How to Make Burgers – From Choosing the Right Meat to Perfect Grilling

How much do Americans love their burgers? In a survey of diners from the largest 13 cities, 75% said that burgers were their favorite food. Second place went to Mexican food (72%) with thin crust pizza (67%) rounding out third.

Americans love burgers so much that according to a PBS Newshour report: “On average, Americans eat three hamburgers a week. That’s a national total of nearly 50 billion burgers per year.”

We know we love them but what makes a perfect burger? What meat should be used? What other ingredients? How d you perfect grill one?

Let’s find out in our ultimate guide on how to make burgers.

Close up of a good home made burger
© Mark Jenner / FoodFireFriends.com

To me, it’s a combination of the flavor of perfectly seasoned beef, a nice sear, not dense and juice running down your chin as you take that first bite.

The other part of your 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 how to make burgers at home and present it to you in this article.

By the Way, What is a Hamburger?

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 the Perfect Hamburger

Good Food Recipes has an easy to read chart showing where the main cuts of beef come from on the animal, plus a U.K. version of the same diagram. For this article, we will use 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 fat to be good.

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.

In your local grocery store, you’ll see four types of ground beef labeled,

  • Ground Beef
  • Chuck
  • Round or
  • Sirloin

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:

Close up of oxtail and chuck on a chopping board
© Mark Jenner / FoodFireFriends.com

Ground Beef

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.

Ground Chuck

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.

Ground Round

The “Top,” “Eye,” and “Bottom” round 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.

Ground Sirloin

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.

If you don’t have a meat grinder, you can check out our two guides for the best electric meat grinders and best manual meat grinders, there’s something in each for all needs and budgets 🙂

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. You can read all the technical details in the FDA report.

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 how.

Now that you have your ground meat let’s make some beef burgers!

Binders, Fillers, Flavorings or Other Ingredients

Burger ingredients, including oxtail, chuck, mustard, onion and egg
© Mark Jenner / FoodFireFriends.com

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
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Cheese
  • 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 – And How to Grill a Perfect Burger

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. Here are some tips.

Making Burger Patties

There are two schools of thought on burgers: Thick or thin?

To Make Thin Burgers:

  • 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.

Here are a few pictures on how to do this method. 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.

For 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.

Let’s Grill those Bad Boys!

Gas or charcoal, 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 blood start to form on top.

Thick burgers take about 4 to 5 minutes per side and thin ones only 2 to 3 minutes. (Click here for a more detailed look on how long to grill your burgers.)

Remember, burgers are like pancakes, you should only flip them once.

Do not press them 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.

Also, don’t leave your burger unattended because dripping fat can potentially cause flare-ups (NOTES to Mark: Link to your article – Article How to Prevent Flare ups) and burn your burger fast.

Use a thermometer to make sure they’re cooked to 160°F (71°C). Yes, that’s medium well to well, but you don’t have to worry about salmonella, and your burger will still be juicy.

Let’s Eat! Toppings, Condiments and Other Good Stuff

Toppings

Whatever topping you add, lettuce, tomato, and onion, make sure they are fresh, thinly sliced and dry.

For Pickles

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 bit with every bite.

Cheese

“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!

Condiments

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 barbecue, 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.

Bun

For heaven’s sake, buy or bake a quality bun. 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 how to make burgers. So, let’s look at some recipes you can make at home that will make you the star of your next grill out.

5 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 and a 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 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 Burger 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:

  1. You grind the beef yourself using cuts of brisket, chuck and beef short ribs for a unique flavor
  2. 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 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 Grilling the Perfect Burger

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 thumb print 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.

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.

Happy grilling!

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com. I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

Leave a Comment