How To Grill The Perfect Burger – Finger-Licking Tips & Tricks!

Tasty burger

At every family gathering, there is this one delicious moment when the grill master calls everyone in the backyard for the first burgers. That delicious memory is probably the reason so many people grew up loving burgers in all shapes and forms. Knowing how to grill the perfect burger, however, is a skill or rather an art that you have to master over the years.

To get you into the basics, I’ve dedicated this whole article to every step of the process and we’re going to dive deep into the details surrounding that same grilling process! If you’re entirely new to burgers, we have to go over everything from the grill to the various recipes you could make on it. Here are the steps we will cover here:

  • The Grill
  • The Meat
  • The Grilling Process
  • The Recipes

Before we dive deeper into the subject, make sure you check out my guide on some of the best gas charcoal combo grills for this year. There, I’ve ranked some of the top models that will make grilling a burger a thoroughly enjoyable process! Speaking of grills, let’s start with that…

The Grill

Without a doubt, the very first thing we should be focusing on is the grill that will be used. There are a few things that have to be mentioned here. The very first thing you should be doing is making sure that your grill is clean. A good grill brush will be more than enough to clean your grill grates and remove any residue from previous cookouts. After you’ve done that, oil the grates so that they don’t stick to the patty later when we cook it.

The other important question here is – charcoal or gas grill? In the grilling world, this is one of the oldest debates and there still seem to be no concrete answer for it. Each of these two options has their own sets of pros and cons and if you already own one of the two, then you shouldn’t regret not having the other. Typically, this is why most modern grills offer some sort of a charcoal/gas combo alternative. Still, when it comes to cooking delicious burger meat, charcoal is king. Yes, gas grills are easier to control and don’t require as much cleaning or maintenance. They are also much faster to heat up. However, their biggest weakness is that they have hotspots. These hotspots will unevenly cook the burger patties, ultimately making you having to move them around which, as we will find out later, isn’t a great idea.

Charcoal grills take longer to heat up and often require you to put more charcoals and wood chips. Still, their biggest advantage over gas grills is that they produce an evenly hot temperature surface. Moreover, they have a distinct smoky flavor that infuses the patty and makes it taste like nothing else.

Apart from the grill, there are a few other tools that you might benefit from having around you. Of course, one cannot flip a burger without his grill master’s spatula. Look for long-handled models so that you don’t burn your hands while flipping the burgers. Additionally, you will need something to help you check the temperature of the meat. Wireless meat thermometers are gaining a ton of popularity as of late. They are amazing at giving you constant data without you having to poke the patty with a regular meat thermometer constantly. Knowing the temperature of the patty will allow you to control its cooking process and prepare it as you like.

Lastly, and this is optional, look for a good meat grinder. Most new meat grinders are surprisingly cheap and won’t burn a hole through your pocket. Moreover, you will be able to actually control the size of the grind you produce, as well as the meat that goes into your patties. If you’re in this for the long-term, a meat grinder is a must.

The Meat

Raw Ground beef meat

In this section of the article, we will cover the following topics:

  • What meat to use for your patties
  • What to add to the meat for it to stick
  • How to form the perfect patty
  • Sizing the patty
  • Dimples and indentations

What meat to use for your patties

Any grill master will tell you that no matter how much you season a burger, it will never taste the same if you’ve skipped the most important part – the meat. Many people overlook the ground beef needed for a delicious burger thinking most meat types will taste the same. Unfortunately, that isn’t true at all. To have your burger juicy and full of flavors, you need to skip the ground beef patty blends that are extra-lean and clean of any fats. Instead, look for the ones with higher fat content. These will cook easier, will form a patty better, and will ultimately taste miles better.

To achieve a higher fat content, you will need to mix your ground beef with fat. The ideal proportion is typically around 80/20 for the ground beef. At the supermarket, the 80/20 ground beef is ground chuck which is more than good enough for burgers. Avoid buying sirloin as it has a 90/10 ratio and tends to dry out when cooked over higher heat settings. Remember, fat will help the patty stick together, so the higher the better, but don’t overdo it.

Now, these were the fundamentals to buying beef. However, there is another aspect to all that – the price. My best advice is to try to avoid all the cheap options and go for as good of ground beef you can afford. Grass-fed beef will have a more meaty flavor while grain-fed beef will be sweeter and richer in its taste.

What to add to the meat for it to stick

This is one of the most common questions out there and is the common struggle of every beginner grill master. Burger patties are often hard to make and the reason for that is primarily in the meat you’ve bought. As I already mentioned, getting low-fat ground beef will make it less sticky. The patties you make will most likely fall apart constantly and the final product will be dry and unstable.

The true answer to this question is nothing. Some people prefer using the traditional methods of bread crumbs or other ingredients to make the patties stickier, however, a high-fat patty will need nothing else for it to stick together and have a good form. How to form it, on the other hand, now that’s our next mission…

How to form the perfect patty

To form the perfect burger patty, we will need to go through a lot of important aspects. The first thing we need to talk about is temperature. What most beginners tend to forget is that your body temperature (from the hands) and the ambient air temperature are more than high enough to melt any fat content in an 80/20 patty. The result of this high temperature is that the fat melts and it can no longer bind the rest of the lean meat. That will make the patty much drier after you’re done cooking it. It will also make it more unstable and it will break into smaller chunks all the time.

So, how do we solve this? Well, the easiest way is to just keep your meat cold and work on it as fast as possible. Don’t let it rest on the cooking board and don’t hold it for too long. Leave the beef inside the fridge until the last moment. Whenever you’re ready to start seasoning it, take it out and start working on it as fast as possible.

Female hand holding ground beef

Start the forming process by making sure that your hands are wet. This will make them slightly less sticky when you’re dealing with the ground beef. Next, form a beef ball in your hands from the portioned amount of beef that will go into one patty. Then, press that ball into a disc with an approximate thickness of 1-inch. Use your fingers to smooth out the edges of the patty.

Once you’re done forming it in patties, put it back into the fridge. Make a small dimple in the middle of the patty, you will find out in a moment why we do that!

The next thing we have to discuss is over-mixing the beef. Overworked beef tends to fall apart and doesn’t stick together well. The main reason people do that is that they mix the patty too much when they’re seasoning it. The resolution to that is to evenly sprinkle your seasoning and fold the patties gently a few times.

Pro Tip: Whenever you feel like you’re done making the patty, take a small chunk of it and flatten it on the inside of your palm. If you turn your hand down and it doesn’t fall out, your meat is ready to go and fully mixed!

Sizing the patty

Most people love a juicy patty hanging from the edges of their bun. Others prefer the patty to fit perfectly inside the burger’s diameter. However, nobody wants their burger to be smaller than the actual bun.

There is only one thing you have to take into account when it comes to the diameter of your patties. That is the shrinkage that will inevitably happen. To be one step ahead, make sure that your patty is an inch wider than your buns.

Dimples and indentations

One of the oldest techniques used in order to prevent the patty from puffing up in the middle is putting a small dimple in the middle of it before you put it back into the fridge. Now, of course, this isn’t mandatory and you will learn through your own experience what works best for the type of meat you like in your burgers. However, this dimpling is also used to prevent shrinkage.

Does it really work, though?

Well, in my opinion, adding a little dimple in the middle of your patty won’t hurt and it will definitely make the patty concave. However, making a whole wider indentation is actually going to give you the same result and will prevent shrinkage at the same time. Just shape the patty so that the last outer-most half an inch is higher than the rest of the middle portion of it.

The Grilling Process

person grilling a burger

Now that we’ve gone through the grill and tool selection and how to make our patties perfect, let’s focus on the actual grilling process. Here, we will discuss the following things:

  • How long to grill your burgers
  • Flipping and pressing the burger
  • Preparing the rest of the burger

How long to grill your burgers

This is one of the most important aspects of actually making a burger and is widely discussed across all cooking forums and sites. Most beginners are also often clueless when it comes to grilling times mainly because it is hard to pinpoint an exact time for a burger. The reason for that is because every patty is different, every grill is different, and the conditions are almost never exactly the same. Still, I can give you a pretty good idea of how much time you need for each degree of doneness of the patty. Here are my recommended times:

  • Rare: Cook your patty for around 4 minutes of total time. This means that you can either flip it at around 2 minutes in or flip it a few times throughout the process. The internal temperature should be 125 degrees (Fahrenheit).
  • Medium-rare: For your patties to be medium-rare, cook them for a total of 5 minutes at 135 degrees (Fahrenheit).
  • Medium: Cook your patty at 145 degrees (Fahrenheit) for a total of 6 to 7 minutes. Try flipping it at least 4-5 times if you want to flip more than once on each side.
  • Medium-well: Medium-well burgers are cooked from 7 to 8 minutes total at 150-160 degrees (Fahrenheit)
  • Well-done: This is the only safely rated doneness (by USDA) and is cooked at 160 degrees (Fahrenheit) for up to a total of 9-10 minutes.

These times can differ a bit depending on your patty’s thickness and how hot your grill actually is. As I mentioned earlier, having a meat thermometer at hand is a nice way to solve the guessing issue and be absolutely sure of what is going on in your grill and in your patties.

One thing worth noting on this topic is that the USDA actually recommends you grill your burgers at no less than 160 degrees (Fahrenheit) and to eat them well-done only. This will prevent any potential issues with the meat being raw. A sure way to tell that you’ve made a well-done burger is to see if it has any redness or pink areas in its center. Cooking anywhere lower than that temperature range is done at your own discretion.

Flipping and pressing the burger

Another very important part of properly cooking a burger patty is flipping it. It is of great importance that you understand and remember that a grilled patty is never to be pressed down! The moment those patties touch the grill, that’s it. Don’t press them, don’t touch them again unless it is to flip them. The reason for that is because pressing will squeeze all of the fat out of the patty and make it drier than it was supposed to be.

On the flip side (no pun intended), you can flip your burgers as much as you want. Most people will tell you that flipping a patty once after 4-5 minutes is enough because that ensures that both sides have had their time against the flames. This is outdated information, though, and grill masters nowadays flip their burgers more than a few times. That way, they ensure that the burger is more evenly cooked.

Preparing the rest of the burger

The rest of your burger consists of the cheese, the bun, and the rest of your fixings and toppings.

There are quite a lot of options when it comes to burger cheese. People love and prefer cheddar, Swiss cheese, or even Havarti. Either one of those is fine and will do a great job at melting and supplementing the flavor in our end-product. The perfect time for you to add the cheese to your patty is around 1 minute before it is fully cooked. If you put it too soon, it will melt into the grill and create a mess. If you put it too late, it might melt at all which will prevent it from releasing and mixing its flavors with the patty.

As for the bun, there are just a few simple rules to follow. Firstly, spread some butter evenly across the top and bottom parts of your bun. Then, place it on your grill but make sure the bun isn’t facing direct heat. Grill the buns until they are golden. Typically, most buns will need around a minute for that to happen so put them on the grill right around the time you place the cheese on top of the patties.

Now that we’ve gone through the whole process of grilling a burger, let’s check out a few killer recipes that will wow your guests!

The Recipes

a delicious and juicy burger

In terms of recipes, I wanted to give you a few good ones that cover everything from the classics to the slightly different and more interesting variations. Here is what I have prepared for you:

  • Classic cheeseburgers
  • Beef & Salsa burgers
  • British burger with triple-cooked chips

Classic cheeseburgers

The classic cheeseburger is what we’ve been learning to do so far. It uses  2.2 lbs of 80/20 minced beef, 10 oz breadcrumbs, 5 oz grated cheddar, Worcestershire sauce, chopped parsley (1 bunch), 2 beaten eggs, tomato slices, red onion slices, lettuce, coleslaw, and potatoes for the fries.

Crumble the minced beef in a large bowl and mix it with the grated cheddar, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, eggs, and parsley. Add ground pepper and salt to taste, usually around a tsp each. Mix well to combine everything in a homogenous manner.

Shape your mix into 10-12 burger patties and put them in the fridge for up to a day. These patties can also be frozen for a few months which is a great preparation tip if you’re up for some quick burgers further down the line!

When cooking, heat up your grill to high and grill the patties for 4-6 minutes on each side until fully cooked. Below the burgers, put the burger buns for a minute or two on the grill. You can use a trail (covered with foil) for them. Serve the burger with a coleslaw salad or fries.

Beef & Salsa burgers

Beef and salsa burgers are relatively low-fat, very tasty, and actually healthy compared to other burgers out there. They are an excellent takeaway alternative and can be done relatively fast. For them, you will need – 0.7 lbs minced beef, 3 oz breadcrumbs (wholemeal), 3 oz grated carrots, 1 small grated onion, parsley (one handful), 4 wholegrain buns, tomato sauce, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce.

Mix the minced beef, breadcrumbs, carrots, onion, and parsley in a big bowl and season them to taste with salt and pepper. You can either put that in the fridge for it to cool down or start shaping it right away. Shape the mixture into four patties.

Grill the patties for around 4 minutes on each side until they are evenly cooked, then put them aside in a warm container. Lightly toast the buns, holding each side down on the grill for 30-60 seconds. Fill the buns with salad and add the burger with a good amount of salsa on top.

British burger with triple-cooked chips

Who doesn’t love a juicy cheeseburger with a side of tasty fries, right? Well, it turns out the old island isn’t capable of only producing bad food ideas, and their British burger with triple-cooked chips is one of the tastiest recipes you could try out!

For the burger itself, you will need 17 oz minced beef, 4 chopped shallots, 2 tsp mustard (preferably English), one egg yolk (large), 1 oz breadcrumbs, and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. For the serving, you will need ketchup, red Leicester slices, 4 sesame-seed buns, bacon, 2 gherkins, lamb’s lettuce, tomatoes, and coleslaw (optional).

Mix everything into a large bowl and make 4 patties out of that. Chill them for half an hour. Upon taking them out, coat the patties in oil and put them on a well-heated griddle pan. Cook for around 12 minutes by constantly flipping them over until they are thoroughly cooked. Then, cook the bacon in the pan until it is crisp. Put the buns for 30-60 seconds until they get golden.

Additionally, the chips are made in a very interesting way. First, you will need 4 large potatoes and half a gallon of vegetable oil. Put the potatoes in a pan with cold salted water and boil them for around 8-10 minutes until they are tender. Drain them well and put them back in the empty pan. Put the lid on and shake them a bit. This will soften their edges and make them much more enjoyable to eat.

After that, heat all the oil in a large saucepan to around 300 degrees and fry the chips for up to 7-8 minutes. They have to become crisp but not too brown. After you take them out, dry them well and let them cool off. After you’re done making the burgers, reheat the oil to around 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) and place the chips back in. Drain and dry them well after that and serve next to the burger.

If you also want to learn how to smoke ribs on a gas grill, you will love this article!

Key Things To Remember

At this point in the article, you probably feel overwhelmed with information. This is why I wanted us to go through some of the most important key points when it comes to grilling a proper burger. Here they are:

  • Charcoal grills are better for grilling burgers as they have more evenly distributed heat and no heat spots
  • Choose ground beef with higher percentage of fat (more than 10%) in order for it to stick together and not fall apart
  • Grass-fed beef has a meaty flavor while grain-fed beef has sweet and rich flavor tones
  • Don’t overmix the ground beef too much as that will melt it due to the temperature of your hands and will prevent the fat and protein from binding well
  • Keep your hands wet when  you’re mixing
  • Flatten the inner part of the patty before you put it in the fridge
  • Make the patty around an inch thick for the best results
  • Never press on the burger when grilling it as that will squeeze the fat out and make it dry
  • Place the cheese on the patty a minute before you’re done
  • The burger bun should be buttered up and put on the grill away from direct heat around a minute before the patty is done

If you want to find out which are some of my favorite barbecue pork recipes, make sure you click here!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you grill your burgers with the lid on or off?

Since burgers are typically cooked at high temperatures in just a few minutes, the lid should normally be off. This is a rule of thumb for anything fast-cooked on a grill. However, if you live in a windy area you should definitely cook with the lid on (down). This will prevent flare-ups and will help your burgers be cooked more evenly.

Do you flip burgers on the grill?

While it is advisable for you to flip the burger a few times, it is essential to not overdo it. Rather, let one side fully cook and only then flip it once until the other is ready. There are a few exceptions to this, of course. If, for instance, you’re cooking a frozen ground beef burger, you have to flip it multiple times more frequently in order for it to unfreeze more evenly.

How long do you cook burgers on a propane grill?

Depending on the type of burger you want, cooking times on propane grills may differ. For medium-rare burgers, you want to let it cook for around 4-5 minutes on each side. Medium-rare burgers will require a bit more time at around 6 minutes, while medium-well done burgers will have to be cooked 7 minutes each. As a whole, you can test out the consistency of the burger, as more well-cooked ones will be noticeably harder and not as soft and squishy as the rare and medium-rare ones.

How do you tell when a burger is done?

One of the best ways to measure a burger’s readiness is to test out its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. If it is rare, the temperature will be around 120 degrees (Fahrenheit). If the burger is medium-rare, it should be around 130 degrees, 140 for medium, 150 degrees for medium-well done, and any temperature over 160 degrees signifies a well-done burger.

Why do some people put ice cubes on the hamburger?

This is a common technique used in cooking burgers and is a rather effective one, especially if you’re grilling large patties. What the ice cube does is essentially prevent the patty from overcooking. It also prevents the burger from drying out by adding a bit of moisture to it throughout the process. Adding the ice cube is a bit tricky, though, as you have to put it in the middle of the ground beef when you’re forming the beef patty.

Final Words

Learning how to grill the perfect burger starts at your grill. Whether you use a gas or charcoal grill, you will have to set the right temperature depending on your expectations. Typically 374-400 degrees is considered the golden range. The patties are going to be more solid if you prepare them the previous day and refrigerate them overnight. Remember to never push on the burger when grilling it and cook it on each side only once for as many minutes as you want. Checking how good your burger is cooked can be done by reading its temperature and seeing where it falls on the rare/well-done spectrum.