10 tips to help you shape and grill burgers to perfection

Adam Liaw's easy cheeseburgers.
Adam Liaw's easy cheeseburgers. Photo: William Meppem

What's so hard about shaping some ground meat into a patty and cooking it?

Meat experts, cookbook authors and chefs say plenty.

Burgers like high heat when being grilled
Burgers like high heat when being grilled Photo: Rebecca Hallas

We use the wrong grind of beef. We handle the meat and shape them wrong. We cook them wrong.

People need to realise burgers need fat, says butcher Bill Hoemke at Royal Oak, Mich.'s Hollywood Market. That's why he and most experts strongly recommend ground chuck that's 80 per cent lean and 20 per cent fat.

"That fat gives you the most flavourful burger," Hoemke said. Other leaner options, he said, are [minced] beef that is labelled 85 per cent lean and 15 per cent fat or ground sirloin, which is 90 per cent lean and 10 per cent fat.

"With those leaner grinds the burgers will be drier," he said.

In Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius, author Jamie Purviance writes that the mince shouldn't be overworked.

"Super-squashed, packed-down patties lack the minuscule air bubbles necessary for creating food burger texture and collecting the sublime melting fat and juices," he writes.

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Burgers need to be meaty and mighty. We want flavourful and seasoned blends to pair with flavourful toppings.

Speaking of toppings, cheese is the most popular topping for a burger. It's followed by lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle according to nationaltoday.com.

And when it comes to cheeses, Americans love American cheese on a burger. But cheddar is a close second followed by Swiss, pepper jack and provolone.

And so, here's our guide to grilling burgers to perfection.

What kind of beef should I use?

Choose beef with fat in it. Most cookbooks and burger aficionados say the ideal choice is beef chuck with 20 per cent fat. You can go somewhat leaner, say 15 per cent fat. Any leaner be sure to add some moisture like Worcestershire sauce or wine to prevent the burger from drying out. And if you can, grind your beef yourself.

How do I grind my own meat if I don't have a meat mincer? 

You can come close using a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Choose the cut of meat you want – chuck, round, brisket, short rib, sirloin – and make sure it's super cold. Cut it into 2.5cm pieces. Add to the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to get chop into smaller pieces. Don't process it too much or the meat will get mushy.

How should I mix the ground meat? 

Make sure it's cold and always mix the meat gently so it just comes together. Do not over mix. If you over mix the meat (the same holds true when you make meatballs and meatloaf) the meat will be more compact and not as tender.

Should I season the ground meat? 

You can, but don't let the seasoned meat sit too long. According to Weber's Purviance, allow one teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon ground black pepper for each 700 grams of minced beef. You can mix it in the meat or sprinkle on the outside of the formed patties. If you do the latter, Purviance advises to refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes or less to allow the seasoning to distribute. If you let it sit longer the salt will draw moisture out of the meat, he writes.

What's an ideal amount of beef to use for each burger? 

Plan on a burger that is 200 grams before cooking. Use a scale if you have one make sure burgers are all an equal size. That 200-gram burger is an ample size for serving as your main dish. But you can make them any size.

What's the best size shape for a burger?  

You want to match the size of the patty with the bun. Figure there will be shrinkage, so shape the patty about one centimetre larger than the bun. Generally, a 10 centimetre in diameter patty, with a dimple in the centre that is at least one centimetre thick will suffice.

Why should I make a dimple in the centre of the formed patty?  

If you don't do this, the burgers will end up more of a round shape and puff up like a tennis ball. The burgers won't fit the bun and you end up with a top bun that slides off. That also means that you'll be eating more bun than burger with each bite.

How do you make the dimple?  

This is easy and not to be skipped. Once the patty is formed, use the back of a soup spoon or teaspoon or your thumb to make an indentation in the centre of the patty. When the burgers cook, the indentation slowly rise and you get a nice, flat even top.

What's the best way to grill?  

Burgers like high heat. This helps form that exterior crust. Cook them on the non-dimpled side first over direct heat. Once a crust develops, flip them over and cook on the other side. Do not press down on the burger. When you do this, you're beating up that poor burger and pressing all the juices out.

How long should burgers be grilled? 

That depends on how you like them done. The NSW Food Authority recommends that in order to reduce the potential for foodborne illness, minced meat should be cooked right through to the centre. No pink should be visible and juices should run clear. Some guidelines suggest cooking hamburgers until the thermometer reads at least 71C internal temperature. To ensure your meat is free from harmful bacteria, it is important that a clean and sanitised thermometer is used and placed in the thickest portion of the meat to check the temperature of the food.

TNS