The fourth of July is approaching, and you’re probably thinking about grilling burgers. You’re ready to baptize the new grill while honoring your beloved country with a classic American tradition during this time of year: the good old backyard BBQ.
But a lot of you probably struggled along the way. You’ve burned or undercooked many burger patties, leading to unsatisfied guests and disastrous experiences overall. Some of you may even be so discouraged that you never grilled burgers again.
If you failed once or a few times, you’re not a lost cause. You may have to make some minor but crucial tweaks. And to help guide you toward the right path, we spoke to some experts and got their valuable insight.
Everyone’s Common Mistakes When Grilling Burgers
So you’re grilling burgers one afternoon, and you notice yourself struggling. You can’t get it right, and you’ve been racking your brain, asking where you might be getting it wrong.
Here are the usual mistakes everyone makes, according to experts. Take notes and make sure to avoid them next time.
Poor Meat Handling
In this case, poor meat handling covers essential aspects like shaping, mixing, and flipping. When forming the meat patty, experienced home cook William Chase of KitchenForBeginners shared what he believes is the proper thickness.
“Ideally, you’d want your patty about 5 or 6 inches in circumference and about a half to two-thirds inches thick (max),” he told SOFREP. “You also want the middle to be thinner than that outside as the center will plump when you cook. If you do the opposite and have a really thick center, the outside will burn before the inside gets cooked properly.”
As someone grilling burgers for the first time, meat handling won’t be your strongest suit. You could put too much pressure on it, causing those precious juices to flow.
“Many folks love to play with their food and in this case, it’s a no-no,” said Rosie Elliott, a chef of over 15 years and owner of Kitchen Appliance Answer. “Every squeeze and pinch toughens the beef and presses out those lovely juices we’re after. My mantra? Handle it like you’re cracking a raw egg.”
According to Food Queries founder Melissa Baker, never do this, especially while cooking.
“While grilling, resist the urge to press down on the patties with a spatula. This helps retain the natural juices within the meat, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful burger,” Baker told SOFREP.
Regarding the flipping process, Chase recommends doing it twice, at most, and using a timer for even cooking. You’ll find these devices on Amazon, and for $12.99, you get one with an elegant design.
“You want to do 3-4 min a side, so set a timer on your phone. Flip after the timer goes off and set it again. Then once it rings the second time, evaluate if it’s done or if you need to go into overtime.”
Improper Grilling Temperatures
Keeping temperatures at the proper level is one of the biggest challenges home cooks face when grilling burgers. Either the device isn’t hot enough, or the heat is too much.
Experienced home cook, Stacy Spear gave a ballpark figure regarding the right Fahrenheit temperature and some helpful suggestions.
“A grill should be right at 400 degrees,” Spear told SOFREP. “Add smoke wood a few minutes before adding the burgers to the edge of the coals. A sear plate that has been heated for at least 20 minutes gives you maximum contact with heat to get great searing over the entire burger.
“Those grill marks look cool but don’t translate to flavor. A cold grill doesn’t have enough char for that great burger taste, and a grill too hot burns the outside before the inside has reached temperature.”
Part of proper burger grilling practices is making sure you set up different ‘zones’ or spots on your cooking vessel. Elliot reminds all home cooks not to neglect this crucial step.
“Most people heat their grills uniformly, but a dual-heat zone (hot on one side, cooler on the other) works wonders.
“That way, you can sear your patties on the hot side and let them finish cooking on the cooler side. It’s like having a safety net at your cookout.”
Overcooking or Undercooking
Finding the correct doneness is another battle many home cooks struggle with when grilling burgers. The outside looks wholly charred, but the inside is raw, pink, and runny for the wrong reasons.
It pays to know what you’re looking for in a perfectly-grilled burger, and Chase gave the visible signs to notice.
“It’s better to err on the side of caution. Keep in mind that once you take it off the grill, it’ll keep cooking for a few minutes still. Also, a traditional beef patty will shrink quite a bit as it gets closer to being done.
“When you see it start to get to about two-thirds of its original size then you know you are getting close. At that point, if the outside looks cooked and you’ve already flipped once, it’s likely done. Take one burger off the grill and cut in the middle to make sure it’s cooked all the way through to your degree of liking.”
If you’re grilling burgers to a medium rare, you’re looking for an internal temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. And assuming you’re far from an expert at eye-balling, get yourself a meat thermometer. Amazon offers products as low as $15.99 and as high as $99.95 for smart wireless devices.
Seasoning Too Late
According to experts, there’s a perfect time to season. Food blogger Peter Rohn of The Steak Coach advises adding salt two hours before cooking or immediately after the meat touches the grill.
“If you salt your burgers and let them sit for 30 minutes or so, this will draw moisture to the outside, resulting in wet patties,” Rohn explained to SOFREP. “Salting them immediately before grilling will not allow enough time for this to happen, which is a good thing.
“On the flip side, salting your burgers 2 hours before cooking is what we call a dry brine. This adds a ton of flavor to your patties and allows enough time for the salt to tenderize and penetrate the meat.
“Just make sure to pat your patties dry before throwing them on the grill.”
Expert Tips to Ensure Success When Grilling Burgers
Now that you know what mistakes to avoid, here are some tips to ensure a successful burger-grilling experience.
Make a Dimple on the Meat
Reading this may leave you scratching your head, but what our experts mean is to add a little indentation at the center of the meat patty. Joyce Rodriguez of WomenChefs.org offered this simple suggestion.
“Always make a slight dimple in the middle of your burger. This helps the patty maintain its shape and cook evenly.”
When creating that dimple, Baker suggests using your thumb before grilling, which could help prevent the meat from puffing up.
Use Frozen Patties For Practice
Assuming you’re grilling burgers for the first, second, or third time, it would be inevitable to make mistakes. The problem is that such errors can be expensive.
You don’t want to waste fresh meat, so practice with frozen burgers.
“You can get awesome results from frozen patties, and they taste great,” Chase says. “Best of all, you don’t need to defrost them. Just throw it directly on the grill and cook each side for about 3-4 min.”
Here’s another likely head-scratcher, but there is a reason behind the madness. Beer contains acids that break down the meat’s connective tissues. It’s a technique Chase likewise advises for added moisture.
“The one thing you don’t want is a dried-out burger patty. So a great trick is to pour some beer on top as it cooks. This will add some moisture and flavor to the burgers and keep them from getting dried out.”
What is the Right Appliance For Grilling Burgers?
Most of the experts we spoke to suggested using gas grills. A gas grill comes with temperature controls, especially for the novice home cook, to help with easier heat gauging. They are also easier to clean, unlike charcoal grills.
Baker recommends the Weber Spirit II E-10. For $569, this three-burner grill has a more extensive surface area to allow simultaneous cooking of multiple burgers.
But if you want the added smokiness of charcoal grills, Baker recommends the Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill. The smallest variant is 18 inches, with a price tag of $119. On the other hand, the biggest model is 26 inches and costs $429.
Be a Champion at Grilling Burgers
Hopefully, this short article clears away any apprehensions you may have about grilling burgers. Now you have the rules to play by. It’s time to start cooking.
Put that new grill to good use. You can find affordable and reliable products on Amazon if you don’t have one. They should be your next wise investment.