Get ready to fire up the grill and impress your guests with perfectly grilled burgers. From lighting the coals to adding the last slice of cheese, our expert guide will lead you through how to grill delicious burgers. Your backyard BBQ just got a whole lot tastier.
Grilling burgers is as quintessential to summer as fireworks, baseball and beach vacations. You may love the crust you get with cast iron on an amazing burger, but there’s something about a flame-kissed patty that makes mouths water. Whether you’re hosting a backyard cookout or just whipping up dinner, there is nothing quite like a juicy burger from the grill. And here’s how to master that.
Choose the meat
When it comes to great burger recipes, choosing the right ground meat is the key. Look for high-quality ground beef but don’t skimp on the fat. A fat content of 20 percent or higher (marked as an 80/20 blend) is essential. This will ensure that your burgers stay juicy and are loaded with flavor when flame-kissed on the grill.
The same goes for different types of meat, like ground turkey, chicken or even lamb. When choosing a white meat for burgers, opt for the darker grind — think chicken thighs and legs versus breast. Whether grinding your own hamburger meat or using store-bought, be sure to add a little fat into the ratio if you suspect it to be leaner than 80% so that things can stand up to the heat.
Wild game meats have become popular as of late such as venison, elk and bison. With their lower fat content, it’s important to add some fat to the ground mixture when forming the burgers so they stay juicy. Check out this elk burger recipe for the best way to do that.
This applies to seafood burgers and veggie burgers as well. Salmon is a good choice for seafood burgers because of its higher fat content. For veggie burgers, beans can be helpful in adding fat.
“When grilling up burgers, don’t just get creative with your toppings. Experiment with different meat blends. Ground beef is usually made with ground chuck, but you can ask your butcher to grind up any cut of beef. Mix in ground short ribs, ribeye or brisket for added richness and juiciness.“— Christie Vanover, champion pitmaster of GirlscanGrill.com
Make the patties
Once you have the ground beef, it’s time to make the patties. A tip here is to work with a gentle hand. Divide the meat into even portions and then gently form each into patties. It is crucial not to overwork the meat, as it can make tough burgers.
Skip any add-ins like over the top seasonings or breadcrumbs and eggs — it’s not meatloaf! Burgers are best with just salt and pepper.
Season the outside of the patties with a hint of salt and black pepper if desired then allow them to chill in the refrigerator to firm up while you prepare the grill.
*Pro tip — Chilling is a step to never skip as it helps the burgers from falling apart when transferred to the grill.
It’s important to not incorporate the salt inside of the burger but rather sprinkle it on the meat after the patties have been formed. Adding salt to ground beef prematurely can make it tough.
You can also freeze the individual patties at this point and store them in the freezer for up to three months. Par-freeze them first on a parchment-lined baking sheet before stacking them with sheets of wax or parchment paper in between each.
Prep the grill
When you’re ready to grill the burgers, be sure to give yourself enough time to prep the grill so it’s ready. Cooking over a grill that isn’t ready can ruin your burger. Allow for about 30 minutes for the grill to prep and preheat it. Get more tips in this charcoal grilling guide.
Always start with a clean grill for the best results.
Prepping a charcoal grill
Use a charcoal chimney for the easiest way to ignite charcoal with no lighter fluid. Then prepare the grill for a two-zone fire by stacking your lit charcoal to one side of the grill.
Prepping a gas grill
If you’re cooking on a gas grill, set up the grill by igniting two or three burners to create a cooler zone and a hotter zone.
Prepping a pellet grill
For a pellet grill, set up your grill for the sear setting. Make sure your hopper is filled with pellets so there is no chance of it running out while you’re grilling the burgers.
An indirect heating set up like this is similar to what you would use when reverse searing. Steaks like tri tip can be reversed seared on a grill using indirect heat or in the oven at a low temperature.
With any grill, close the lid and allow the grill to preheat for 15 minutes before cooking anything. And, if you’re using a griddle, make sure your Blackstone grill is cleaned and ready to go by oiling the surface and preheating as well.
Cook the burgers
When the grill is preheated, it’s time to cook the burgers!
Unlike smoked hamburgers, traditional burgers are cooked hot and fast for that signature char-grilled flavor. Place the burgers over the hot side of the grill, and cook them for about four to five minutes on each side, flipping once for even cooking. Don’t touch the patties other than flipping them halfway through cooking. This will result in meat sticking to the grill and an unsightly burger.
If you’re cooking frozen burger patties, you may need to cook them longer, about 15 to 20 minutes, for them to be cooked completely through. According to the USDA, burgers should be cooked to 160 F.
That said, if you like your burger rare to medium-rare you’ll want to reduce the cooking time.
How long to grill burgers
- Medium-rare: 6–7 minutes total
- Medium: 7–8 minutes total
- Medium-well: 9 minutes total
- Well-done: 10 minutes total
Cooking times are approximate and will vary depending on the thickness of the burger. The surest way to gauge the burger’s readiness is to use an instant read digital thermometer to check the internal temperature.
If flare-ups occur, carefully transfer the burgers to the indirect heat side, or the cooler side of the grill with a long spatula.
Time the burgers so you can add the cheese for the last minute to melt while toasting the buns.
Assemble the burgers
Once your burgers are cooked to perfection, it’s time to assemble them. Start by toasting your buns on the grill, this will help the sauce or condiment not to soak through the fresh bun. Then pile on your burger patty and any toppings you desire.
Classic burger toppings include:
- pickles — make your own with this easy refrigerator pickle recipe
*Pro tip — Learn how to quick pickle any vegetable or fruit to expand your culinary repertoire for burgers and beyond!
The special burger sauce used in these burger bowls is also great to slather on a toasted bun to take any burger experience to the next level.
Burgers are best served fresh off the grill. Have all of your side dishes ready to go so there’s no delay for your hungry family or friends.
Tips for success
Take your burgers to the next level with these simple tips.
- Be sure to shape the patties slightly larger than the buns, as they will shrink a little when cooking. Using your thumb to create a small indent in the middle of the patty can help it from shrinking up too much when cooking.
- Don’t press down on your burgers while grilling them. It can cause the juices to be squeezed out of the patties, drying them out.
- Add flavor to your burgers by using wood chips. To add wood chips to a charcoal grill, place the chips directly on the coals. Wait until the flames have died down before adding your burgers to avoid additional flare-ups. For a gas grill, use a smoker box of foil packets when smoking on a gas grill. For a pellet grill, you can also use a smoker box or a pellet tube right on the grill grates for additional smoke flavor.
- Always keep a squirt bottle on hand to lightly extinguish any flare-ups or simply close the lid to cut off the airflow to the fire.
Grilling burgers is a fun and delicious way to enjoy the great outdoors, no matter what grill you have. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to grill up perfect burgers every time. So fire up the grill, invite some friends over, and enjoy the grilling season with some delicious burgers.
This article first appeared on Food Drink Life.