little richer like a fried egg, melted cheese, and some mayonnaise from Hampton Creek Foods. Go for sweet, smoky, salty flavors with barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, and bleu cheese, or pile on the roasted vegetables for a more wholesome burger. To get some inspiration for new burger toppings visit your local burger joint, or look online at menus from famous burger places. There are no rules here, just follow your taste buds.
These are just a few tips for how to make the best burger possible. The tips you really should listen to are: don’t overwork the meat, add salt right before your patty goes on the grill, and season your burger liberally. Beyond that, it is all a matter of taste. As you grill more often and experiment a little, you will develop your own preferences.