How do you shape the perfect hamburger patty?
July 23, 2009 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Grilling MeFites: How do you shape the perfect hamburger patty?

My first few attempts at hamburger patty construction have been much less than optimal, and I'm trying to figure out how best to shape the patties so they aren't lumpy and oddly sized. It's part aesthetics and part "let's make sure this cooks thoroughly". Looking for ideas on how best to make my patties so that they are fairly uniform.

In case it matters: Using around a 70/30 beef mix, blending in some spices and shredded cheese with the meat.
posted by deezil to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried adding an egg to the mix? In my experience, it helps things hold together in a nice, patty-shaped manner.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:32 AM on July 23, 2009

I blend (?) a handful of cool water in the ground beef (I have small hands), as the chill of the water firms up the fat a bit, making the patty easier for me to shape.
posted by droplet at 6:35 AM on July 23, 2009

My burgers are just ground beef with nothing else, except for a little kosher salt on the surface. Honestly, as long as it's quality meat, the composition of the meat isn't all that critical.

Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. I let it sit out for an hour or so. The warmer meat it easier to form without it cracking apart. Roll it into a ball, squish it flat, and then make a pretty big depression in the middle. Aim for maybe half the thickness in the middle as at the edges.

The room temperature meat makes the burger cook through better, as opposed to having a well done surface and raw interior. It lets you cook at a slightly higher temperature to get that nicely charred outside, too. The big depression mitigates the tendency of the patty to swell up in the middle.
posted by paanta at 6:36 AM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

The more you handle it, the tougher it gets. So be gentle and don't beat your meat.

We roll ours out on wax paper with a rolling pin, and use the top of a large drinking glass as a cutter, much like a cookie cutter. Put a thumb dent in the middle of each patty to prevent ballooning and shrinkage. No one likes shrinkage.
posted by iconomy at 6:37 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My mom swears by adding a packet of dry mushroom soup mix to the meat. Also, she uses one of those patty shapers: it's an open-ended cylinder with a disc-shaped "pusher" that fits into it. You place the cylinder on piece of wax paper, drop a ball of meat in, and push down to flatten it. Voila, perfectly round burgers. You can get them at any housewares store like Bed, Bath & Beyond. Probably Walmart as well.
posted by yawper at 6:37 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I feel compulsive about such things, I weigh the meat on my kitchen scale, roll into a ball, and flatten.

Alton Brown (I think) says you should press a little depression into the centre of the patty on each side to minimize it turning into a softball on the grill. I've done this and it really does seem to help.
posted by maudlin at 6:39 AM on July 23, 2009

When you're ready to shape it, put the meat in between two pieces of wax paper, and get a large soup can, and bang the can down on the meat and there you go. Depending on the size and thickness you want, you can try different sizes of cans to get what you like.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:40 AM on July 23, 2009

I've found that if I leave my patties a little less flat (thick in the middle) they tend not to dry out as easily. I like mine medium rare, but I suppose if you're aiming for a well done burger this wouldn't concern you.

I agree with the egg suggestion. My mom used to mix in a packet of dry ranch dressing mix. I prefer a small amount of seasoned breadcrumbs.

I am now officially hungry.
posted by YFiB at 6:47 AM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: Look at the pictures of the hamburger patties halfway down the page at Clay's Kitchen to see how to shape them properly with a dent in the middle.
posted by Ery at 6:48 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Two suggestions:

1. Don't use meat that's been frozen...if you have to freeze it, shape it into patties first, because once it's been frozen and re-thawed, it's much harder to shape. Better yet, obviously, use fresh meat.

2. Add a bit of water (already mentioned above), and I like to also add some Worcestershire sauce as well. Adds some good flavor and makes it easier to shape. The egg suggestion sounds like it would work as well; I'll have to try that myself.
posted by greenmagnet at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2009

My burgers always used to turn into softballs. I got a burger press at a garage sale and that helped a lot. It really flattens things out, then I hand mash it a little more to get the diameter/thickness how I want it. They really keep a much more uniform size/thickness now.
posted by sanka at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nth-ing the dent in the middle of the patty - it works for me.

I love mixing shredded cheese in. It's like a cheeseburger, except better. However, this does tend to make them fall apart on me more than they would usually, if I'm grilling them. In a pan on the stovetop they're fine.
posted by pemberkins at 7:12 AM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: Everyone recommending an impression in the center is right. I don't know why it works, but it does. Chilling the beef mixture a little bit helps, too. I usually add worcestershire sauce, spices and whatnot, mix it up, then put it in the freezer for a bit. Cold water would probably help, too. I also think that using leaner ground beef results in a better burger with less shrinkage and waste, and I think it's easier to form into patties, as well. Try some 85/15 and see if you like it better.

Cook's illustrated recommends adding a paste of bread and milk to the ground beef mixture to make the burgers moister- assuming you're cooking them well done. This requires a careful touch so that you don't end up with meatloaf burgers (NTTAWWT).

As far as the shaping itself goes, I usually roll the meat into a ball, then toss it back ad forth between my hands a few times, pretty hard. The more compacted it is, the better the result when it's flattened. I usually spend a little time shaping the edges if they've cracked, then press my thumb into the middle to make a nice dimple.

I've had pretty good luck on the occasions when I'm making stuffed burgers (blue cheese + shredded cheddar + a little onion + worcestershire is fantastic) with pressing the patties out between the bottoms of two small plates. A proper hamburger press would probably be better, but I don't have one and I do have small plates (they're cake plates or salad plates or something). I press them pretty thin, pile the stuffing on one, then put another on top and seal the edges. It's labor intensive, but very worth it in my opinion.
posted by Shohn at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: 1. Ery gave the best shape -upside down beef frisbee. A set of rings or a hamburger press will do the trick - then go at it with your fingers to help create the frisbee shape.

2. While not the most important thing, be slightly picky about the grind of your ground beef. Making sure there is a nice fat content is all well and good, but if it isn't evenly distributed you might as well not have it in there.

3. Cheese in the burger itsef will impact this as well - you are raising the fat content further, as well as either needing to overmix (see #5) to get it uniform, or accepting some larger anomalous pockets of fat.

4. The cheese you pick also has a great deal of affect here. Some cheese, when its fat is heated, turns into a ball and separates, other cheese liquifies smoothly - the same thing happens in the burger.

5. Don't over-mix your beef that's how you wind up with a meatloaf patty. Part of what keeps a burger together are the stands which do survive the grinder breaking those up results in your meat loosing a portion of its ability to maintain its juiciness. This is what happens with frozen beef patties - the ice cuts the fibers and turns the burger from a nice tasty burger into something that sheds its juices and hocky-puckifies very easily.

6. Temperature is important. Beef will mix and shape better at slightly warmer temperatures, but should be put back in the fridge and brought to as cool as possible (without freezing) before you slap it onto the grill.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:23 AM on July 23, 2009

The dent in the middle shape works because it allows the burger to cook evenly. Personally, i sometimes add a little thai curry paste into the meat matrix to give it a little zest. Tasty.
posted by maxpower at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2009

I think it's all been said, but I will reinforce (a) fresh room temperature mix, (b) stop mixing your burger with cheese, and (c) gently ball and flatten - that will help getting them all the right size as well.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:11 AM on July 23, 2009

Cheese goes on top, not inside. If you are going to put it in the meat I think you will get better results if it is very finely grated. Spices (for me lots of pepper, and some garlic) and Worcestershire sauce for flavor but mix them in ever so gently. For a thick burger you definitely want to dent the middle. Just doing one side is enough. I like to fill the dent with more Worcestershire. I find it easier to work cold meat rather than the warm stuff, especially to avoid overworking it. However, I think they cook more evenly if they are then left to warm a bit to or at least towards room temperature.

Time for lunch, maybe I'll have a burger.
posted by caddis at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2009

You'll probably want to try a hamburger press. FWIW - there are some great recipes over at the BurgerMate site.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:58 AM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: The dent works because of the way the protein chains in meat constrict as they are heated. You should make the dent about 1/2 thickness, and I generally make it about 1/2 the diameter as well. My burgers always come out flat. Getting them the same diameter as the bun is the tough part.

It's important to seal up the cracks that form around the edges as you flatten the ball out. If you slowly transition from ball to patty by tossing the meat back and forth between your hands it can reduce how many cracks you get.

I haven't figured out how to avoid the cracks when forming the dent. I think that the key may be to make the patty larger & thinner than you want, then to pinch the edges up to thicken them, rather than pressing down into the center of a smaller & thicker patty.

Never use a press- squeezing the juice out is removing flavor and moisture. Presses are for Bacon.
Let burgers (and all grilled beef) sit for a few minutes covered after removing from the grill.

I don't put much in my mix- some garlic and Worcestershire sauce, occasionally diced onion.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2009

Lose the cheese. Just hamburger and salt, but a decent amount of salt. Don't over-handle the meat or you'll mess up the texture. Let it rest with the salt for a while if you can. I use 1/3 pound per patty. Shape into patties that are basically as thin as possible without risking them falling apart when you're getting them on/off the grill and such. I'm thinking it's maybe 1/2 inch? Doing it that way I never have a problem with them shrinking back into softballs when cooked and I don't need the "indentation" (I just find it annoying to bother with). Patties should be fully chilled before you cook them.
posted by madmethods at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2009

As for actual forming technique, I press down with one hand, holding the other hand curled against the outside edge of the patty to get a smooth straight edge. What I end up with looks much like what you would get from a hamburger press, so that might work fine (I've just never tried it).
posted by madmethods at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2009

Best answer: I use a lot of seasoning in my burgers (therefore requiring mixing) but the key is definitely to not overhandle your meat. I basically fold the spices in, pull the meat in half to fold again and then continue from there, exerting no pressure down onto the meat (a rookie's error if you ask me, pressing or rolling at all with hamburger meat). It will become all gooey and terrible. I also do it fresh out of the fridge while very cold. I just use my hands to directly form a patty shape, squishing in at the sides to banish any cracks that may be there, rather than a ball that I squish (see: overhandling). I like mine round and rare in the middle so do not do the depression thing.
posted by shownomercy at 1:24 PM on July 23, 2009

I separate the patty from its companions with an egg ring. When I'm down to the last one, I push the meat into the egg ring. They look pretty nice.
posted by b33j at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2009

I roll the mixture into a ball, put it on a chopping board, put a piece of greaseproof paper on top then flatten it out with a second chopping board. Then roll the second ball, put on top of the first, put a piece of greaseproof paper on top, flatten as before. Repeat until you have a nice stack of thin burgers to carry out to the BBQ. If you like your burger thicker this might not work so well (or you could just press down gently when flattening).
posted by primer_dimer at 3:10 AM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all, I've got to read through more, but the ideas were great. For me personally, can't use the egg as binder as I'm allergic to eggs, but there are some great responses here.
posted by deezil at 8:48 AM on July 27, 2009

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