By Steven Raichlen
June 11, 2019
Hamburgers are America’s favorite food for grilling, reports the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, consistently beating out steak, hot dogs, brats, and chicken. We eat about 50 billion burgers per year, an average of three per week.
So what constitutes the perfect burger? There’s no right answer. But you’ll know it the moment you bite into it.
When grilling a hamburger, it’s not about the time on grill, it’s about the internal temperature reached—read this to find out how to measure temperature to determine doneness and tricks to keep it juicy.
For me, it’s usually a burger grilled over a wood fire with a perfectly charred, deftly seasoned crust and a juicy interior that contrasts perfectly with a soft but sturdy bun and a few well-chosen condiments—lettuce, tomatoes, tart pickles, etc. (Click here for my recipe for the simple but sublime Ur-Burger.)
But in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked our fave food to several outbreaks of E. coli, an especially nasty food-borne illness, the most recent in April when more than 100 people in six states were reported ill. Gone are the days when you could blithely order a medium-rare burger. Many restaurants, in fact, post disclaimers stating you can no longer have it “your way” as they only cook burgers medium, medium-well, or well-done.
How long to cook hamburgers on the grill?
It’s not about the time on the grill, it’s about the internal temperature reached. The FDA recommends that all ground meats be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Well-done, in other words. They further recommend that you use a meat thermometer to determine temperature. Insert the probe through the side of the burger toward the center. Color is not a reliable indicator of temperature.
Unfortunately, burgers cooked to this temperature can be insufferably dry. Is it possible to serve a safe but juicy burger? Absolutely.
Here are the tricks I use when grilling burgers at home:
Stuff the burger with a pat of butter. The butter will melt as the burger cooks, the fat making it more succulent. (Be sure to seal the edges well.)
Combine the ground meat with grated cheese before forming the patties. Parmesan, cheddar, blue cheese, or mozzarella are all good choices.
Top the burgers with cheese and/or cooked bacon during the last few minutes of grilling. Invert a deep pan lid or large metal bowl over the burgers to concentrate heat and encourage melting.
Because they exude liquid as they cook, chopped fresh mushrooms make a good addition to the burger meat.
Avoid lean ground meat blends. More fat equals more juice. An ideal mixture, one often used by professional chefs, is 80/20. (If buying ground chicken or turkey, try to buy dark meat.) Or add fresh chorizo, ground brisket, ground pork, or other fattier meats to the mixture.
Though burgers are usually grilled directly, thicker burgers can be seared, then moved to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking indirectly (with the grill lid down).
When shaping burgers, try to handle the meat (well-chilled, please) as little as possible. Using your thumbs or the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the top of the burger. This creates a pool for the juices and prevents the burger from puffing in the middle.
This summer, my favorite burger (from my book, Project Fire) features brisket two ways—ground and cooked.
What is your favorite burger recipe? Do you have any tips for keeping burgers juicy? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit!
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