10 Tips for Perfect Burgers

How to Make the Perfect Burger

Attention to a few details will transform your burgers from good-enough to spectacular. Even if you decide not to use all ten of these tips, any one of them will up your burger performance, so employ as many as you like.

Looking for great burger recipes? Here are a few of my favorite burger recipes.

  • 01 of 10

    Start With the Right Meat

    Burgers
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    For juicy burgers, get ground chuck with a fat content of at least 18%. Lean and extra-lean meats make tough, dry burgers. (This tip is true for turkey burgers or lamb burgers, too—look for grinds with around 18% fat.)

    The more freshly ground the meat is, the more tender and flavorful the burger: If your store has on-site butchers, ask them to grind the meat fresh for you.

    For the absolute freshest grind, of course, you need to grind your own. You can do this with a home grinder or in a food processor. Cut the meat into chunks, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, and grind or pulse until ground. For the best grind, put it through a coarse grind disk twice (seriously, this leads to the best grind possible!).

  • 02 of 10

    Don't Overwork the Meat

    Mixing Ground Beef With Seasonings

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    The more you handle the meat, the tougher your burger will be. In a large bowl, pull the meat apart into small chunks, add salt or other seasonings, and toss gently with fingers spread apart until loosely mixed.

  • 03 of 10

    Use Wet Hands to Form Burger Patties

    Damp Hands

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    A bit of dampness at the start will keep your hands from getting sticky. It also allows the meat to come together faster and prevents over-handling.

  • 04 of 10

    Make Burger Patties With a Dimple In the Center

    Making a Dimple In a Burger

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    Divide the meat into equal portions and form patties about 3/4-inch thick at the edges and 1/2-inch thick in the center. Since burgers shrink and pull in as they cook, this dimple will even out as the burgers cook, resulting in an even patty-shaped burger at the end.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Keep Burgers Cold Until They Hit the Grill

    Tray of Raw Burgers

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    Unlike other meats that will cook up better if brought to room temperature before hitting the grill, you want those patties cold so they stay together and stay as juicy as possible. Put the patties on a tray or platter, covered, in the fridge while the grill heats up. This helps more of the flavor-carrying fat stay in the meat.

  • 06 of 10

    Start With a Clean Cooking Grate

    Burger Set on Grill

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    Bits of debris encourage sticking, as does an un-oiled surface and too low a temperature. You want your burgers to sizzle immediately, firm up quickly, and release from the grill.

  • 07 of 10

    Use a Hot Grill

    Burgers on the Grill

    Molly Watson

    Keep grill at a steady high heat (you can hold your hand 1 to 2 inches above grill level for 2 to 3 seconds). If using charcoal, you want ash-covered coals to produce even heat. With a gas grill, keep the lid down while cooking; with a charcoal grill, leave the lid off.

  • 08 of 10

    Flip the Burgers Once and Only Once

    Turning Burgers (Once)

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    Constant turning will toughen and dry out meat, and if you flip too soon, burgers will stick. Cook 2 minutes per side for rare, 3 for medium-rare, 4 for medium, and 5 for well-done.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Don't Press Burgers While Cooking

    Pressing a burger
      mediaphotos/Getty Images

    This is an all too common mistake in burger grilling. It's also one that's heartbreaking to witness. When the cook takes a spatula and presses down on each burger, the juice just pours out onto the flame, taking all that moistness and flavor with it. No picture, so you don't get any ideas! Stop the madness! Let your burgers hold onto their natural juiciness and just let them cook in peace!

    (One exception: if you're purposefully making "smash" burgers where you put the patty on a very hot griddle, and smash it flatter in one fell swoop. This doesn't work well on a grill, for obvious reasons.)

  • 10 of 10

    Let Burgers Rest

    Turkey Gorgonzola Burgers

    Molly Watson

    Resting allows burgers, like all meat, to finish cooking and allows their juices, which have collected on the surface during grilling, to redistribute throughout the patty for maximum juiciness. Since burgers are generally somewhat small (compared to giant roasts), just 10 minutes will do it.