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.
The experience level to tell you how long to grill burgers should be your ultimate goal. 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. People are so afraid to undercook burgers that they err on the overdone side and that’s a sure way to ruin that burger. 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.
The Tips for the Best 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.
- 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. If you want to get really serious, invest in a meat grinder and then tell me how you convinced your wife so I can follow your lead. 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…
- 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.
- 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! Otherwise you run the risk of drying out the meat and making them tough. The only thing I am going to recommend is to make an indention in the patty. But we’ll talk about that in a bit…
- 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…
- 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!
- 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.
That is the very high level break down of why most people screw up a perfectly good hunk of ground beef. Let’s walk through making the perfect hamburger step by step.
Tips on How to Cook Perfect Hamburgers on a Grill
- 2 pounds ground chuck not ground beef
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder optional
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce optional
- Get the grill going. Go ahead and light the grill and set it up for direct grilling over high heat.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once you have your ground beef balls, gently flatten each ball to make your patty.
- 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.
- 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 :)...
- 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.
How Long To Grill Hamburgers
- After about 5 or 6 minutes, or until you see juices start to collect on top of the patty. 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. In addition, you will see the edges start to brown. Once the juices and browning show up, flip the burgers and grill an additional 3 minutes on the other side. Times depend on heat of the grill, so wait for the juices to tell you how long.
- As for our disclaimer, the USDA recommends 160 degrees for all ground beef. Don't take a chance, use a good instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen (the best!) and check the USDA's latest recommendations and our handy meat temperatures chart. 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.
- 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. But when you are centering your tailgate sign up around this protein, put your best foot forward. So relish (get it?) those little comments like “I wish my hamburgers were this good”. And have pride that you know why theirs aren’t!
Ashley Hoff says
great advice. Any suggestion for the inevitable flare ups?
Mary Richter says
I have now officially taken over the grill in our family! Wonderful tips and all spot on!
adam berg says
great advice! The invention in the burger works exactly as you said. Even threw in a little war Shire sauce for myself just because you said to do so. Works really good and they came out great.
Debby Tracy says
This recipe and tips were the very thing I was looking for. From the type of ground beef, to the thumb print. This simple recipe is great, and I had great success!! Thanks for sharing!!
Debby Tracy says
I love this basic recipe, from the type of ground beef, to the thumb print, to the thumbprint in the patty, and only flipping the burger once. The cooking time on each side was just perfect!! Thanks for making me look good!! 😀
Wallace kosonski says
Excellent hamburgers. Thank you
Shawn baconbutt says
I thank you, I added baconbutt
Awesome… I had it all wrong, and now I know this IS the way 🙂
This past summer I decided to give bbqing a try. I had prepped the food, but never did the grilling. I wanted to know the secrets of grilling and found this recipe. I followed it closely and made the best homemade burgers I’ve ever had. And my boyfriend was blown away and now brags up my burgers (which is always good for the self-esteem). 🙂
Wow! I was taught to put egg and bread crumbs in my burgers to hold them together 🙁 never again! This is a great burger!
Perfect burgers every time! Thank you!
Gary Harrison says
Just tried this, they came out perfect. No more guessing. Oh and I was a patty smasher . I’m cured now.
Jerre Peak says
One question…..you say to make an indention into the center of the hamburger (which I’ve always done), but…..those 4 hamburgers on the plate all have a complete hole in the center about the size of a quarter to half dollar. Why the complete hole in them ?
Julianne Chatiri says
Great instructions. Except-what’s your tip on how to handle flare-ups within 2minutes of placing burgers on the direct high heat?
Wow this is definitely the secret, I had things all wrong for years. Burgers come out perfect every time. The key is looking for that “sweat” at the top, the burger tells you when to flip it. Now when I bite into them they are nice and juicy on the inside, not dry at all.
I’ve been wanting to know the correct way. I’m 63 yrs old and have cooked tons of burgers, apparently the wrong wsy. ? I’d heard about the thumb print and I’m going to try out no covering the grill why they are cooking. I always thought they would cook faster. Thank you so much for the helpful tips.
Shawn butterman says
I would just like to say to please add margarine to the buns. I like shiny buttered buns on my burgers. Also marinate the burgers with sassafras oil.
I’m cooking (grilling burgers brats and chicken drum sticks) for the company picnic next week. I’ll be using two Weber grills and a cheap grill I bought at Wal-Mart.
Feeding 30+ people. Actually looking forward to it.
Your tips on grilled burgers will be put to the test.
I agree that fatty ground beef makes the best burger and don’t over cook.
The chicken legs will take longer…about 45 minutes at least.
are you supposed to season the patties individually with the spices or you put all the seasoning in the meat and mix it up before you shape them? i would assume 2 table spoons of sea salt would make one patty too salty
Great tips!!!!! I usually throw a little garlic powder and Italian seasoning on the burger after I flip it the once and only time!!! Makes for a great taste if you portion it correctly 🙂
The Hamburgers came out great. Nice and most and tasty….EXCEPT…they were too salty. Is 2 TBSNS of salt right? Anyway, next time I will adjust. Thanks for the tips!
Mary Ella says
Thank you for all your guidance on the hamburger grilling. After years of my husband delivering up dried out burgers on our gas grill, I asked and received a charcoal grill after watching our 12 year old grandson grill in a 4-H competition . He inspired me to try it and you have given me great tips. We just ate my second attempt, first ones failed, so what do you do when you’re in a pinch? You google! Thanks again , my hamburgers were delicious ??
By he way, I’m 61, so old dogs can learn new tricks.
I do not mix the salt and pepper into the meat, I just season both sides.Yeah, not two tablespoons per patty, just sprinkle the patty.
If you want your wife to hand grind meat then she must LOVE to cook first. My husband convinced me by telling me how great my food is but he wished the store would do a better job grinding it. He insisted the stores kept making my pattys too lean and that he bet I could do a better job. I heard this so much I told him to buy the grinder and we will see if it’s true.
By the way it was true, much better meatloafs and burgers from the hand grinder.
Use a 50 50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle for flare ups.
Rick K. says
Awesome results! Funny thing, a few of the tips I learned at Jack In The Box in 1969 (don’t flatten with the spatch, flip once) while in high school. Like it says (said?) in the Jack Manual, “A dry burger is a bad burger.” All this time later I got the details necessary to grill a terrific burger. A new infrared grill didn’t hurt.
Great recipe. I didn’t worry about the flare ups. I had flame dancing all over those babies. After I flipped them, I let them go for another couple minutes, then cheesed, then closed the lid and killed the gas. Not a burnt flavor whatsoever
I asked at the grocery store ,if they had “Ground Chuck” and the (kid) behind the counter looked at me and asked what ground chuck was. I am serious. he said they didn’t have any.
Tom O says
1st attempt worked great! I make 1/3lb patties. Use to make tow 1/6 patties put a small tab of butter between them put them together to keep them juicy. Far easier this way. Thanks!!
Lynn s says
Burgers are awesome. I wanted to tell you I bought a meat grinder attachment for my kitchen aid mixer. Best buy ever. I buy boneless skinless chicken breast and grind it up. The best chicken burger ever. Great for tacos, meatloaf, spaghetti etc. I save more than three dollars a pound by grinding my own chicke.
This is the best “basic burger” guide I’ve seen yet. I followed your tips last summer on our gas grill, and the burgers were fantastic. I came looking for this page again this year and I’m so glad I found it!