How to Grill the Perfect Burger
Updated: Nov 30, 2018
You hear that faint sizzle in the distance? It’s the whisper of grills searing meat for mid-Summer cookouts.
Yes, from sea to shining sea, wannabe pit-bosses are about to lay waste to thousands of pounds of hamburger meat; decimating it into over-cooked, mealy, beef turds. DON’T BE THAT GUY!
Instead follow these 5 tips for preparing the perfect grilled burger. They will transform you into a cape-wearing, Manhattan drinking, spatula wielding, Grill Master Super-Hero. (This is NOT the smashed burger on cast iron method, this is the grill/grates method. They are different.)
1. THE MEAT: USDA Prime Ground Chuck.
Get to know the local butcher. He is your friend and soon to be your hero. He will grind high quality, Prime grade chuck meat for you. Ask for it by name. Yes, generic 80/20 ground beef, or hamburger purchased in a store is often used for everyday patties, but NOT for a perfect burger.
Generally, meat labeled “ground beef” is made from less tender, less popular cuts of beef. It is a mixture of scrap and trimmings left over after primal cuts have been removed. (Go here more on ground beef and hamburger.)
I mean sure, a flank steak/London broil can be made tasty for everyday protein consumption, but it pales when compared to a sumptuous, handsomely marbled, seasoned, and properly cooked Prime Ribeye. Get the picture?
Ground chuck will give you the “...juice running down your elbow succulence that you crave in a perfect burger”, said my friend, Steve Johnson, past Executive Chef at a landmark gastropub in historic Saint Paul, Minnesota.
2. THE FORMATION-DO NOT OVER WORK
Forming patties is no time for channeling Magnus the Swedish Masseur. Treat your chilled ground chuck gently, and make the patties quickly. You do not want the fat to begin melting in your hands as you man-handle and pummel the meat. Burgers in the 6-8 ounce range are a good size. Grab a hunk of ground chuck form a loose ball, and gently flatten with your fingers to about ½ inch , then poke a small dimple in the center to keep the patty flat as it cooks. That’s it.
3. THE TEMPERATURE-ICE, ICE, BABY!
That’s right. Keep the ground chuck cold. None of the “allow to come to room temperature” nonsense. Warm fat results in mushy texture when it comes to burger patties. Keeping that fat chilled and firm before grilling allows it to melt and break down over the flame instead of turning into a hot mess on the counter, or worse yet, the grill’s side-table.
4. THE HEAT & SEASONINGS
Pre-heat your grill to 450. Your pre-formed ground chuck patties should be in the refrigerator at this point, or iced down in your Yeti cooler. Once the heat reaches the target use a small cloth soaked in olive oil and rub on the grates. Use a long armed tong or you might singe your arm hairs.
Right before placing on the grill season generously with coarse salt and cracked pepper, or if you prefer, some Montreal Seasoning. Ground chuck is a flavorful Prime grade meat loaded with flavor. You want to taste the meat, it’s the hero of the plate. So don’t hide it under a plethora of unnecessary spice and seasoning, or introduce chopped onions and additives prior to forming your patties. If you do that you are making flat little meatloaves, not Prime ground chuck burgers.
5. THE SEAR--NO FLIP FLOPS ALLOWED
Grab your chilled seasoned burgers and place them on the hot grill. Allow to cook 3 to 5 minutes. When you flip, relocate onto a different part of the grate. It will be slightly hotter and allow the second side to get those great grill marks, too. Never, ever, flip flop back and forth. All your juice will end up in the drip pan and you’ll toughen the meat in the process. When there is about a minute to go top the burgers with cheese of choice, and place buttered brioche type buns on the grill to toast.
My friend Steve, the chef dude, says, “You want a hefty, sturdy bun with some nice chew to it. You absolutely must toast the bun, or it will sop up the burger juice and turn to mush.” He added with a smile, “Don’t lose all that delicious juice into the bread. Let it trickle down your beard where you can wipe it off with your shirt sleeve.”
Along with lettuce, tomato, and onion, summer craft cocktails are a perfect accompaniment.