Nobody needs convincing that a juicy grilled cheeseburger is summer’s favorite All American party meal. One juicy bite will have them belting out America the Beautiful on this Memorial Day weekend. But anyone who thinks crafting a classic burger is as easy as slapping down ground meat on a grill has another thing coming.
My spouse AKA Farmer Paul is grill master around our house. Read on for his ten top tips for making perfect burgers and start this year’s backyard cook-out season with a surefire success.
1. Buy Good Meat
Ground sirloin steak or rib-eye with a meat-to-fat ratio between 75-25 and 80-20 makes the best tasting burger ever. Never assume the leanest meat is the best. It'll be as dry as cardboard by the time you're done grilling it!
2. Chill the Meat First
Before you even form the patties, put the meat in the fridge for a half hour or so. Getting it colder helps it stay fresh while you work it into The Perfect Patty. Wash your hands thoroughly and rinse those squeaky clean hands in cold water before working with the meat is also helpful.
3. Form the Perfect Patty
Start with one pound of meat. Pull the meat apart into 4 equal pieces, then pat down into a patty on a hard surface with one hand while forming the rough edge with the other. Your patty should be about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Don’t over handle the meat, it will toughen it up. Push your thumb into the center of the meat to make about a quarter-inch deep dimple. The burger will be perfectly flat when they're finished cooking. After you've formed your patties, lightly cover with plastic wrap and put them back in the fridge to cool down again for 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Use the Right Buns
Keep in mind the bun forms more than half the burger. Buns about 4 inches to 4-1/2 inches round are generally good. You don't want a super-thick burger overhanging the buns -- but just the right size to get a taste of every element; burger, bun, and toppings in every bite. If you’re super ambitious, try making your own with a good brioche dough recipe and artisan bread topping (King Arthur’s Flour catalog -- $6.95 a bag).
Never ever salt your meat before grilling. Salt dries out the juices and dries out the meat. For people who just can’t live without salt, have it available at the table. But feel free to generously pepper to your heart’s delight. Try using a mutil-color ground pepper mix, each has it’s own distinct flavor and adds a certain zing to the meat!
6. Preheat the Grill
Hot, hot, hot! You want to sear the meat really quickly so you have nice color on the outside and a juicy pink center. Get the gas grill temperature to 500 degrees F before laying down that first burger. If using traditional charcoal, if you can put your hand lower than six inches above grill and not feel the heat It’s not ready yet!
7. The Perfect Grill Technique
Here's the secret to a nice juicy burger: After you get the first sear, do a quarter turn, leave it alone for a little longer -- 4 minutes for medium rare, 5 minutes for medium on that first side. Then flip it and leave it another 3 minutes for medium rare, 4 minutes for medium. Do another quarter turn, let it get its marking, then take it off the grill. Don’t push down on the patty while it is cooking. One flip. Period. Though I don’t recommend a well done burger, add an extra minute to each side for anyone who prefers the meat brown all the way through.
8. Put on the Cheese Before It Leaves the Grill
Add cheese after your last flip or turn, while the burger's still on the grill. It'll start to melt slightly and be nicely oozing by the time it gets to the table. Try breaking out of the usual American-cheddar-Swiss triad of cheeses: Think gruyere, blue cheese or camembert.
9. Rest the Cooked Burgers
After you take it off the heat, let the burger rest and redistribute its juices for a minute or two -- just like you would a steak. The first juicy bite will be worth the wait!
10. Be Creative with Toppings
Everyone's got a different idea about what tops the perfect burger. In addition to the traditional mayo, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles -- try at least five or six other, less common options. Consider wasabi mayo, BBQ sauce, jalepenos, chopped sweet gherkins, shredded cabbage, hummus or horseradish.