Hamburgers are a perennial favorite for lunch, dinner and barbecues. They cook quickly, are easy to assemble and please kids and adults. Keeping a hamburger patty together isn't always easy, though. Whether you're cooking them outdoors on a grill or indoors in a skillet or under the broiler, burgers can fall apart if the recipe isn't quite right. Here's how to prevent this cooking catastrophe with a little attention to detail.
The Importance of Fat
The most common culprit of a burger falling apart while being cooked is the lack of fat in the patty. Use ground beef with at least 15 percent fat included; 20 percent is better.
If the ground beef is too lean, you can add bacon fat to the meat mixture to help reach the proper proportion of fat to meat. Bacon drippings add a savory smoked flavor note. You could use lard, suet or even butter instead of bacon drippings, but those options don't enhance the taste in the same way.
How to Handle the Meat
Don't overwork the meat mixture or the burger will lose its stickiness. It also helps to use a coarse grind of meat, which is less likely to fall apart. Keep the meat cold when forming the patties. Frozen beef can sometimes fail to hold together after thawing, so form the patties before freezing to avoid this issue.
Add a Binder
A hamburger can be made successfully with nothing more than ground beef, salt and pepper, but you can add other seasonings, fillers and binders. If you're having trouble forming patties, crack a raw egg into the mix for a simple binder.
Too much liquid makes burgers loose and prone to falling apart. When adding seasonings, limit the use of liquids like Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. If the burger mix is too moist to hold together, you can add breadcrumbs to absorb some of the excess and help bind the patties.
If you're grilling the burgers, spray a little nonstick spray on the grill prior to heating to avoid sticking. Cook on medium heat. Flip gently and only once—cook the first side until you can see browning along the sides of the patty. Avoid pressing or mashing the patty with a spatula while grilling; this can cause the burger to stick to the grill and possibly fall apart, and it also squeezes all the juices out of the meat and dries it out.
Lori A. Selke has been a professional writer and editor for more than 15 years, touching on topics ranging from LGBT issues to sexuality and sexual health, parenting, alternative health, travel, and food and cooking. Her work has appeared in Curve Magazine, Girlfriends, Libido, The Children's Advocate, Decider.com, The SF Weekly, EthicalFoods.com and GoMag.com.