Grilling the perfect, juiciest burger is more than just forming a patty and slapping it onto the grill. Whether you’re using ground beef, pork, chicken, turkey or lamb, choosing and handling the ingredients is only half of the process. The real secret to the perfect burger — whether prepared on a gas, charcoal or infrared grill — is patience. Resisting the temptation to be the overzealous grill master by adhering to a few basic techniques will produce juicy, perfectly cooked burgers.
Fat Is a Good Thing
A little fat is not the enemy when you’re aspiring to create the perfect burger from scratch. Grilling expert Steven Raichlen, writing for PopularMechanics.com, suggests that buying ground meat with a 15 percent fat content will keep the burger from drying out on the grill. Meat loses moisture when it’s ground, and moisture is essential to a great burger. However, don’t despair if you think your burger meat may be too lean. Adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of ice cold water per 1 pound of meat will help to restore the moisture content, which will result in a juicier burger, says FineCooking.com.
Mixing and Shaping
Many grilling purists use nothing more than salt and pepper in their homemade burgers. However, those searching for extra flavor can add diced onions and mushrooms, minced garlic or even spicy peppers to give grilled burgers an extra kick.
No matter what you include in the mixture, how you combine the ingredients is paramount. Handle the meat as little as possible. Using your hands, combine the mixture only until the ingredients are incorporated and you can still see bits of meat. The key here is to retain moisture. Over-mixing will actually force the moisture out of the meat and result in a denser, drier burger.
Employ the same gentle technique for shaping the burgers. Form each patty just until it binds together. A loosely packed burger will be juicier, says GrillingCompanion.com. Using your thumb, make a dimple into the center of each patty to maintain its shape during the grilling process. A dimple in the center of the burger lessens the center “bloat” that often results when the outside edges of a grilled burger are done before the middle cooks.
Setting Up the Grill
A perfect burger can be cooked on any type of grill, as long as it’s set up to produce both direct and indirect heat. For example, turn one side of a gas or infrared grill to higher heat and leave the other side at a lower temperature. On a charcoal grill, pile the briquettes to one side to ensure the other side will be cool enough for indirect cooking. An infrared grill will cook the meat more quickly because of its intense heat, so keep a keen eye on the meat to prevent it from becoming burned.
Scrape the grates to remove any leftover food and then brush the grates with vegetable oil to prevent the burgers from sticking. Alternatively, Raichlen says brushing a little olive oil or melted butter on both sides of the uncooked burgers achieves the same effect.
Don’t Flip Out
Place the burgers on the grill over direct heat to sear and caramelize the outside of the meat. After about 2 minutes, give the burger a quarter turn to produce the crosshatch grill marks. Alternatively, if using an infrared grill, keep the lid open and check the burgers after about 1 minute. When you notice droplets of blood forming on the raw side, it’s time to flip. Repeat the process on the other side, then transfer the burgers to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.
The perfect grilled burger should only be flipped once. The juices are pushed away from the heat source when grilling, and GrillingCompanion.com says that flipping the burger only once retains the moisture.
Never use your spatula to flatten the burger because doing so depletes the meat of its juices and defeats the quest for the perfect burger.
Play It Safe
Grilled burgers don’t take long to cook. TheKitchn.com suggests that after the burgers are flipped, grill them another 2 to 3 minutes for medium-rare, 3 to 4 minutes for medium or 5 to 6 minutes for well-done. The time frame on an infrared grill coud be a somewhat shorter. Of course, nobody wants to equate a delicious grilled burger to a foodborne illness. The best way to make sure your burger is cooked thoroughly is to insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the burger. The USDA advises to make sure the internal temperature is at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.
References and ResourcesThe Kitchn: How to Grill Really Juicy Burgers
Grilling Companion: Tips on How to Cook Perfect Hamburgers on a Grill
Fine Cooking: The Science of Grilling Burgers
Popular Mechanics: How to Grill the Perfect Burger
USDA: Ground Beef and Food Safety
TEC: Infrared Grills -- Cooking Times
Lowes: Infrared Grilling Guide