17 Common Mistakes When Making Burgers
You’ve invested in a shiny new barbecue and even tackled the weed jungle that accumulated in the backyard. Grilling season is here, and now that you’ve got the perfect setting to flip patties for friends and family, all you need to do is master the classic hamburger.
Seems easier than spraying weed killer until your thumb goes numb, right? While many folks don’t put much thought into crafting homemade patties, there’s more to it than grabbing ground beef and a package of buns.
Below, we’ve rounded up 17 common mistakes people make when grilling burgers. And we’re not gonna leave you in the dark: you’ll also find easy solutions to all your grilling woes, including how to build a better burger.
Your patties aren’t flat.
Mistake: “Ever had burger patties that were rounded and not ﬂat? These types of burgers are awkward to eat! People tend to forget that ﬂattening your patty before cooking is essential to making that perfect burger form,” Derek Wolf, fire cooking enthusiast and owner of Over the Fire Cooking, reminds us.
Solution: “Flatten the patties by pressing them ﬂat using a burger press. If you don’t have a burger press, then try pressing together two plates or two cutting boards to get that ﬂat burger form. Fun tip: If you are looking to double stack burgers, make sure to have thin patties or else you will have a very tall burger!”
You seasoned the beef too early.
Mistake: “Ever had a burger that was tough and dry? You might have thought this was because you cooked it too long, but I bet it was because you seasoned it too early,” Wolf says.
Solution: “When seasoning the meat, make sure to form the patty before you add Morton Coarse Kosher Salt and black pepper. Salt extracts the moisture from the meat and leaves you with a dry patty. Adding the salt right before you cook can help guarantee you have a nice, juicy burger that is full of ﬂavor.”
Your grill isn’t clean.
Mistake: “Nothing is worse than burgers sticking to the grill grate when you try to flip them. Most people think that burgers are so juicy that they will release from the grill very easily. This is not always the case,” Wolf tells us.
Solution: “Make sure to clean your grill grate before cooking. Preheat the grill so that the heat loosens some of the previous residues. Take a grill scraper and brush oﬀ as much as possible. If the grate is really dirty, then add some oil to the brush and put it onto the grill grate (be careful with oil and ﬁre!). Fun tip: Clean your grill immediately after cooking while it is still hot so that you are ready to start cooking at your next backyard grill out!”
You rely only on the grill.
Solution: “Burgers are simple to make on a stovetop, too—with the right seasonings and toppings. A little seasoning can go a long way to bring out the best flavors. Drizzle olive oil into a frying pan on high heat,” Sidoti says, adding that a cast iron is your best bet. “Once it gets nice and hot, and the heat is distributed evenly, it’ll deliver on those grill marks you’re hoping for.” While the cast iron warms up, form the burger patties using your favorite type of meat and then sprinkle on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano, Sidoti says.
You forgot the thermometer.
Mistake: “If you’re a newbie at cooking burgers, it may be difficult to know when the burger reaches the right internal temperature for your desired doneness,” Sidoti warns.
Solution: To help clear up the confusion, Sidoti recommends using a meat thermometer to check for the desired doneness. An internal temperature of 125ºF denotes rare while 130ºF will render a medium-rare burger. Prefer your meat more done? For medium, cook until the meat reaches 140ºF; for medium-well, aim for 150ºF; and for well-done, leave the patty on the grill or pan until it reaches 165ºF.
You flipped the patty too early.
Mistake: Sidoti tells us that one of the most common mistakes people make when cooking burgers is flipping the patty too early or pressing down on the burger while it’s cooking.
Solution: “Stay hands-off!” Sidoti advises. “Let the meat do its thing and cook and then rest for a minute or two when it’s done!”
You flip your patty too many times.
Mistake: Chef Tamra Scroggins, director of food culture at Sizzler, advises against flipping your burger too much while it’s cooking. “Resist the urge to flip or poke and prod at your patty as it cooks,” says Scroggins. “Doing so can remove the moisture from the meat.”
Solution: “At most, you should cook your burger for at least 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the doneness you’re aiming for,” she says. “Of course, it’s always best to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your burgers.” (Refer back to tip #5!)
RELATED: The easy way to make healthier comfort foods.
You put the burger on the grill too early.
Mistake: “Ever have a burger that is overcooked on the outside but not right in the inside?” asks executive chef and concept creator of Shore Club South Beach’s eatery Diez y Seis, chef Jose Icardi. “In that case, you may have put your patty on the grill before it was readily hot.”
Solution: “One of the biggest mistakes people make is putting the patty on the grill before it’s reached the right temperature. Just because the fire is going, doesn’t mean the grill is ready to use for cooking. You want to make sure the grill or pan is hot before throwing on the patty, and then, of course, let it cook before flipping,” he says. And speaking of getting the grill hot…
You use lighter fluid to start the fire.
Mistake: “Have you ever had a burger that hinted at a taste of lighter fluid? You probably used too much lighter fluid to start the fire and rushed to get the fire started,” says Icardi.
Solution: “Invest in good charcoal. Lighter fluid does a great job at starting a fire, but it can majorly ruin the taste of your food. Start up your grill with plenty of time to ensure that you get the perfect fire going without having to utilize any additives,” he says.
You stack your burger with too many ingredients.
Mistake: All too often people top their burgers with just too many toppings, at which point, you begin to taste a plethora of different flavors. Corporate Executive chef for INK Entertainment USA, Patrick Ochs, says achieving that perfect burger to topping ratio is a key aspect in the burger-making process.
Solution: “Balance is key to any burger. Based on whichever condiments, produce, and meat you decide to put in your burger, you must remember to keep a balanced ratio of all ingredients. I tend to make my burgers with the following ratio: 50 percent Bun, 30 percent patty, 10 percent produce, 5 percent cheese, 5 percent sauce. Burgers are meant to be simple and fresh. You want to be able to taste all of your ingredients in every bite,” says Ochs.
You over-season your burger.
Mistake: “Ever try a burger and couldn’t taste the actual quality of the meat? You may have tried too hard to impress your guests,” says Icardi.
Solution: “Keep it simple. Buy good quality meat, and try to go straight from the store to the grill. Freezing the meat may take away from its natural flavors. A little salt and olive oil can go a long way,” he says. Do you hear that? You can ditch that tray of seasoning!
You scorch your patties.
Mistake: Danny Lee, the executive chef of Burger & Lobster USA, says the worst thing you can do is let your burgers flame up. “It looks good on TV commercials, but it makes whatever you’re cooking taste like gasoline,” he explains. “What people confuse this with is the process of flambé, where you’re cooking off the alcohol of wine [and] brandy. What is actually happening is that the fat is touching the flames and burning up, leaving a residue that tastes like gasoline.”
Solution: “I understand it is difficult to control this on grills due to the amount of fat in burger patties, so I would recommend moving the patties away from the flames to a different spot on the grill. Otherwise, the other option would be to cook the burgers on a griddle, which helps it cook a bit in its own fat,” he says.
You’re not using the right kind of grind or cut of beef.
Mistake: “Too fine or too coarse of a grind on your patty and using the wrong cut of beef can also ruin a burger,” says chef de cuisine at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill in Downtown Summerlin, Las Vegas Daniel Stramm.
Solution: “When making burgers fresh you want to make sure that your grind is just right. If you have too coarse or too fine of a grind, it will take away from the texture of the burger. Also, the cut of meat that you decide to use can play a huge role in your burger texture. I like to use a blend of chuck, brisket, and chain meat from tenderloins. If your meat is too lean your burger will be dry. If your meat is too fatty your burger will fall apart,” says Stramm.
You neglected to pick the right bun.
Mistake: “Many people forget that the bun is just important as the meat,” says Ochs.
Solution: “Just like all the other ingredients when constructing a burger, the bun is the main piece to the puzzle, which holds it all together. There are many types of buns such as classic, brioche, wheat, potato, and lettuce. Based on your preference, you can then decide on how to build your burger patty. I personally prefer to use a potato roll, which is light and soft, making it the perfect combination to enjoy all the flavors of the burger itself. Remember to also toast the bread to add a layer of flavor and complexity,” he says.
You squish your burgers to cook faster.
Mistake: You may feel like pressing down on your burger will expedite how fast it will cook, however, chef Stramm warns against it. “This lets all of the flavor you developed through seasoning drip right down into your coals, causing a spark, which in return will put a carbon taste into your burger,” he says.
Solution: “Let your burger take time to cook and develop stronger flavor through the Maillard reaction, he says. The chef says this kind of reaction is a chemical one that occurs between an amino acid and a reducing sugar once heat is applied. He says it has a similar effect as caramelization.
You cook too many burgers all at once.
Mistake: If you’re hosting a party or cookout, you may feel the need to whip up all of the burgers at once, but Executive chef Linh Aven of B.GOOD says to reconsider so you don’t sacrifice the taste.
“It can be tempting to cook a whole bunch of burgers at once to avoid being stuck standing at the grill while everyone else is socializing, but spending a few extra minutes at the grill to cook your burgers to order is well worth it.”
Solution: Make sure to prep everything else beforehand so that way you can spend time flipping the burgers.
“Burgers are best eaten right away,” she says. “You don’t want to compromise on taste when you’re feeding a group of guests, and nobody wants a cold burger wrapped in foil! That said, you can minimize the amount of additional work needed by prepping everything else like condiments, toppings, [and] plateware in advance.”
You don’t let your patty rest.
Mistake: Culinary Director at King’s Fish House, Fabrice Poigin, and chef Ochs both say that one of the biggest mistakes you can make while making burgers is not giving it adequate time to rest on the grill. Have you ever bit into a hamburger and thought the bun was just too soggy? It’s likely that you’re just eating your burger too quickly after it finished cooking. Here’s how to avoid that.
Solution: “Allow the beef patty to rest at least a couple of minutes after cooking, some blood and juices will drip away thus keeping the bun from getting soggy,” says Poigin.
“Resting is very important when grilling a burger. Like most meats, giving your burger the chance to rest allows all of the deliciously mouthwatering juices to collect and re-distribute throughout the patty, for a real concentrated juicy flavor,” says Ochs. “The smaller the burger patty is, the less time that’s needed to rest. For larger patties, you should allow the burger to rest for up to 6-10 minutes.”