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Tips on How to Cook Perfect Hamburgers on a Grill

Tampa Tribune

What’s more American than grilling hamburgers?  Hamburgers and hot dogs are the whole reason they put grills in public parks, in my opinion.  Burgers and hot dogs are the whole reason we show up to the stadium 6 hours before the game (well, and beer I guess…).  We discussed hot dogs the other day, so I wanted to step back and talk about how to grill hamburgers the right way. You see, hamburgers may seem easy to make, but I have choked down far too many dried out and burnt disks of beef than I care to remember. It’s time we did something about it, it’s time we take a stand, it’s time for me to stop complaining about it and start educating the masses!  So let’s get down to it and talk about best practices for grilling hamburgers.

Like many other grilling recipes, people just need to slow down and pay attention to details and technique to achieve burger grilling deliciousness.  Here are what I consider to be the key factors in hamburger perfection.

  1. Choose the right meat.  Here’s a newsflash, fat tastes good!  That may not be too PC, but it’s true.  You know that last burger you had at the restaurant, the one you said “man, my hamburgers never taste this good”.  I would bet my squirt bottle that the main reason theirs was better is that you feel guilty buying anything other than “lean” ground beef.  Quit fighting it, fat is delicious!  Need another reason, ok, we are in tough times and fatty meat is cheaper.  There, doesn’t the desire to save money seem to dull the desire to eat healthy?  I recommend ground chuck or ground sirloin for a good fatty ground beef.  Check the label and ask your butcher, you want about 20% fat or so.  Most serious hamburger junkies swear that grounding your own meat is the way to go.  Sounds hard, right?  If you have a food processor, it really isn’t.  Start with some boneless (duh) chuck with the fat still intact, cut it into strips and ground in the food processor in small batches.  Is it worth all of the effort?  Personally, I don’t think so if you have access to great beef.  If you live in the wilderness, probably, but you probably don’t have a food processor either.  I’ll do a taste test one day to finally prove whether or not people can tell the difference…
  2. Use high heat and cook them fast! Like most thin meat products, it’s best to apply high and direct heat to your hamburger and cook it as fast as possible.  Leave the lid open, crank up the heat and don’t cook them too long or they will dry out.
  3. Be gentle with that meat! Most people really pack the patties tight and then flatten them down too much.  A loosely packed patty makes for a juicy hamburger!  If you pack your hamburger patties too tight, you run the risk of drying out the meat and making them tough.  The only thing I am going to recommend you do to that patty is make an indention, but we’ll talk about that in a bit…
  4. Don’t “squish”! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t EVER flatten or squish your burgers with a spatula while they are grilling.  You might as well pick it up with your hands and squeeze out all of the juices.  Why do people usually feel the need to do that?  Because the burgers usually inflate or bloat in the middle during grilling, we’ll talk about how to prevent that if you stick with me below…
  5. Flip only once! As meat cooks, the heat pushes the juices away from the heat source.  To achieve a juicy burger, you only want to flip the burgers once so that you don’t disrupt those juices any more than necessary.  Most people ask, how long do you cook hamburgers on a grill?  The short answer is “not too long” :).  The real answer varies, based on the grill and the thickness of the hamburger, but one thing that does hold true is only flip once!  We’ll answer the “how long” question in a bit, your meat will tell you when if you know what to look for.  But for now, resist the temptation to keep flipping, please!
  6. Don’t skimp on buns. Why would you go through all of this trouble to learn how to make a better burger and then serve them between some bad buns?  I like to go with french hamburger buns from my grocery store’s bakery.

So that is the very high level break down of the reasons why most people screw up a perfectly good hunk of ground beef.  Let’s walk through making the perfect hamburger step by step.

Directions for making the Perfect Hamburger

  1. Get the grill going.  Go ahead and light the grill and set it up for direct grilling over high heat.
  2. Divide your ground beef into equal portions, based on how many patties you are going to make.  You want to end up with about a tennis ball sized portion of ground beef.Grilling Hamburgers
  3. Now gently form each divided portion of ground beef into a tennis ball like shape.  Don’t overdue it, don’t squeeze it, just get it into shape.
  4. Once you have your ground beef balls, gently flatten each ball to make your patty.
  5. Now here is a secret.  You have probably experienced the “bloat” phenomenon I mentioned above that makes most inexperienced grill masters try to flatten that patty during grilling.  To lessen the bloat, simply use your thumb and create an indention in the middle of the patty before you put it on the grill.  It doesn’t have to be too dramatic, just a little indention like you see in the photo above.
  6. For seasoning, I also suggest that you don’t over-think this one.  Sure, there are many variations to the typical burger that will knock you off your lounge chair, but you’ve got to walk before you run!  Once you can cook a decent, simple burger, I give you permission to get crazy, but let’s master this basic burger first.  I personally think that adding onions or other veggies to your meat classifies as meatloaf, not hamburgers, but that’s just me (and besides, meatloaf is good as well!).  Keep it simple for now, a little Kosher salt, some fresh ground black pepper and perhaps a little garlic powder and you are good to go, just gently rub the seasoning into your patties.  Note that I can’t seem to resist filling depressions or voids in meats, so you will see some Worcestershire sauce in the indention in this photo, I give you permission to do that if you must :)…
  7. Ok, the fire is lit, your meat hasn’t been worked over too hard (other than a dent in the top) and you lightly seasoned your ground beef.  Carry those bad boys out and slide them onto the hottest part of the grill.  Our goal here is to sear the outside of the hamburger to form a great crust, while keeping the insides nice and juicy.  Take note of what time you put them on the grill so you can time this exercise.
  8. After about 5 or 6 minutes (again, it’s hard to say how long it will take to cook a hamburger on your grill, but you’ll know after a few attempts), you should start seeing juices starting to collecting on the top of your burger.  I like to call this burger sweat (doesn’t it look like it?).  This is a sure sign that the meat is cooking through in the middle, which pushes the juices to the top.grilling hamburgers
  9. Flip the burgers over and grill for 1 – 2 minutes shorter than the time it took to start seeing the juices (about 3 – 4 minutes should do the trick for medium, but again, it depends on the grill).  Not trying to scare you, but if you have seen any of the information on ground beef, you know that more than one cow went into making your burger meat.  Therefore, it is imperative that you cook the meat thoroughly (just in case).  The USDA recommends 160 degrees for all ground meat.  Don’t take a chance, use a good instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen (the best!) and check the USDA’s latest recommendations.  If you are an iPhone owner, check out our free MeatTemps app to look up the correct internal temps for meat.  If you are making cheeseburgers, now is the time to slap the cheese on and close the lid just long enough to melt the cheese.
  10. Remove the burgers from the grill and let them sit for about 5 minutes while you toast a few buns on the grill!

That’s it, that’s all you have to do to cook the perfect hamburgers on a grill.  Simple, juicy and delicious!   Again, your times will vary based on your grill and how you like your burgers.  One more thing I forgot to mention.  Most of the time we Americans eat hamburgers, it’s usually at a time that you aren’t really expecting good food.  Kid’s parties, get-togethers, tailgating, etc.  My point is, people probably won’t even notice the amount of effort you went through to perfect your burgers.   Relish (get it?) those little comments like “I wish my hamburgers were this good” and have pride that you know why there’s aren’t!

70 Responses

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Bryan Kennedy

08-06-2009

Do you have any reccomendations on how to keep burgers warm/hot (and juicy) for a long period of time.

We are having a 6 hour outdoor party (like an open house) and people will be coming and going throughout. If I cook all the burgers at say 6pm. Is there a way to keep them good for eating at 11pm?

Thanks

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admin

08-06-2009

Hey Bryan, great question! I would recommend putting 2 cups (or so, enough to at least cover the bottoms on the burgers) of beef broth in a crock pot and set it on the “warm” setting. Once each burger is cooked, place it in the “bath” and put the lid on the crock pot. When you are ready to serve, just pat them dry with a paper towel.

Good luck with the party!
Steve

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SC

04-12-2010

How do you feel about the old trick of mixing in an egg with the beef before forming the patties? Also, don’t be surprised to see this quote: “Always err on the side of rare because it is easy to throw the hamburgers back on the grill, but impossible to reverse beef jerky.” as my facebook status soon…

Thanks for the great site!

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Steve

04-12-2010

Hey SC. Presumably, people add the egg as a binding agent. I have never felt the need to add it and my burgers stay together just fine. If I add an egg, it’s probably because I am making meatloaf.

I’m still waiting for someone to say “not true, you CAN reverse jerky”.
Thanks for the compliment!
Steve

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Wesley

07-28-2010

I followed these directions very closely and my burgers went from novice attempts to easily better than I’ve had anywhere in my life. My wife pointed out one facet that I agree with would be a welcome change. The burgers are the tastiest, juiceist, tenderest we’ve ever had but when we eat them they’re just luke-warm, not hot. I guessed that possibly that was due to the refrigerated mustard, ketchup, pickles, etc that we sometimes add but dont think that’s entirely the problem. However since the burgers are done and done well, I am very hesitant to want to leave them on the grill longer for higher overall temp without burning them.

I’m cooking on high gas heat, with the lid open for roughly 5-6min flip 4-5min. I let the patties sit out on the counter (on a plate) for a good 20-30 minutes before cooking also.

Thank you very much, I love your site!

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TJ

09-06-2010

Thanks for the tip. I sometimes get dry burgers since I don’t grill too often.

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Robert

09-07-2010

Great article! I just followed your advice for a cookout and it turned out perfectly. Thank you!

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Carlos

03-03-2011

we are just starting a family burger business bar and grill and turned into a high volume in few weeks. need your advice to cook quantity in rush time without losing juices. great site, congrats.

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Steve

03-06-2011

Thanks for the question. I don’t think we are the experts in cooking in a restaurant setting. I think the same concepts apply here though.

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Tom

04-22-2011

Steve,
Thanks for the article. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up a bit more to try them. I do question the medium-rare to medium advise though. As someone who has gotten e-coli from undercooked ground beef, I will never eat another burger that is cooked any other way than well-done. E-coli sits only on the outside of meat, so a steak is fine when it is cooked rare or medium-rare. The high heat kills the e-coli on the outside. With ground beef, however, the e-coli that is on the outside is ground up and gets on the inside. If the meat is served any way but well-done, you and your guests will have a nasty case of food poisoning that can even result in death. Take it from someone who was incapacitated for 2 1/2 months from e-coli.
Tom

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TJ

06-06-2011

my aunt was grilling burgers and brats for memorial day weekend. she makes great portion patties and I turned her on to using 90/10. i showed her the whole “dimple” thing and she went bonkers. looked at me like I had two heads. she didnt understand why i was mashing my thumbs into the patties. when they didnt cook up back into tennis balls she just hugged me.

may I recommend my favorite seasoning for burgers….powdered ranch dressing packets. best thing ive found yet.

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Dari

07-01-2011

Do you leave the lid open or close it?

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Steve

07-01-2011

Open.

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Kay

07-04-2011

I get flames from the grease when I use anything less than 97% fat. How do you avoid that?

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Steve

07-04-2011

You can’t avoid flare-ups. Fat is flammable, obviously, so it is going to ignite when it drips and hits the flame. Some grills flare up more than others, but keeping the diffusers over the flames on gas grills helps. The key is to not give the grease anywhere to collect too long. If a flare up occurs, move the burgers off of the flame. Closing the grill to cut off the oxygen long enough to cut off the flame works as well.

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J.Todd

07-11-2011

Steve,
My family is a big fan of Shakeshack in NYC and all I can say is that they all said your burger recipe/grilling method turned out burgers even better than Shakeshack. Thanks for your simple tips. We chose top quality beef and just followed the simple kosher salt,black ground pepper and a little garlic powder recipe. And yes DON’T SQUISH AND ONLY FLIP ONCE!

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Leann

07-20-2011

Thanks so much!! I just had one of the best burgers I’ve ever made on my grill! I topped it with mayo, ketchup, and slices of dill pickle.. the meat turned out amazing! I mixed my beef with salt, pepper, a teaspoon of pickle juice, and Worcestershire sauce.. I followed your directions and it came out to perfection! Thanks again!

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Your Name

08-01-2011

How do you get the crossed grill marks as in your photo when you flip only once?

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Steve

08-01-2011

Just lift and turn with the spatula. Just for looks, obviously.

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Steve

08-01-2011

Dimple up first.

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Pam S.

08-01-2011

Thanks for this recipe and set of instructions! I’m a novice at grilling burgers, and the ones I prepared using these steps just turned so juicy and delicious! My husband was impressed.

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OR

08-03-2011

Hi Steve. I made my first burgers using your technique and they turned out great. They were juicy and the dimple made a world of difference. Thanks for sharing this. I think that I’ll be grilling up some more this weekend!

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Lindsey

08-06-2011

awesome tutorial! I am a housewife who likes to cook, but I make my husband do all the grilling. Tonight we got in a fight and I wanted to stick it to him and I marched outside and started grilling the burgers myself while googling how to cook burgers. Thanks goodness I found this site! My family says tonight’s burgers are the best we’ve ever had. I stuck it to him. Thank you.

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Brian

08-08-2011

Would pouring the leftover juices from making the patties into the dimple make the burger juicier

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Steve

08-08-2011

I doubt it. It would just run out when you flip the patty.

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Brian

08-09-2011

What is in the dimples in the picture embedded above

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Steve

08-09-2011

Worchestershire sauce, which I sometimes leave in there for 30 minutes or so as a quick marinade. I prefer just a plain burger most of the time though.

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Brian

08-09-2011

What is your opinion on burgers made from meats besides beef such as venison

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Steve

08-09-2011

I love venison and bison burgers. The only thing to watch out for is drying out from these more lean meats. Make sure there has been a fair amount of fat ground the the meat to make a juicy burger.

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Scott B

08-12-2011

Can’t wait till Saturday…Drinking and Smoking all Day and Grilling Burgers…Nice Site

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Mark

08-26-2011

Now that I’ve perfected my burgers (thanks’s to your site), my greatest challenge is the bun. Most just don’t work well. What do you recommend?

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Steve

08-26-2011

Ah, many choices in the bun department. I always try to get fresh buns from the bakery and I always toast them on the grill right after the burgers come off. If I want something a little more substantial, I go with fresh French rolls. Brioche and onion rolls are always good as well. Brioche gives you a nice buttery flavor and the onion rolls taste awesome once toasted.

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Lane

10-04-2011

I actually just looked onto this article because I was drying the patties out by not knowing how long to cook burgers — i have heard it is dangerous not to get them grey in the middle — is that true?
In any case, great comprehensive guide. My recipe for burgers is
1lb ground beef,
1tsp salt,
couple dashes each of black pepper, white pepper, and hot pepper,
1/4c red onion,
1 egg,
3/4c oats.
2-3tbsp real butter if using lean beef.
makes about 8 burgers.
I love this recipe and so do my friends, but is it a bad idea to use oatmeal? i use it to stretch the burgers farther, but does effect the quality/texture of the burger? i like them this way but maybe im ignorantly perpetuating my parent’s tendency to save a bit of money, what do you think?

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Steve

10-04-2011

Oats? Never heard of that, but if you like them, who cares? I personally don’t add anything to the meat. A little salt and pepper is all. Meatloaf exists for people that want to add stuff to ground beef.

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Karen

10-08-2011

I just started grilling and everyone LOVED my burgers, thanks. I now have you on my favorites.

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ALlady

02-03-2012

Great idea! I like the dimple and filling with worcestershire sauce way. Awesome!!!!! I am like you when it comes to the “meatloaf” burger, not really a fan of. But, a little good ole, pepper, worcestershire is always a nice addition, good! And I say ….”EEh save the onions for raw on top of burger. (my boyfriend always appreciates this, haha). But hey, I can eat about any burger, as long as it isn’t moooo-ing at me!!!!
I have always done the score (number sign #), on top of my burger, but totally gonna try your method next time! Well thanks a lot, and ” Happy Grilling”. ~)

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David

02-10-2012

Hey, just found this and I have to thank you for this article. It is a great read.

To toss my 2 cents in on the topic of buns, don’t be afraid to try out various options from a fresh bakery, my favorite hamburger bun so far is a fresh lightly toasted kaiser roll.

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Gator

02-10-2012

I am tired of being let down by local burgers, so I’ve decided to cook my own… but I’m not the most patient man when it comes to grilling. I found your page searching for “how to cook a burger” just to see what the internet has to say.

I had a good laugh and enjoyed your instructions as well as the follow-up comments. I will be making my own burgers (at least) once a week, so I will keep you posted on my progress. And if you have a meatloaf recipe, let me know!

Thanks for your work!

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Steve

02-11-2012

How about a planked and grilled meatloaf? http://www.grillingcompanion.com/grilled-meatloaf/

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Sam

03-25-2012

Good article but I disagree on the flipping once as I think it overcooks the outer meat. I always follow the Alan McGee/Heston Bleumenthal method where you flip every 15 seconds (article about it below) and its brilliant…
http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/entertainment/articles/2011-07/07/gq-food-barbecue-recipe-guide-barbeque-bbq-grill/the-burger-heston-blumenthal-fat-duck

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Steve

03-25-2012

Thanks Sam. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one :). I find that flipping that often at the beginning, often leaves behind a lot of burger meat. Instead, I DO want to create a charred crust or caramelization on my burgers. That technique’s goal is to avoid the caramelization crust, which I think it critical to a great tasting burger. But stick with what works for you. Thanks for the comment.
Steve

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Ron

04-06-2012

Do you allow your meat to rest (similar to steaks) after grilling. And if so…for how long?

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Steve

04-06-2012

Just long enough to make it onto the bun and into my belly :). In other words, no.

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M. Zala

04-19-2012

A quick question. If we are doing 4 burgers how much salt, black pepper and garlic shall i put?

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Steve

04-19-2012

Hi. No exact science for this one, but I would suggest a pinch or two of each on each side of the patties. Just want to sprinkle each surface to create a nice “crust” once the high direct heat from the grill sears the outside of the burger.
Good luck!
Steve

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Kevin Schoedinger

05-06-2012

Just read this today, and ended up cooking my best burgers yet. Thank you for the straightforward details… very appreciative.

Kevin from Lexington
Go Cards!

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Lauren

05-31-2012

Worked like a charm. Thank you!!

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Jami B

06-03-2012

I am an ok cook. My grilling is worse. My goal this summer has been to grill almost everything I cook so that I don’t have to use my oven. Thanks to you, I have just made the best burgers I have ever made in my life. Like you said, they were seared on the outside and juicy on the inside. I also toasted the buns on the grill like you recommended and they were tasty! Thanks for making me feel like a pro!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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John Peters

06-04-2012

Steve, have you written a book on “How to Grill Stuff?”

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Elliott Duziban

06-04-2012

Great tips Steve! Followed your tips carefully, especillay the time and temp on the grill. I did NOT press down on the burgers, flipped at 5 minutes and added cheese at the 7 minute mark and off at 9 minutes for the PERFECT medium burger. Still very moist and juicy!! Thanks for the great tips! I am now the master of the grill for burgers.

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Steve

06-04-2012

No. Should I?

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Mike

06-04-2012

This worked great! We use a tortilla warmer to hold the burgers right off the grill so they are steamy hot when ready to eat—this allows a little more time than your recommended 5 minutes if needed.

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Southern Griller

06-06-2012

I am trying this method today. I can cook fabulous Prime rib, baby backs, roasted turkey, and most every other meat dish on a grill….but have never been able to cook a decent burger. Thanks for the detailed and well written article. Will let you know how they turn out.

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Southern Griller

06-13-2012

Okay…I tried these. Greatest burger I have EVER cooked on a grill and I am old and have grilled much…delicious…

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Teddie

07-09-2012

I buy the beef, shape into patties (including the dimple) and freeze till ready to grill. Should I thaw prior to grilling or is it ok to throw em on frozen?

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Steve

07-10-2012

Definitely thaw first if you have the time. It is hard to control doneness when the middle is frozen.

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Nicole

07-16-2012

Hi,
I am throwing a party for my boyfriend’s birthday. A lot of family will be there. Can I make the patties a day ahead and leave in the fridge until I am ready to grill? Thanks :)

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Steve

07-16-2012

Hi Nicole. Sure. Just put the patties on a plate, cover the plate and patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready.
Steve

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Craig

07-18-2012

Hi,
Great article. I usually grill burgers, dogs and brats. Occasionally steaks or chicken. My dilemma is when should I leave the lid open or closed for these kinds of foods. I also use a gas grill for convenience. Thanks.

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H

07-18-2012

@Mark, here is a great bun recipe from the NYT as blogged about on another cooking blog…
http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/07/light-brioche-burger-buns/

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Adrian

08-21-2012

Great article! Explained a lot of the things that I haven’t seen well explained before, and right away we got the best burgers I have ever tasted! Thanks a million !

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ed

09-01-2012

I tried this out tonight. I usually grill w/ the lid closed, and wanted to try it open. It was a great improvement, but i’ve still got a little learning to do. thanks for the tips!

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jeff

09-02-2012

Any advice on “Stuffed” burgers? I bought a doo-hicky that makes an indention in the center for adding cheese or mushrooms etc. But they’re about a good inch and a half thick so I’m concerned about the center being cooked enough. (Not to rare).

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