There’s no more iconic food to grill than a good old-fashioned burger — but there are various schools of thought on how to get perfectly grilled meat.
Pros will tell you that ensuring tender, juicy burgers has to do with both sourcing and technique. Some say you shouldn’t actually grill burgers (more on that below), but we say if you do, just do it right.
No one wants to chow down on a dry, crumbly McMess. You deserve better. That’s why we’re sharing insider tips for achieving grillmaster status when it comes to burgers.
How to grill perfect burgers
Try out these 7 simple tricks for making a perfect, juicy grilled burger every time.
1. Avoid extra-lean grinds
The higher the fat content of your ground beef, the moister the patty. A burger with beef that’s 80% lean (i.e., 20% fat) is luxurious and juicy.
2. Don’t manhandle your meat
That’s not a dirty joke! For reals, you’ll want to form your patties gently, compressing as little as possible. Just as overworking pastry and dough will make it tough, so will over-handling your meat. (While we’re on the subject of handling meat, proper food safety technique will also help prevent food-borne illness, the bane of any barbecue.)
3. Make a dip
Make an indentation in the middle of each patty. Just press your thumb (not too firmly) into the meat and the divot will prevent it from puffing up and will allow it to cook evenly. This tip is endorsed by Jon Lemon, culinary director of NYC’s Bareburger Kitchen and Bar.
4. Resist the urge to press
Don’t press the patties with a spatula as they cook — that just forces out the juice. Your spatula is strictly for flipping, and only once.
5. Take them off the grill a little early
Keep in mind there’s carryover cooking time, so pull the burgers off the grill just shy of your target doneness. They’ll be just right when they hit the table. Conversely, pull them off when they already look perfect, and by the time they hit your bun, they’ll be overdone.
6. Water is your friend
If you just can’t resist buying lean ground beef, try adding a bit of water to it. A little extra moisture helps even well-done burgers stay juicy and tender, even if they’re made from 90% lean ground beef.
Mix in 1/4-1/2 cup water per pound of ground beef before forming your patties to reap the tenderizing benefit of H20. Some chefs tuck an ice cube into the middle of the patty for the same effect.
7. Get stuffed
Try stuffing your patty with cheese and adding fat via toppings. The classic Juicy Lucy is a great option for anyone who wants a really luxurious burger, since it’s full of molten cheese.
Along those lines, adding fatty, moist condiments like aioli, bacon jam, ripe tomatoes, and sliced avocado will help boost your burger’s juicy factor (and flavor), but can’t totally save a bone-dry patty, so follow the tips above to ensure your burgers stay perfectly moist on the grill, and then go to town with the toppings.
Plot twist: Should you be grilling burgers at all?
There are those (chefs included) who advocate against cooking burgers right on your grill grates, as you can lose a lot of the flavorful juices and fat — which sometimes also causes flare-ups that char your meat to a crisp (in a bad way).
Many suggest placing a cast iron griddle on your grill for cooking burgers to get a perfectly seared crust and juicy interior, and maybe still a lick or two of smoke.
Grilled burger recipes to get you fired up
Time to fan the flames of your culinary prowess! These grilled burger recipes will make you the toast of the barbecue.
There’s something different about this burger… is it the baguette as a bun? The olive tapenade topping? The Monterey Jack cheese? Several little signature touches make these black jack burgers worth revisiting time and again.
The Mediterranean diet may be known for its focus on fruits and veggies, but that doesn’t mean meat doesn’t make an appearance from time to time. Lamb is often used in Mediterranean cuisine. Here, it’s Americanized into a delicious burger complete with harissa mayo, tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese.
Chicka-chicka-boom! If this burger’s flavor had a sound, that’s what it would be. Sriracha, spicy ginger, and plenty of kimchi pile onto tender burgers made of chicken thigh meat.
Wanna blow barbecue guests away with a restaurant-quality burger? This is the one.
We’re talking bleu cheese-stuffed patties with homemade buttermilk-battered onion rings, served with a spicy beer-infused aioli. We don’t know whether to drool or swoon.
If you’re hankering for something other than the usual beef burger, check out this pork and chorizo option. Green chiles grill alongside the meat for a smoky topping that pairs beautifully with the cooler flavor of an avocado mash.