How to Grill Burgers Like a Pro
Wondering how to grill burgers so they turn out full-flavored and juicy? We'll tell you how.
Grilled burgers are the perfect food for a quick-and-easy weeknight dinner with the family—and the perfect addition to any backyard barbecue. You might find yourself tempted to pick up a frozen package of burgers at the store to pull it off, but it turns out it’s easy making hamburgers from scratch. So put down those frozen patties, grab some fresh meat, fire up the grill and learn how to grill those burgers for the perfect meal.
The Best Ground Beef to Buy
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You can’t make a great grilled burger without tasty beef. Sure, you can dress-up ground beef with Worcestershire and garlic powder, but the seasonings aren’t the star of the burger: The beef is. So skip the bargain-bin and buy the best quality beef you can afford. That might be grass-fed beef if you prefer meatier, pastoral flavors, or grain-finished options if you like a sweeter, richer taste.
When it comes to fat content, you’ll also want to take a pass on lean offerings. The best-grilled burgers we’ve had are juicy and rich, and that comes from fat. Ground beef with 20 to 25% fat is just about perfect, so look for an 80/20 blend. More fat and the burger can fall apart. Less fat and the burger will turn out dry. If your butcher will grind beef to order, ask for a coarsely ground chuck roast, or a mixture of brisket and sirloin.
How to Form a Perfect Patty
The two most important rules of burger making are to keep the meat cold and avoid overworking it. It’s easy to violate both rules while forming patties, but it can be avoided with care and attention.
For starters, keep your beef in the refrigerator until the moment you’re ready to form the patties (and then again until you’re ready to grill). When you keep the fat as cold as possible, it will rapidly expand when it hits the heat of the grill, creating delicious flavor pockets inside the patty.
Start by wetting your hands with cold water to keep the meat from sticking to your warm hands. Then, cup the portioned beef in your hands to form a lightly-packed ball. Be careful not to overpack it, which can lead to a dense burger.
Then, press the ball down into a disk that’s roughly one-inch thick and just over three inches wide. You can use your thumbs to smooth out the edges. To form the patties like a restaurant chef, use a tool to create perfectly formed patties. You can press the beef down using the lid of a large sour cream container or a peanut butter jar lid lined with plastic wrap.
Before you pop the patties back into the refrigerator, press a small indentation into the center of the patty. Creating a dimple helps the patty cook more evenly on the grill. If you’re planning to cook the burgers inside on a skillet, make a doughnut hole in the center of the patty instead.
Using a Charcoal vs. Gas Grill
The charcoal vs gas grill debate is long and storied, and they both have their pros and cons. Gas grills heat up more quickly, and it’s easier to control the heat by turning a knob. On the downside, they tend to have hot spots, so you’ll need to move the burgers around the grill to make sure they all cook evenly.
A charcoal grill can infuse more smoky flavor into your burgers, but it takes longer to heat up and learning how to adjust the vents to increase or decrease the heat is a process.
In the end, any type of grill will make a delicious burger, so use the one you’re most comfortable with.
How to Grill Hamburgers
This recipe makes 4 burgers.
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- 1-1/3 pounds ground beef (80/20)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Optional seasonings, like Worcestershire, smoked paprika, garlic powder or onion powder
- 4 hamburger buns
- Optional toppings, like lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and pickles
Tools You’ll Need
- Electric Meat Grinder: If you’re really serious about your burger game, invest in a meat grinder. They’re not as expensive as you’d think, and there are even models that attach to your stand mixer. Grinding your meat at home allows you to control the size of the grind, as well as the cuts that go into your ground beef.
- Classic Super-Fast Thermapen: A thermometer is always helpful for checking the internal temperature of a burger.
- Stainless Steel Grill Tool Set: All you really need to grill a fantastic burger is a grill and a set of grilling tools. We recommend looking for a set that includes a long-handled spatula so you don’t have to expose your arms to the high heat of the grill as you flip the furthest burgers.
Step 1: Season the beef
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If you went all-in with high-quality beef, you don’t really need any of the optional seasonings listed above. Mixing the seasonings increases the risk of overworking the meat, but we understand if you want to infuse the burgers with some extra flavor.
If you choose to use them, place the seasonings and beef in a large bowl. Use your hands to lightly but thoroughly mix the seasonings into the beef, working as quickly as possible.
Editor’s Tip: Don’t salt the ground beef in advance. Salt pulls moisture out of the patty, making it denser and dryer than it should be. Instead, save the salt for later.
Step 2: Divide the beef
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Divide the beef evenly into four balls. Wet your hands with cold water and shape the beef into a 1-inch patty that’s roughly 3-1/2 inches wide. Don’t worry about packing the beef in too tightly. The patty needs just enough pressure to hold together. Using your thumb, create a tiny indentation in the center of the patty.
Once your patties are divided and formed, store them in the refrigerator until the grill is preheated. You want the beef to stay as cold as possible until it hits the grill.
Step 3: Season and grill the burgers
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Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-high heat, closing the lid while the grill is preheating. Be sure to clean the grill grates before adding the burgers to keep them from sticking.
Generously salt and pepper both sides of the burger patties. Place the burgers on the grill grates and cook, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes a side, depending on the desired level of doneness. If you’re adding cheese to make cheeseburgers, add the cheese in the last minute and cover the grill to help it melt.
Editor’s Tip: A digital thermometer is the best way to know the exact temperature of the burger. The USDA recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F (well done). If you grind your own meat, you may be able to safely cook your burgers to medium-rare or medium temperatures.
Grilled Burger FAQ
Should you press down on your burger while grilling?
No! Please, don’t make this common burger mistake. Pressing down on the patty with a spatula squeezes out all those tasty juices. We worked so hard to not overmix the beef and to keep the fat as cold as possible before we grilled the patties. Don’t let it go to waste by sacrificing the juices to speed up the cooking time.
How long should you grill burgers for?
The surest way to know when your burgers are finished cooking is to use a thermometer. That said, if you don’t have one or you don’t want to use one, you can time the burgers for a general idea of when they’ll finish cooking.
Here’s a guide for the cook time and temperature of one-inch-thick burger patties:
- Medium-rare (warm, red center): 6 minutes, or 130 to 135°
- Medium (warm, pink center): 7 to 8 minutes, or 140 to 145°
- Medium-well (hot, slightly pink center): 9 minutes, or 150 to 155°
- Well done (brown all the way through): 10 minutes, or 160 to 165°
Should you let burgers rest after grilling?
For the juiciest burger, let the patties rest for at least five minutes before serving. The meat experiences carryover cooking during this time, where the internal temperature can rise as much as five degrees. If you’re worried about the burgers cooling off, feel free to tent a piece of aluminum foil over the top to keep the heat in.
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Burger Topping Ideas
I’m a burger purist, so my favorite burger is very simple: A toasted potato bun coated with a thin layer of mayonnaise and topped with an American-cheesed patty, ketchup and pickles. That’s it!
Piling on the toppings can compete with the flavor of the beef, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. Don’t be afraid to add fun burger toppings like avocado and an egg, barbecue sauce and fried onions, green chiles and cream cheese or corn and blue cheese.
If you want to keep the juicy burger from sogging out the bun, we recommend spreading mayonnaise on the bottom bun as a protective layer.
When it comes to topping placement, I prefer to put the toppings on top of the burger patty. The heat of the patty will wilt delicate lettuce and tomatoes if they’re underneath, and placing the toppings on the bottom bun can also increase the chances that the burger will slide out as you eat it.
Tips for Storage
Once the burgers are cooked, they’ll last three to four days in the refrigerator. You can reheat them in a covered skillet with a little water to steam the burgers back to life, but they will definitely be on the well-done side if they weren’t already.
The raw ground beef only lasts one to two days in the fridge, so we recommend freezing any patties that were left uncooked (assuming they were stored in the refrigerator and not left out by the side of the grill). Frozen, uncooked burger patties can be separated by a piece of parchment and stored in an airtight container for up to four months.