How to Make the Best Burgers at Home

A burger might seem quite simple to prepare, but not all burger recipes are created equal. Whether it's for a pan-seared burger made on a stovetop, or a classic backyard burger served at a weekend barbecue, the perfect burger recipe starts with the right ingredients, equipment, and cooking techniques.

HAMBURGER KEYS TO SUCCESS

Three common mistakes to avoid in the quest for the perfect burger.

1. DON'T UNDERSEASON. Just dusting salt on the exterior of shaped patties doesn't cut it. Put the ground beef in a bowl. Lightly break up the meat with your hands and sprinkle evenly with salt. Use 1 teaspoon of table salt for 1½ pounds of ground beef, the amount you will need for four burgers.

2. DON'T OVERWORK. Ground beef is not Play-Doh. The more you handle it, the denser and more rubbery it will become when cooked. After you've seasoned the meat, divide it into individual portions and, with lightly cupped hands, shape into patties. As soon as the patties hold together, stop!

3. DON'T PRESS. Flip the burgers just once-after they've developed deep brown grill marks-and don't be tempted to press on them. Pressing down on the burgers as they cook squeezes out the flavorful juices, which end up in your grill (causing flare-ups) instead of in your burgers.

BURGER BULGE

Making a shallow indentation in the center of the patty is the first step toward a great burger.

The collagen, or connective tissue, in ground meat shrinks when heated. This causes the bottom and sides of the meat to tighten like a belt, which forces the surface of the burger to expand. To prevent a bubble burger, press a 1/4-inch divot, or indentation, in the center of each patty. The collagen will still tighten, but the indented meat won't bulge.

Flat Patties

If you start with a flat burger patty...

Bulging Burgers

...you'll end up with a bulging burger like this one.

Divoted Patties

Pressing a small divot into the center of each patty...

Flat Burgers

...keeps the burgers from bulging. The result? Perfect burgers.

KEEPING BURGERS FROM STICKING TO THE GRILL

Scrape Clean

Heat your grill up before cleaning it with a sturdy grill brush. Any residual debris will come off hot grates much easier than cool ones.

Slick Down and Build Up Seasoning

Grab a wad of paper towels with a pair of long-handled tongs and dip them in a bowl of vegetable oil. When the towels have absorbed the oil, run them over the cleaned grill grate. The oil will burn off at first. Continue to dip the towels into oil and slick down the grate; it will become "nonstick." When the grate turns black and glossy, your grill is good to go.

HAMBURGER TEMPERATURE GUIDE

Many of us depend on thermometers when we're grilling expensive steaks, but when we grill (cheap) burgers, we think we needn't bother. Wrong. For consistently delicious burgers cooked to just the right degree of doneness, don't guess. Take the temperature in the center of each burger with an instant-read thermometer.

MEDIUM-RARE BURGER: 125 to 130 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes per side
MEDIUM BURGER: 135 to 140 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes per side
MEDIUM-WELL BURGER: 145 to 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes per side
WELL-DONE BURGER: 160 degrees and up, 5 minutes and up per side

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All-American Burgers

RECIPE: All-American Burgers

Serves 4

Although we usually enjoy our burgers medium-rare, with extra ingredients added, tasters found that the burgers were too soft unless cooked through (basically, well-done).

1½ pounds 85 percent lean ground chuck
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 strips cooked bacon, chopped fine
4 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Break beef into small pieces in medium bowl. Add cheese, bacon, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Using fork, toss until evenly distributed. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions and lightly pack into 1-inch-thick patties.

2. When coals are ready and grate is hot, dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and use tongs to rub oil over grate. Grill burgers over very hot fire, without pressing down on them, until well seared on both sides and cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to plate, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Serve.


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