Updated: May 17
Grilling season is nowhere near us, and this is the time of year to get your grilling reps in. I've decided to share the art of America's summertime grilling favorite—the hamburger.
A burger is easy enough to throw together on a weeknight, flavorful enough to stand up to the person who adds every condiment known to man, yet balanced enough to satisfy the plain burger eater.
Armed with decades of experience, a mountain of research, and brutal honesty from Special Forces Teammates, I now share my version of a Classic Backyard Burger.
START WITH A CLEAN GRILL
You want a healthy and clean environment that won't contaminate the meat. Consistency in taste, texture, and appearance is an accurate measure of mastery. Cleaning your grill is for safety as much as it is for flavor.
Even if you dutifully scrape your grill after every use, over time, carcinogens can build up on the grates and transfer to your food during the cooking process, which could pose health risks. One of the most effective ways to rid your grilled meals of carcinogens is to clean your grill, so be sure to scrub all rust and debris thoroughly after each use.
You wouldn't cook food on a pan that you hadn't washed, so why would you make a meal on a grill you hadn't cleaned? A dirty grill attracts germs and bacteria—all of which can get onto your food and potentially make you and others sick.
The most important safety tip is to watch for flare-ups, which could burn you or even cause a severe fire when you're grilling. Failing to clean your grill will cause excess grease to accumulate, which could, in turn, contribute to a flare-up later on.
GROUND BEEF SELECTION:
Two products to avoid are: "chubs" (plastic-sealed tubes of ground beef) and pre-formed patties, fresh or frozen. Those products are usually ground at a large packaging facility then shipped to your store on a truck, meaning you cannot be sure of what you're getting.
A burger can be seasoned a hundred ways to Sunday, but it means nothing without a solid foundation. For a juicy, flavorful burger, skip the extra-lean ground beef patty blends and use ground beef with higher fat content.
Ground beef with an 80/20 mix is the best for grilled burgers—this means a mix 80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat. The 80/20 ground beef you would buy in the supermarket is usually ground chuck, which is great for burgers. (Something leaner like 90/10 is usually ground sirloin, which tends to dry out when cooked over the high heat of the grill.)
When considering the pre-packaged ground beef at the supermarket, look for meat ground and wrapped in the store. Usually, it will be in a shallow styrofoam tray with plastic wrap pulled across it... Don't forget to look at the date and try to get the same day if possible!
KEEP THE MEAT COLD
The heat from your hands combined with room-temp ground beef can melt and smear the fat. This prevents the fat from binding with the lean meat, causing too much of it to render during the cooking process, resulting in a dry, dense burger.
The solution is to keep the meat cold and shape the patties as quickly as possible.
Leave the ground beef in the refrigerator until you're ready to season it and form the patties. Then mix the ground beef just until it comes together and not a second more. Form it into patties and put them back in the fridge until you are ready to grill.
How much meat? Make each patty with 5 1/2 to 6 ounces of meat so the burger has the best mouthfeel when you take a bite.
Don't waste a lot of time shaping your burger; get the patty shaped until it just holds together so that when you eat it you can sort of see the grains of the beef running through it. Otherwise, you've made a grilled meatloaf, and nobody wants that hot garbage.
To prevent hamburgers from swelling up during cooking, we recommend making a slight depression/divot in the raw patty center before placing it on the heat. However, we find the need for a dimple depends entirely on how the burger is cooked. Meat inflates upon cooking when its connective tissue, or collagen, shrinks at temperatures higher than 140 degrees. If burgers are cooked on a grill or under a broiler, a dimple is in order.
How Big? To correctly size your patties to fit on your buns, make your burgers about 1-inch thick at the edges and one inch more in diameter than the bun.
Seasoning Your Meat
It's helpful to save prep time and add lots of flavor to your patties by adding dried spices rather than fresh herbs to the hamburger patties. For instance, you can incorporate our Point Man, our steak seasoning with Course Salt, Tellicherry Black Pepper, Sugar, Garlic, Hickory Smoke Powder, Onion, Citric Acid for a well-round flavor.
Gas or Charcoal?
If you use charcoal, you can add different kinds of wood to contribute to the smokiness and enhance the burger's overall flavor.
However, millions of Americans prefer gas grills because they are easy to use, and you don't have as much of a mess. Don't worry—you can still cook an excellent burger on a gas grill!
HOW LONG TO GRILL BURGERS
In general, follow these total grilling times:
For rare burgers, cook for 4 minutes total (125°F)
For medium-rare burgers, cook for 5 minutes total (135°F)
For medium burgers, cook for 6 to 7 minutes total (145°F)
For well-done burgers, cook for 8 to 9 minutes total (160 °F)
Flip & Don't Press - Pressing drys the meat out quickly. The juices hold the flavor. The meat also continues to cook after removal, and pressing will cause the patty to dry quickly.
WHEN TO ADD THE CHEESE?
Add cheese about 1 minute before the burger is finished cooking. Some of my favorite flavors are Swiss, cheddar, and Havarti.
LET THE COOKED PATTIES REST!
Let the cooked patties rest on a clean platter for about 5 minutes to let the juices redistribute.
WHAT BUNS TO USE?
Get something sturdy. Burgers can be pretty hefty, so you'll need something that can hold it. Go for a sturdy crust with structure and height.
But something that is not too soft. The bread should be sturdy enough to hold the burger but still have a smooth, fluffy inside. Trust us; all that fluff will soak up the meaty burger juices.
The flavor is good. Whether you're using an onion roll or sesame seed bun, a little added somethin' never hurts. Take those burgers up a notch with a hint of flavor in every bite.
Choose the right size. In our opinion, a bun should be big enough to hold an 8 oz. patty. When you go too small, you're stuck with a leftover burger that you might have to eat with a fork -- yikes! Go too big, and you've got leftover bread that gets tossed to the side. Depending on the size of the burgers you're making, choose something to ensure your burger to bun ratio is just perfect.
Buy them fresh and local, when possible. This should go without saying, but bread is the best when fresh. If you've got a local bakery nearby, pick up some of their buns. That's what we do!
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