A burger is often rated by what is put on top of it—bacon, cheeses, sauces—but an amazing burger begins with the patty itself. All of those toppings can't hide a poorly made hamburger. Amazing burgers are made with the right type of ground beef that is seasoned properly, gently formed into a patty, and cooked in a cast iron skillet. Follow these steps and your burgers will come out juicy and flavorful every time.
Start With the Best Ground Beef
The first step to getting an amazing burger is choosing the best meat, which includes looking at both the type of meat as well as the ratio of fat. To get a juicy burger, you need a decent amount of fat. Ground beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio is often the highest percentage of fat offered in packaged ground beef, but if you can find a type with more fat, that's even better.
The kind of meat is also important and directly relates to the fat content. Leaner cuts of meat, like ground sirloin which is 90/10, aren't going to result in a really juicy burger. Ground beef chuck, on the other hand, is sold as 80/20. Meat that was ground freshly in the store that day is also a great choice. Another option is to combine three parts ground beef chuck with one part ground pork.
There are a lot of hamburger recipes that include several flavorings, as well as a binder and fillers (eggs, breadcrumbs), but when you start with a fatty ground beef, you don't need a lot of extra ingredients to make an amazing burger. In fact, too many additions will overwhelm the naturally delicious flavors of the beef. All you need to do is season your ground beef with kosher salt and maybe one or two other ingredients. Freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, or Worcestershire sauce add just enough flavor and enhance the meat. Just make sure you don't go overboard. Remember, if you're making your burgers with beef chuck, they're going to have a deep, meaty flavor that you actually want to be able to taste, so keep it simple.
Form the Patties Gently
Oftentimes, when people form burger patties, they pack them way too tightly. This act of pressing and smooshing together will cause the cooked burgers to become hockey pucks. Instead, you want to very gently shape the seasoned meat into balls, and then using a light touch, flatten those balls into patties that are about 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch thick.
Cook It in a Cast Iron Skillet
A lot of people assume that the best way to cook a burger is on the grill, but interestingly enough, the very best method is in a cast-iron skillet. When you cook a burger over a grill, the fat melts and drips onto the coals. Then the hot coals more or less dry out the surface of the meat and you end up with a burger that, while OK, is far from amazing.
A cast iron skillet, on the other hand, keeps that fat in place, where it can coat the burger and give it a luscious, meaty, fatty sheen, while also helping to produce a flavorful, almost crispy exterior. You will be left with fat in the pan, so make sure to dispose of it properly.
If you prefer the idea of grilling a burger, you can place the cast iron skillet directly on the grill for an outdoor cooking experience.