In this article, we take a deep dive look at how to make burgers. Not just any burgers, but some of the very best you’ve eaten and might just obsess over.
We know we love them, but what makes a perfect burger? What meat should be used? What other ingredients? And how do you perfectly grill one?
Let’s find out in this, our ultimate guide on making burgers.
To me, the perfect burger is a combination of the flavor of perfectly seasoned beef, a nice sear, not too dense and with juice running down my chin as I take that first bite.
The other part of a great burger is the bun. It should be fresh, bakery-quality that doesn’t get soggy and gummy like a cheap one. And, don’t forget your favorite toppings and condiments.
Of course, different people have different tastes. So I’ve scoured the web to find the best recipes, ingredients, cuts of meat, and everything you need to know on the topic of making burgers at home, and I present it to you in this article.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- 1 Before We Start, What is a Hamburger? Let’s Clearly Define it.
- 2 The Best Cuts of Beef to Make Burgers
- 3 Which Cuts of Beef are the Most Flavorful?
- 4 About Packaged Ground Beef
- 5 Binders, Fillers, Flavorings or Other Ingredients
- 6 How to Make Burgers Step-by-Step — And How to Grill Them
- 7 Five of the Best Burger Recipes on The Web
- 8 Quick Tips for How to Make the Best Burgers — And How to Grill Them
- 9 Frequently Asked Questions on Burger Making
- 10 Conclusion
Before We Start, What is a Hamburger? Let’s Clearly Define it.
Everyone has a little difference of opinion on what makes a great hamburger.
For a burger purist, a burger should contain only beef and maybe a little salt and pepper. That’s it. Any creative additions to ground beef are only making meatloaf, and calling it a burger is a heresy.
Ground chicken, pork, veal or any combination of protein other than beef should be called a patty, not a burger (that is if you’re a burger-purist).
However, according to Wikipedia:
“A hamburger or burger is a sandwich consisting of one or more cooked patties of ground meat, usually beef, placed inside a sliced bread roll or bun.”
Because the main ingredient in a burger is the beef, naturally it has got to be of high quality.
The Best Cuts of Beef to Make Burgers
We have an easy-to-read chart showing where the main cuts of beef come from on the animal, a diagram you can refer to for the beef cuts commonly available in the U.S. markets.
Some cuts are leaner than others while others have more flavor. One thing in common for all great burgers is they all need a decent fat to be considered ‘great’.
About the Fat Content
All ground beef has fat mixed in. Fat adds flavor and moisture. You’ll see ground beef sold using two identifying numbers called the lean-to-fat ratio. The leanest ground beef is 95/5 or 95% meat to 5% fat. The cheapest commercial grades are around 60/40 while most restaurants prefer 70/30 or 80/20.
The higher the fat content, the more shrinkage and grease clean up in the grill. But, a beefburger needs fat to stay juicy and delicious. Make them too lean, and the patties are dry and hard to chew.
Now let’s look at the lean meat that goes into making a quality ground beef.
Which Cuts of Beef are the Most Flavorful?
To understand which cuts have the most flavor, just look for the cow muscles that work the most. The more a muscle moves, the more flavor it has.
Typically, you’ll find the tougher cuts used in ground beef because the grinding process tenderizes the meat, whereas the more tender cuts command a higher price being sold as steaks or roasts, they lose value if they are ground.
In your local grocery store, you’ll see four types of ground beef labeled:
- Ground Beef
Though personally, I do also like to include a little oxtail now and then, usually mixed with chuck, Oxtail is very fatty, and incredibly flavorful, so you may want to trim some fat from the chuck when adding it:
Typically, cuts of meat that tend to be unsaleable such as tongue and heart mixed with fat, trimmings and meat scraps from making other cuts. The USDA ruled that hearts are acceptable and packers do not have to disclose it on the label.
Commercial ground beef has a maximum fat content of 30%, and there should be nothing but primal cuts of beef, trimmings, and fat.
Once a processor adds more fat, binders, water or other ingredients, it must be labeled “hamburger.” For a perfect burger, don’t buy meat labeled hamburger.
Chuck is a tough muscle group from the front shoulder area of the cow. It contains 15 to 20 percent fat, more than sirloin or round, and is what you find in most stores.
Chuck makes a beefy tasting burger with moist, juicy texture.
If you are only using one cut for your burger, chuck is the one to buy.
The “Top,” “Eye,” and “Bottom” round (where the bottom round steak comes from) come from the rear upper leg and rump of the cow. They are used mostly for roasting and slicing as roast beef.
The fat content is low at about 10 to 20% with most of the fat on the outside rather than marbled throughout. It makes a tough, dry burger and some people say it lacks that beefy flavor when used as hamburger meat.
Sirloin comes from the midsection of the cow near the hip. It’s low in fat content like the round but has much better flavor.
Primarily used for steaks like T-bones, N.Y. strips, and Porterhouse, it’s also the most expensive. Unless you mix in extra fat, ground sirloin will be dry.
The best flavor combination of cuts to make your perfect burger is 50% sirloin and 50% chuck. You get the best of both, the beef flavor of sirloin with the juiciness of chuck. Buy a package of each and mix them or buy the cuts of meat and grind them in a meat grinder or your food processor.
About Packaged Ground Beef
Most supermarkets buy ground beef prepackaged from large producers. A new beef packaging method, introduced around 2001, flushes the meat with nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide to preserve the flavor and red color.
When it comes to buying ground beef, look for a butcher or store that grinds the meat daily as opposed to buying in bulk from a national distributor.
If you want the perfect burger, you’ll just have to grind your sirloin/chuck mix yourself because only then will you know exactly what’s in the mix.
Here’s an excellent video by Cook’s Illustrated demonstrating the science behind why grinding your own meat is better.
If you don’t have a grinder, you can use your food processor. Here’s a video from YouTube on how to grind meat in your food processor..
Now that you have your ground meat let’s make some beef burgers!
Binders, Fillers, Flavorings or Other Ingredients
Burger purists add nothing but a little salt and pepper after they’ve made their patties and do so just before grilling them.
For people who love to tinker with perfection — or strive to find their own perfection — here are a few of the common extra ingredients you can add to a burger.
Binders — If you’re adding other ingredients, you may need the additional binding to hold the burger together while grilling such as egg and breadcrumbs.
Flavoring Ingredients — Some people would rather save a step and put their condiments and garnishes in the ground beef such as:
- Diced Onion
- Diced Peppers or chilies
- Chopped Bacon — raw or cooked
- Flavoring sauces like Worcestershire or Tabasco
- Herbs and other spices
Keep in mind, adding anything to your burger may affect the texture and cooking time, especially vegetables because they contain water. The water turns to steam and tends to dry the meat.
How to Make Burgers Step-by-Step — And How to Grill Them
Now that you have your perfect 50/50 mix of sirloin and chuck, and lovingly ground by you in your kitchen, you’re ready to create the perfect burger.
There are two schools of thought on burgers: Thick or thin?
Here are some guidelines and tips for both.
To Make Thin Burger Patties
- Start with a 1/4 to 1/3 pound of ground beef.
- Form it into a ball and place it on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
- Lay another sheet on top and press with a sturdy plate.
- Form a round edge with your thumb and fix any cracks.
If you form your patties by hand, first wet or oil your hands to prevent the meat sticking to your hands and to make it easier to handle.
To Make Thick “Bistro” Burgers:
- Use about a ½ pound of ground beef.
- You can use the plate pressing method as above or form them with your hand.
- Make them about 1 inch thick.
- Be sure to press your thumb to make a dent in the middle. When the burger cooks, it will swell, and the burger will remain flat. If you don’t make this depression, then you’ll end up with a big meatball.
How to Grill Burgers
Firstly, you should season your burgers with salt right before you put them on the grill and not a moment before. Salt draws moisture out of the meat, and is it’s already been ground it already has a hard time hanging onto what moisture it has. So don’t salt early and remove any more of that precious moisture!
Now, whether you own a gas grill, or prefer to cook on a charcoal grill, the process is just the same: Make sure your grill is hot! You want the fire good and hot to sear the meat. But, don’t get the burgers so close that the flames are wrapping around the top and burning the bottom.
They’re ready to turn when you see pink juices start to form on top (and if interested, this is myoglobin, not blood :-))
Thick burgers take about 4 to 5 minutes per side and thin ones only 2 to 3 minutes. You can take a look at my more detailed guide on how long to grill your burgers for a ton more detail.
And remember, burgers are like pancakes, you should only flip them once. If you flip them much more than this they will lose a ton of juiciness, and you are creating much more chance for them to fall apart.
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Do not press down on your cooking burgers with your spatula!
All that does is squeeze out the juice, the flavor and create flare-ups in your grill. It does NOT help them cook any quicker.
Also, don’t leave your burger unattended because dripping fat can potentially cause flare-ups and burn your burger fast.
Use an instant read thermometer to make sure if they’re cooked to 160 °F (71 °C). Yes, that’s medium well to well, but you don’t have to worry about food poisoning, and your burger will still be juicy.
Let’s Eat! Toppings, Condiments and Other Good Stuff
Whatever burger toppings you add, whether lettuce, tomato, or onion, make sure if they are fresh, thinly sliced and dry.
There is nothing like a real kosher dill pickle that comes in a glass jar. NO plastic pail pickles, please!
If You Like Bacon
Use a thinner slice, so you can have a little with every bite.
“American” cheese seems to be the default cheese of choice on burgers. But, do your taste buds a favor and use a slice of real cheese like cheddar, Swiss or provolone. You won’t regret it!
Place the cheese on top of the burger while still on the grill, and cover with a cloche if you have one as it will help the cheese melt.
The three primary condiments most people like are ketchup or yellow mustard (not both) and mayonnaise.
Use the best quality brands when you buy, or make them yourself.
When it comes to other strong-tasting sauces like BBQ sauce, Tabasco or English mustards, they tend to overpower the pure beefy taste of a quality hamburger. Use condiments sparingly or not at all. Simple is better.
For heaven’s sake, buy or bake some quality hamburger buns. A burger this good deserves real bread, not that cheap stuff that falls apart at the first sign of juice.
Look for a nice crusty roll with a firm texture. To make these even better, brush the inside with a little butter and toast in a skillet until golden brown.
Remember, you’re after a tasty burger, so whatever you put on your burger should enhance the beefy goodness.
That just about wraps up the skinny on making burgers. So, let’s look at some recipes you can make at home that will make you the star of your next grill out.
Five of the Best Burger Recipes on The Web
I’ve chosen these five recipes because they are proven to be delicious and easy to recreate at home.
Bobby Flay’s “Perfect“ Burger Recipe
This is a somewhat simple, traditional and easy to make burger, where Bobby does something less traditional while grilling by brushing the burgers with oil instead of oiling the grill.
The ingredients for this burger include chuck at 20% fat, salt and pepper, canola oil, cheese and a burger bun. Beauty in simplicity.
After mixing the ingredients, you start by dividing the meat into 4 equal portions which will yield burgers of about 6 ounces each. Form each meatball into a loose burger patty ¾ inch thick. Press a deep thumbprint in the center and sprinkle both sides of each burger with salt and pepper.
Fire up the grill to high, brush the burgers with oil to keep them from sticking, and to help them get a good sear. Grill about three minutes per side.
If you add cheese, wait until the last minute then cover the grill or the burgers to melt the cheese. Serve while hot.
For full recipe and instructions, please click here.
Martha Stewart’s Thick Hamburger Recipe
We couldn’t list recipes without a quality burger from Martha.
What I like about this one is her simple, straightforward approach and use of quality ingredients. This burger contains 20% fat ground beef chuck, salt and pepper, mature cheddar, beefsteak tomato, mayonnaise, onion, lettuce and of course, a good quality roll.
To make these burgers, Martha prefers medium-high heat and to brush the grates with oil before laying the burgers on for grilling.
You’ll make four 1-inch-thick patties, and must not overwork the meat, aiming for 4 inches in diameter. Don’t forget to press your thumb in the center of each patty and liberally season both sides with salt and pepper.
You will grill the burgers 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Add the cheese for the last couple of minutes, covering the grill to melt the cheese.
As an option, you can grill your buns over medium heat on the grill until toasted or lightly charred, about 30 seconds. Spread them with mayonnaise — if you like mayo — then serve with the lettuce, tomato, and onion.
For the full ingredient list and step-by-step instructions, please click here.
Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon Russian Dressing
Not everyone is a mustard and onion only, burger-purist. That’s why this recipe made the list.
Chef Laurent Tourondel from BLT Burger in Las Vegas has a unique way of preparing the patties, while the finishing touch of the Russian tarragon dressing makes this burger one that your friends will talk about for a long time.
The ingredients for this burger contains ground beef chuck and sirloin, thickly sliced bacon, red onion, salt and pepper, cheese and more besides. While the dressing contains red wine vinegar, parsley, tarragon and Worcestershire sauce. All in all, this burger is an insane explosion of flavor and definitely one to try yourself.
For a full list of ingredients, and how to make these burgers, please click here.
The Tasting Table’s Beef Burger Patties
Two things that stand out with this recipe:
- You grind the beef yourself using cuts of brisket, chuck and beef short ribs for a unique flavor
- It’s simple.
Brisket, chuck and beef rib meat….in a burger? Are you kidding? How can this possibly fail to delight the taste buds? It’s a guaranteed winner if you ask me.
Full recipe and instructions can be found by clicking here.
Alton Brown’s Burger of the Gods
Alton is a fan of simplicity meets flavor. He uses a 50/50 blend of chuck and sirloin that you grind in your food processor. No need for fancy-schmancy meat grinders and he leaves the buns and toppings up to you.
He recommends making small batches to accommodate your food processor. Salt the meat, then add equal portions to the food processor. Pulse 10 times and don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with pate.
Click here for the full recipe and instructions.
I hope you give these five recipes a try. They are easy to make, and if you follow the tips below, you’ll never buy another restaurant burger again.
Quick Tips for How to Make the Best Burgers — And How to Grill Them
Just to recap. Keep these things in mind the next time you want to make the world’s best burger.
- 100% chuck or 50% chuck and 50% sirloin. Grind them yourself in a food processor.
- Have 20 to 25% fat. Look for 80/20 or 75/25 if you buy it in the store.
- Never over pack your ground beef, mix as little as possible to keep them moist and tender.
- Use wet hands to make the patties
- Unlike steaks, keep the patties cold before grilling
- Always put a depression or thumbprint in the middle to allow for expansion.
- Always burn off and brush your grates before grilling.
- You want a hot grill, but not so close to the meat that the outside burns and the inside is
- Flip your burgers only once and resist the temptation to squish the juice out with your spatula.
- Like any grilled meat, let the burgers rest for about 5 to 8 minutes before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions on Burger Making
Do You Need an Egg to Make Burgers?
Absolutely not, no.
If you use quality ground meat with a good 20% or so fat content, make sure to press them firmly into patties, chill them in the fridge a good while before grilling and don’t squash them or turn them too often on the grill, then they will not fall apart, and no binder is necessary.
What Ingredients are in a Burger?
In many, it is simply ground beef and a few breadcrumbs. Nothing more.
The beef can be almost any mix from chuck, sirloin, and brisket, to even things such as oxtail or short ribs.
Now you can also add flavorings such as paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and more. But really, it is best to do this after cooking, not into the patty mix. Fresh vegetables add moisture and may cause the patty to fall apart, whereas dry ingredients, well, they can dry the burger out.
What Can I Use Instead of Eggs in Hamburgers?
First, if you make a good patty and refrigerate before cooking, there isn’t any need to use egg. However, if you really do wish to use a binder — and there’s no shame in it and can still result in fantastic burgers — then I suggest reading this guide to alternative binders from onceamonthmeals.com.
They list things such as faux egg made from flax seeds, but also chia seeds, an oil and water mix, or gelatin.
How Do You Keep Homemade Burgers From Falling Apart
First and foremost, make sure the ground beef contains enough fat, around the 20% to 25% mark.
Secondly, make sure the patties are well refrigerated once formed. This solidifies the fat somewhat, sticking everything together.
Third, do not add any wet ingredients. And this includes any onion or another veg. The moisture in these will make the burger fall apart while grilling.
Fourthly (is that a word?), do not play with the burger on the grill. Do not squash it with the spatula, and do not flip it more than once or twice.
And finally, if you still cannot keep your patties together, mix in a little egg. The egg coagulates during grilling, working as a binder, and keeping everything together.
When Should You Season Burgers
Always season your burgers right before they go onto the grill, and not a moment before.
When you grind meat, it breaks up all the proteins and moisture is lost. When you salt something, it also draws out moisture, but the process takes time to work.
So if you salt instantly before cooking, almost zero moisture is lost due to salting. And the earlier you do it, the more is lost.
What Makes a Burger Juicy
Quite simply, it is the fat content of the burger.
The leaner the ground beef mix, the drier the burger will taste. The more fat content, the moisture it will feel. This is also due to the fact the more fat there is, the more you salivate giving the appearance of moisture.
How Do You Make The Best Burger Ever
Ha! Well, nobody knows but you. My best burger, will not be your best burger, will not be your best friend’s best burger. So experiment! It’s the only way.
Try dozens of different ground beef mixes, different buns, various condiments and more until you find your perfect burger. And then experiment some more because you will likely beat your chosen one in time.
So try all sorts, and have fun!
If you follow these tips each time you grill burgers, your friends and family will demand that you be the grill cook for every party. You’ll find that making burgers the right way takes no more time than buying mediocre ground meat from the store, or a poorly made restaurant burger.
And, don’t forget those side dishes like potato salad, fries, and barbecue beans. There are almost as many side dishes as there are ways to make burgers. You’ll find cookbooks devoted just to the art of side dishes, so we’ll leave those for another time.
Let me leave you with a smile on your face because how can we discuss burgers without looking at this classic Wendy’s commercial from 1984?
If you learned anything or would like to share your favorite techniques and ingredients with others who would like to learn how to make burgers, please let us know in the comments below.