Grilling season is upon us! Did you know that 81% of households in America own a grill? Can you guess which meat is the most popular to grill? Hamburgers are the most popular grilled meat. Second place goes to steak. Chicken is third place and hot dogs round out the top four. Last trivia question, what are the top three days for grilling in the U.S.? You guessed it, 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day! (Source HPBA)
With so many of us firing up the grill and the majority of people grilling hamburgers, I wanted to share with you some simple tips that will take your hamburgers from dry and tough to moist and tender.
1. Use high quality beef – The first decision is the quality and kind of ground beef to purchase. The fact of the matter is that lean ground beef does not make for good burgers. Your meat needs fat in it to keep it juicy during the cooking process. I recommend 80/20 ground beef. For me, 80/20 has the right proportions of beef to fat. I purchase mine at the grocery store, however it is best if you go to a butcher who can grind it fresh. If you are really an over achiever you can grind your own meat at home.
2. Wet your hands – The reason for wetting your hands before forming the hamburger patties is that the meat will stick to your hands less. Less sticking equals less overworking of the meat. Overworking the meat is a very common mistake. It will take a bit of practice but you want to work the meat in your hands just enough to form the patty without too much squishing and smashing. The more compact your ground beef, the tougher the hamburger. I like my patties to be ½ to ¾ of an inch thick. It is also wise to make your burger slightly larger than the bun as it is inevitable some shrinking will occur.
3. Put an indention in the middle of each patty – Burgers have the tendency to dome in the center as they cook. Making a small indention in the center of each patty with your thumb or the back of spoon will make for flat burgers. Domed burgers don’t taste any different but it can be difficult to keep the toppings from sliding off the burger if it is higher in the center.
4. Salt – There are differing views on seasoning the meat before making patties or seasoning it on the outside only. I only season the meat on the outside of the burger, just before grilling. Salt in the meat will break down the proteins and make the meat more cohesive (think sausage). That is great for sausage but not what you want in a burger.
5. Hot and fast – Preheat your grill to high. Next, using a paper towel, tongs and vegetable oil, grease the grill. This will keep the meat from sticking. You want the outside of the burger to be crispy and the inside moist. Use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature is 160 degrees. The exact time this will take depends on your grill. For my grill, I've found that 5 minutes on the first side and 4-5 on the second side is just about right.
6. Leave it alone – I remember being a kid and watching my mother cook hamburgers on the stove in a frying pan. She would press them down with the back of a spatula and all of the juices from the meat would cause a big sizzling sound and a large puff of steam would travel up to the ceiling. I’m sure this is how she was taught but any more pressing down on a burger while it’s cooking is a culinary sin. It makes sense too. The goal is to have all of the juices stay inside the burger. Also, only flip the burger once, when the bottom is crispy.
7. Let it sit – After removing the burgers from the grill, they should sit for approximately 10 minutes. This helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat and less will run out when you take that first juicy bite.
8. Toast those buns – After taking all of these steps to grill the perfect burger you don’t want to slap it on a cheap, thin bun. Juicy burgers deserve, no they NEED a chewy toasted bun! I like a good kaiser roll. You can usually find some good ones in the bakery at your local grocery store. While your hamburgers are resting, throw the buns, cut side down, on the grill. I like to brush some butter on the bun first, but that is not necessary, just personal preference.