Get this: The average American eats three burgers a week! But funny enough, few of us give much thought into how we prepare our patties; we just mold the meat, toss 'em on the grill, and devour them. Done and done! But if you want to craft a burger that won't soon be forgotten, there's a bit more to it than that.
What follows is a list of expert tips to ensure every burger you grill will get that "What's in these?!" reaction from your family and barbecue guests. Jot down the hacks you're most excited to try and get stoked to grill the best burgers of all time at all of your summer cookouts!
WHEN YOU'RE SHOPPING FOR BURGER SUPPLIES…
Don't Buy Pre-Ground
The pre-ground hamburger meat your grocer sells may be convenient, but oftentimes, it's made up of low-quality beef scraps. To ensure you're using the highest quality (read: best tasting) beef, pick out a fresh cut and ask the butcher to grind it and wrap it up. (We like sirloin, chuck, or brisket for their fat to lean meat ratio and delicious flavor.) You can also grind your own meat at home. If you have a KitchenAid mixer, all you need is a grinding attachment, one of the greatest investments a burger hound can make. Make sure both the attachment and the beef are very cold and grind on the coarsest setting to ensure nothing sticks.
Pick Up Some Oats or Veggies
Whether you're trying to stretch your dollar or cut back on fat by opting for a leaner cut, veggies and oats can be your saviors. Before you raise an eyebrow, hear us out! Veggies like button mushrooms, peppers, and onions add some much-needed flavor and moisture to drier (read: leaner) cuts of lean beef. They also add bulk, so you can buy less meat, but make more burgers—a huge win if you're hosting a big backyard bash. The same can be said for mixing oatmeal with burger meat. Not only does this cooking hack sneak some fiber into your meal and stretch your budget, it won't alter the taste in the slightest. That's what we like to call and win-win!
Go For Grass Fed
Want a leaner burger that's still delicious and juicy? Buy grass-fed beef. Sure, it's more expensive than conventional beef, but it naturally carries fewer calories (conventional strip steak = 55 calories/oz. vs. grass fed = 29 calories/oz.), and it carries more conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that reduces heart disease and cancer risk. For more intel on the best meats for your body, check out our report The 20 Best Proteins for Weight Loss!
Get Some Interesting Burger Toppers
After years of topping your patties with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and lettuce, don't you think it's about time you mixed things up a bit? Even if you're a stickler for tradition, your guests are sure to appreciate it if you set out some creative burger toppers. Some fun and tasty flavor combos we love: sliced tomatoes with jarred olive tapenade, pineapple slices with a spicy jalapeño salsa, guacamole with red onion, or honey mustard with brie and Granny Smith apples. Yum!
WHEN YOU'RE MAKING THE PATTIES…
Use a Lid—or a Scale
To ensure all of your burgers will be done at the same time, they've got to be the same size and shape. To ensure sure each patty is the same size, use a food scale. And to make sure your meat discs are all the same shape and thickness, try using a peanut butter jar lid as a burger mold. If you want to make snack-size sliders, a small cookie cutter or mason jar lid works wonderfully. And speaking of mason jars, be sure to check out these Awesome Mason Jar Salads Recipes—they all serve as great side dishes for any cookout.
Mold Patties When They're Cold
Up until you're ready to mold your patties, keep your meat in the refrigerator. When you mold warm beef, the fat will often separate from the meat, leaving you with less flavorful, juicy burgers. For the same reason, if the grill isn't quite ready to use after you've shaped your patties, store them in the fridge.
Season All of the Meat
Most people season their meat after they've been formed into burgers—but that's not the best way to cook up a flavorful dish, especially if you prefer thicker patties. Instead, season the meat all the way through, before you shape the meat. This ensures every bite is bursting with herbs and spices you love. (Trying to lean out this summer? Consider incorporating some of these Best Spices to Burn Fat into your cookout recipes!)
Use a Zip-Top Bag for Parties
Whether you hate touching raw meat, or simply need to quickly make a lot of patties for a hungry crowd, you're sure to love this cooking hack: Toss your raw meat, spices, and anything else you want to add to your burgers into a large zip-top baggie. Press out the air, seal it up, and mix everything together gently with your hands. Next, lay the bag on a table or countertop and gently press on it to even out the meat. Then, using a butter knife, chopstick, or ruler, score the bag, making 9 squares. Easy peasy! For even more time-saving tips, check out these 20 One-Minute Dinner Hacks That Save Tons of Time!
Obsessed with cheese? Don't just top your burger with ooey-gooey goodness, stuff it inside the meat for perfectly melted cheddar or American in every bite! Sick of traditional cheese options? Food Network star Mario Batali likes to stuff his patties with blue cheese. Mmm…
Obsessed with cheese? Don't miss these 18 Mac-and-Cheese Recipes for Weight Loss!
Dip Your Hands in Cold Water
To ensure more of the meat winds up on your grill than stuck to your hands, dip your mitts into cold water before molding your meat. Heat from your hands can make the ground beef stickier and more difficult to shape into patties.
Salt at the Last Moment
Salt the meat before you form the patties and the sodium chloride will break down protein strands, creating a dense texture closer to sausage than the loose, tender ideal you're looking for. Always salt your burgers just seconds—not minutes—before grilling.
WHEN IT'S ON THE GRILL…
Don't Close the Lid
After testing a dozen different grilling methods, we came up with one clear path to juicy, medium-rare results: Cook your burgers with the lid up, over a medium flame—enough heat to give the patties a nice char, but not so much that you cook the outside before the center of the burger reaches a perfect pink.
Thin 'Em Out
If you prefer your burgers well done, you can preserve some of the juices by molding thinner patties, which will allow the meat to cook faster, explains Rick Browne, author of "The Ultimate Guide to Grilling." Adding minced veggies can also help to keep 'em nice and juicy.
Make the Perfect Cheeseburger
If you're going the traditional route and adding cheese to the top of your burgers, don't wait until you're sitting down to do so. To make sure it melts, add it as soon as you flip the burger.
Limit the Flipping
I'm not sure about you, but whenever I'm standing in front of the grill, I feel like I need to be doing something. So, oftentimes, I'll mindlessly flip my burgers—don't do that. When it comes to burgers, the less you touch them, the tastier and juicier they'll turn out.
Don't Cut to Test for Doneness
Slicing open a burger to peek inside will give you a good indication of doneness, but it will also decimate an otherwise pristine piece of meat. So, do it like the pros and use a thermometer. Touch and appearance can serve as rough indicators, but ultimately it's the internal temperature that determines the doneness of meat.
WHEN IT'S TIME TO EAT…
Toast the Bun & Put Toppings on the Bottom
Juicy burgers on an untoasted, squishy bun is a guaranteed trip to sog city—and possibly your dry cleaner. To keep your bun from disintegrating beneath a pool of fat, pop it into the toaster. Placing your tomato and lettuce under the burger instead of on top can also act as a meat juice roadblock, protecting your bun.
Choose the Right Beer
"Good food can make good beer taste better, and vice versa," says Aviram Turgeman, a cicerone (a sommelier of beer) at Cafe D'Alsace in New York City. When you know you'll be cooking up some burgers, he suggests stocking up on an Amber Ale like Fischer Amber, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. "Strong flavors overwhelm light beers," says Turgeman. That's why you need a complex, heavier brew to handle something hearty like a burger.