Use quality meat with some modicum of fat.
The premise is simple: the lower the percentage of fat, the drier the burger. Sure, lean hamburger is wonderful for taco meat and tomato-based meat sauce. However, doing away with all the fat in your burger will land you with a crumbly patty that doesn’t want to hold together on the grill.
Aim for an 84% lean instead. This will give you just a bit extra fat to help stabilize the meat and drip off while you grill, adding moisture to the outer layer as you wait for the right amount of doneness on the inside.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a cookout where some poorly pressed burgers come off the grill resembling something closer to meatballs. Take some time to pat them right. Use your buns as a guide, and gently press the patty out to be about 10% larger than the diameter of the bun. Keep them even and flat throughout, this will ensure that you end up with a consistent finished product that will fit your bun perfectly after it shrinks down on the grill.
Don’t smash it.
Yes, I know they do it in the movies. Flip the burger, and press it hard with the metal spatula until it sizzles like frying bacon. You know what that noise is? It’s the sound of flavor leaving the party early to go home and do the laundry; lame. Treat the patties with care and in turn they’ll bring all their flavor to the plate with them.
Don’t flip out.
Copious flipping is great if you’re a gymnast, brutal if you’re a meat patty. The best burgers are made with only one flip. This may take a bit of practice, but if you know your grill, it can be mastered. Take the temp up to about 450 degrees, quickly lay on the patties, close the lid and walk away. After about 4-5 minutes (time may need adjusting depending on the thickness of your burger) come back and flip, continue to grill them another 3-4 minutes, add the cheese, turn the grill down (if you’re cooking with gas) and go for another 3 minutes.
It takes two. (Three’s a crowd.)
High quality meat, buns, and fixings will go a long way in the flavor department so avoid the store bought spice mixes and rubs. A great burger only needs coarse kosher salt, and fresh ground (medium to coarse) black pepper. I like to mix them both in a pinch bowl in equal parts and bring it out to the grill when I light it. Season liberally when you first put the patties on, and again after the flip. The nineties called, they want their lemon pepper back.
Start with the best buns.
Don’t laugh, but buns are important. For years I have been agonizing over the lack of perfectly perfect buns on which to place the expertly grilled and hand-pressed patties and falling up short. Buns matter. In fact, they are the second most important part of this burger building venture.
The particular type of bun can differ, which is where this can get difficult. On the basic level, however, I have a picture in my head, browned and glistening on top that gives when you bite it so that the fillings can shine through. They should be substantial enough to hold up to the burger and toppings, but they should not be the main event. They are a vessel. Grab our recipe for homemade hamburger buns.
Pro tip – toast is most.
A toasted bun will always, ALWAYS, elevate this dish. Use the time before the first flip to slice and butter the buns. After the flip, sneak the buns onto the grill in a spot where the heat is a little lower. Pull them off when it’s time for cheese and dress them as you like.
When you add the cheese, it’s time to bun up. Grab a plate and prepare your bun, burgers are best served straight off the grill. If you’re not quite ready, you can plate them and make a foil tent for them to camp out in while you finish up, but the freshest burgers skip the campground.
Follow these tips for a seriously tasty sandwich. There are tons of ways to get creative – change the bread, mix up the cheese, put out some weird toppings. The most important part is to start with a good foundation and the fruits of your labor will come back to you in droves.