Attention to a few details will transform your burgers from good-enough to spectacular. Even if you decide not to use all ten of these tips, any one of them will up your burger performance, so employ as many as you like.
Start With the Right Meat
For juicy burgers, get ground chuck with a fat content of at least 18%. Lean and extra-lean meats make tough, dry burgers. (This tip is true for turkey burgers or lamb burgers, too—look for grinds with around 18% fat.) It’s all about finding the best meat for burgers.
The more freshly ground the meat is, the more tender and flavorful the burger. If your store has on-site butchers, ask them to grind the meat fresh for you.
For the absolute freshest grind, of course, you need to grind your own. You can do this with a home grinder or in a food processor. Cut the meat into chunks, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, and grind or pulse until ground. For the best grind, put it through a coarse grind disk twice (seriously, this leads to the best grind possible!).
Don’t Overwork the Meat
When making the perfect hamburger patty, remember—the more you handle the meat, the tougher your burger will be. In a large bowl, pull the meat apart into small chunks, add salt or other seasonings, and toss gently with fingers spread apart until loosely mixed.
Use Wet Hands to Form Burger Patties
A bit of dampness at the start will keep your hands from getting sticky. It also allows the meat to come together faster and prevents over-handling.
Make Burger Patties With a Dimple in the Center
Divide the meat into equal portions and form patties about 3/4-inch thick at the edges and 1/2-inch thick in the center. Since burgers shrink and pull in as they cook, this dimple will even out as the burgers cook, resulting in an even patty-shaped burger at the end.
Keep Burgers Cold Until They Hit the Grill
Unlike other meats that will cook up better if brought to room temperature before hitting the grill, you want those patties cold so they stay together and stay as juicy as possible. Put the patties on a tray or platter, covered, in the fridge while the grill heats up. This helps more of the flavor-carrying fat stay in the meat.
Start With a Clean Cooking Grate
Bits of debris encourage sticking, as does an un-oiled surface and too low a temperature. You want your burgers to sizzle immediately, firm up quickly, and release from the grill.
Use a Hot Grill
Keep the grill at a steady high heat (you can hold your hand 1 to 2 inches above grill level for 2 to 3 seconds). If using charcoal, you want ash-covered coals to produce even heat. With a gas grill, keep the lid down while cooking; with a charcoal grill, leave the lid off.
Flip the Burgers Once and Only Once
Constant turning will toughen and dry out the meat, and if you flip too soon, burgers will stick. Cook two minutes per side for rare, three minutes for medium-rare, four minutes for medium, and five minutes for well-done.
Don’t Press Burgers While Cooking
This is an all too common mistake in burger grilling. It’s also one that’s heartbreaking to witness. When the cook takes a spatula and presses down on each burger, the juice just pours out onto the flame, taking all that moistness and flavor with it. Let your burgers hold onto their natural juiciness and just let them cook in peace!
(One exception: if you’re purposefully making “smash” burgers where you put the patty on a very hot griddle and smash it flatter in one fell swoop. This doesn’t work well on a grill, for obvious reasons.)
Let Burgers Rest
Resting allows burgers, like all meat, to finish cooking and allows their juices, which have collected on the surface during grilling, to redistribute throughout the patty for maximum juiciness. Since burgers are generally somewhat small (compared to giant roasts), just 10 minutes will do it.