I have no doubt that the burgers you cook at home are delicious, made with love to the delight of family and friends. However, if you want to up your burger game – or maybe don’t receive quite the compliments you hope for when you put patties on buns – we have a few tips that can help. Starting with the beef.
No matter how you like your burgers, at their core is a hunk of ground beef. Buy the pre-packaged stuff in the store and you’ll know its grade and its fat content, but little else. Better to start at the beginning and do the work yourself.
Start with a combination of ground chuck and ground sirloin, the best quality you can afford. You can use all sirloin, as long as it has enough marbling to guarantee a good fat content – you’re looking for around 15-20 percent fat in the final grind, which will ensure a juicy and rich burger.
Break out the food processor and cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. Put the meat into the freezer for 15-minutes or so to make it firm, then pulse it in the food processor in batches until it is chopped. You don’t want it pureed, just shredded. The smaller the pieces, the tougher the final burger. Of course, if the pieces are too big, the burger becomes more like chopped steak than ground meat.
Leave it loose! The biggest rule when forming a burger is to avoid packing the individual bits of ground beef too tightly together, which can make the burger dense and tough. Instead, take a handful of ground beef and gently form it into a loose patty. You want it to stay together, but it doesn’t need serious structural integrity – during cooking, the proteins in the meat will shrink and bind together, keeping the patty coherent.
Seasoning is vital at this point. Some people recommend adding salt and pepper before you form the patties, which does get the seasoning all the way through the burger, but it’s better to wait until they are formed. Salt on the surface will help form a crisper crust than salt impregnated into the meat.
If you grill your burgers, you’ll want very high heat at first so that the grill rack is ready to sear the surface of the meat. Just before grilling, however, you want the heat source to be damped enough to discourage flame-ups, which can char the burger. Once the patties are on, keep and eye on them and turn them only after they’ve cooked enough for come free from rack. Only one flip, please. Cooking time depends, but a 1/3-pound burger takes anywhere from 5-8 minutes for rare to medium-rare.
If you’re cooking on a stove-top, you’ll need a heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron). Non-stick pans won’t be able to generate as good a crust as other pans. Heat the skillet over medium-high for a couple of minutes, then place the burgers in the pan. They will smoke, so prepare your vents appropriately. Like on the grill, you’re looking for the pan to release the burgers before flipping, which will happen once there’s enough crust developed. Flip once and cook until done to your preferences, approximately 3-5 minutes per side, depending on the size of the burgers.