Here’s How to Grill the Perfect Burgers
Seasoned and shaped just right, grilled to perfection, and topped with a big ol' pile of crunchy potato chips, these burgers will make your weekend. Follow our simple tips for awesome results every time.
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Above: Grilled Hamburgers with Crunchy Potato Chips. Article and recipe by David Bonom. Photos by Brittany Conerly.
Who doesn’t love a perfectly grilled burger in the summertime, or anytime for that matter? But too often, reality can fall a little short. Like many of you I’ve seen burger disasters galore — beef burgers with charred outsides and raw centers, the cooked-to-sawdust burger, the way-too-big-for-the-bun burger, the “why-the-heck-is-this-round burger” (you know, the ones that puffed up on the grill), the mystery-meat burger (so over-seasoned no one knows what meat it’s made of) and many other burger abominations. And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve made a few of these myself over the years.
I’ve read many articles and cookbooks that talk about the ways to get a burger right, but most of them are not simple. For example:
• Add butter to your ground meat to make it extra moist. (Unnecessary step for a so-so result.)
• Grind your own meat. (Nice suggestion, but who has the time? Not me.)
• Make the perfect blend — ground chuck, brisket, short rib, etc. (Another good suggestion, but I’m just buying some ground beef at the supermarket on my way home.)
Those are just a few of the many ideas I’ve seen, but I don’t want to work that hard for a great burger. If you are like me you want simple techniques that don’t take a lot of time and give you guaranteed great results every time. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on for my easy, tried-and-true tips for grilling amazing burgers — with my crunchy potato chip burger recipe for perfecting your techniques.
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Tips for making the perfect burger
Let’s start with some tips for making the burgers themselves.
1. Get 85% lean ground beef
You don’t need fancy blends to get great results. What you want is ground beef that is not too lean or too fatty. I prefer ground chuck that is labeled as 85% lean ground beef. This level of fat content in your beef is enough to help you get a moist burger as well as great flavor.
It’s also important to buy meat that is labeled “ground beef” rather than “ground hamburger.” Ground hamburger can contain beef of lesser quality (think scraps) and is usually compressed, which means you will end up with a meatloaf or meatball texture instead of the tender texture of a great burger. By law, meat labeled ground beef cannot contain scraps or any lesser-quality ingredients.
2. Season, season, season, but don’t overwork the meat
For years I seasoned my burgers only on the outside to avoid overworking the meat. The burgers were good but the flavor in the center needed some seasoning. Now, at the bare minimum I use salt and pepper, but I learned that adding a wet ingredient such as a little mustard or Worcestershire gives an excellent flavor boost plus the bonus of moisture!
To mix it all up without compressing the meat, simply use your fingertips to gently mix the meat and distribute the seasonings. It might take you once or twice to get used to mixing this way.
3. Shape 1-inch-thick burger patties
Divide the meat mixture into equal portions. You can eyeball it or use a scale like I do so that each burger ends up the same size. Form each portion of meat into a loosely shaped ball and gently flatten it between your palms to a 1-inch thickness. This is just the right thickness to give you a nice exterior crust while your burger cooks to a juicy medium doneness.
Your patties should be 4 inches in diameter. If the edges of your burgers have cracks, gently pinch the meat with your fingers to close them.
4. Dimple the patties in the middle
To keep your burgers from puffing up when they cook, dimple them! This is such a simple step, but many novice and even experienced cooks forget to do it. Most of the time burgers puff in the center when they cook. Round burgers make for awkward eating with messy toppings sliding all over the place.
The simple solution is to make a dimple with your thumb or the back of a spoon in the center of each burger before it goes on the grill. You don’t need to make a deep indentation — just a shallow depression that’s about 1/4 inch deep and 1 1/2 inches wide will do. As the burgers cook, they will flatten out and you’ll end up with a level burger that is easy to add toppings to.
Tips for cooking burgers on the grill
OK, so we’ve had all this buildup with choosing, handling, seasoning, and forming, but I’m hungry, so let’s go! Now that your patties are shaped, let’s move on to how to cook burgers on the grill. This part is easier than you might think, and this advice holds true whether you’re grilling on a charcoal grill, gas grill, or pellet grill.
1. Clean those grill grates
If you want to keep burgers from sticking and don’t want to risk losing that great crust as you sear the meat, be sure to start with a clean cooking grate. Just preheat the grill, then use a wire grill brush to scrape away any food that was stuck on from your last cooking session. The clean grate will make it easier for the burgers to release when you flip them or remove them.
2. Heat the grill to medium-high (400° to 500°F)
The grill temp for burgers is another piece of the puzzle. You want a medium-high grill (400° to 500°F) and you are going to cook over direct heat (right over the heat source).
3. The best way to grill burgers
Place the burgers on the cooking grates and immediately close the lid. This step is super important because it does three things. First, it helps bring the grill back to temperature and maintain it. Second, it makes the grill act a bit like an oven so you get a more even heat on your burger. Third, it helps control flareups because there is less available oxygen — this is not to say flareups won’t happen, but they’ll be less likely.
Now that your burgers are on the bbq, cook them, flipping them once.
4. How long to cook burgers on the grill
At 400° to 500°F, burgers need a cook time of 8 to 10 minutes to reach medium doneness, with an internal temperature of 145°F as measured on an instant-read thermometer or meat thermometer. If you’re going for medium-rare, cook a few minutes less, to 135°F.
More grilled burger Q&A
Let’s keep going here, just in case you have more questions.
1. Can I use 80% or 93% lean ground beef?
Of course, if that’s what you prefer, but you will have slightly different results than the recipe I’m sharing below, made with 85% lean. With 80% ground beef you’ll have slightly more juicy burgers but you will have more shrinkage. With 93% lean ground beef you will have less shrinkage but the burgers will be drier.
2. Should I smash the burgers while they grill?
No! No! No! Never press or smash your burgers on the grill with your spatula. Pressing your burgers helps push all those great juices out of the meat and onto the flames, which will cause flareups for sure. You’ll end up with dry, charred burgers, and who wants that?
3. To cheese or not to cheese?
This is strictly a matter of preference. I am one for a cheeseburger but I know many who aren’t, and that’s A-OK. If you are for cheese, sliced cheese (either pre-sliced or sliced at the deli) is the easiest to work with. Add it to your burgers during the last minute, which is ample time for it to melt.
4. Does the type of bun matter?
Yes and no. I prefer soft-style hamburger buns, such as potato or brioche, rather than crusty burger buns. I find that crustier rolls detract from the texture of the burger, and if I have to squeeze or bite too hard, I lose a lot of the juice. However, if you have a favorite bun, by all means go for it. And if you like toasted buns, that’s easy to do on the grill.
Get the potato chip grilled hamburger recipe
I love this burger for several reasons. First, it’s a simple burger with a lot of flavor that takes very little work. (We’re talking a total time of 25 minutes.)
It literally follows the step-by-step tips for making the perfect grilled burger. I added seasonings both wet (Worcestershire sauce) and dry (garlic powder, salt, and black pepper) to my ground beef and gently formed my burger patties. I dimpled them and grilled them for 8 to 10 minutes over direct medium heat and ended up with a crunchy exterior and a juicy, perfectly cooked interior.
To take my burger to the next level I’ve added some extra crunch with a stack of potato chips along with pickle chips and a little ketchup. I also chose to add some cheddar cheese on top of the burger, but you can skip it if you prefer.
The best part is pressing down on the bun to crush the chips — necessary so you can take a big bite. Happy grilling!
You're on a roll! (Or make that a bun.) Keep reading for more of our best burger tips and recipes, including turkey burgers, bbq sauces, and other homemade condiments.