Get That Juicy Double
May 13, 2015 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Help me make the perfect hamburger! I'm new to making my own hamburger patties, and am looking for tips to making the best beef burgers.

I made my own hamburger patties for the first time last week (up until this point, I've really only eaten ground chicken and turkey—I'm branching out into beef now.) I added some seasonings, a little Worcestershire and a little melted butter, and did some very minimal mixing/smooshing because I read not to overwork the meat too much. The taste was good but they were kind of lumpy and shriveled up into patties that weren't very picturesque.

I'm looking for tips to make hamburger patties that taste great AND look awesome. What are the secrets to getting patties that don't shrink into ugly hockey pucks? What keeps them moist and juicy? What type of beef should I use? I'm cooking them on a tabletop electric skillet (not negotiable)—one side is a flat surface, and one side has a raised grill. Trust me when I say this is what is available to cook them on. I'm NOT interested in adding breadcrumbs or oatmeal or other binders like that, but additions like eggs or yolks are fine. Thank you!
posted by Bella Sebastian to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Two words: powdered garlic.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:32 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

I add nothing except for salt and pepper. With good beef, IMHO anything else actually in the patty just detracts. The absolute best burger is one made from fresh-ground meat, but that's a hassle so I only do it on special occasions. My go-to for burger info is The Burger Lab. Well worth spending some time reading through, especially some of the articles on basics like smashed burgers, how often to flip a burger, etc .
posted by primethyme at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

I like Matty Matheson's how to make a perfect cheeseburger.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

1. Use freshly ground beef with 15-20% fat
2. Shape your burgers with a bit of an indent in the middle. This will keep them in a nice shape when cooking.
3. Keep formed patties in the fridge so they are COLD the moment they hit the heat
4. Don't add salt until the absolute last minute. That means you will sprinkle the salt onto the outside of the patty right before putting over neat, not mixing it into the ground beef.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:42 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

This Gordon Ramsay recipe makes the best home-made burgers I have ever made or had.

For those who don't wish to click:
1LB-1.25LBs Ground Beef
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard.
Worcestershire Sauce (several splashes)
2 Egg Yolks
3 Tablespoons Ketchup
Enough Red Onion to equally distribute in the ground beef. (I’ve had the best results putting the onion in a food processor)
posted by The Deej at 12:43 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, read Joan_holloway, especially #1. I'm no expert or anything, but my wife thinks I am. Mostly what I did to make killer burgers on the grill was go, "you know, screw it, if I'm making burgers, I'm just going to own it," and not get the 93 percent fat free beef. Go ahead and get the higher fat stuff. The indent thing seemed to help a little too, but mostly it was getting higher fat beef.
posted by Naberius at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

The shriveled up hockey puck thing is due to overcooking them. Counter-intuitively, your cooking surface temperature is probably far too low, so the burgers are cooking slowly and evenly instead of being seared on the outside and only warmed on the inside.

Set your electric skillet to its highest temperature, and give it plenty of time to get as hot as its going to get before you place the patties on it. Leave half of the skillet's surface empty, and when you flip the burgers, flip them onto the vavant areas instead of putting them back in the same places. This should be a fast and messy process. If your skillet isn't spitting molten grease onto the adjacent counter, it's not hot enough.
posted by jon1270 at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something that took me a long time to learn about making patties: don't overwork the meat. That means no squeezing, no patting, no pressing. Form patties as loosely as you can, letting gravity do most of the work. What you drop onto the grill will be closer to a ball than a patty at first, and will get its shape once the meat starts cooking. Flip when you see liquid rising to the surface of the burger and the meat on the cooking surface releases.
posted by Gilbert at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, you gotta try Julia Child's thin burgers. Rachael Ray shows how to make them here. I've tried this and can confirm it's genius and life changing.
posted by Dragonness at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Garlic? Dijon? I'm about to take this to Metatalk*.

Use ground beef that is about 80% lean. FAT MAKES IT GOOD.

Do you hear me? FAT MAKES IT GOOD.

Better yet buy yourself fatty a chuck steak and grind it with a meat grinder or with some bursts of a food processor.

Make your patties all about 1/4 lb, about a half inch thick. Don't squish 'em. Keep them somewhat loose. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Sure you can do that thing where you make a little indentation in the middle but I've never found that to make much of a difference and I suspect it's just something people once heard Bobby Flay say and never questioned it.

Cook over as high as you can cook without setting your smoke alarm off. Turn when one side is nice and browned with little darker spots that almost look burned but aren't. Flip once. Do not press down on them with your spatula. That looks cool on TV but is not necessary in real life. In fact, other than flipping it or serving it there is no reason to touch it at all while it's cooking.

Cook until the internal temperature is about 120 or if you don't have a thermometer cook it until it, you know, looks like a hamburger that is cooked but not burned. If you practice enough times you'll know it when you see it.

People will tell you to never eat ground beef that is pink. Man, those people amirite?**

Serve on a nice fresh bun. Maybe one with sesame seeds. Resist the urge to buy those fancy, crusty buns they sell in the bakery section of the grocery store. Just buy some simple, fresh white buns. Grab the ones in the back because the bread guy, if he's any good, will move the older ones to the front.

Serve with your choice of condiments but don't go crazy. Keep it simple. Some decent ketchup (really, you can take your fancy ketchups and cram 'em. Give me the old bottle of Heinz) and maybe some pickles. Really, whatever you like. I'm not going to tell you what to put on your burger but once you start adding stuff like avocado or fried eggs you're on your own and you've moved beyond Perfect Simple Burger into something else which I'm sure is delicious but not really what we're talking about here. We're just talkin' burgers.

Enjoy your perfect, simple hamburger.

*not really. Just chill. Let's not fight over hamburgers, ok?

**yes, it's true that a package of ground beef you buy at the grocery store probably contains beef from over 5000 cows, any of which might be down with the cow scabies, and maybe even a human finger or two but life is filled with all sorts of risks. Pass the ketchup.

posted by bondcliff at 1:09 PM on May 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

pack the patty loosely. do not squash with spatula while cooking.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:18 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

You need heat. Many home cooks seem to be afraid of heat. You need to crank it up as high as it goes, because if your burger spends too much time on the griddle it will just dry out.
posted by monospace at 1:24 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here, but please keep in mind that adding anything but salt and pepper will result in meatloaf, not burgers.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:28 PM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Grinding the beef yourself is a good thing. You can serve the burgers rare without fear. Pre-ground beef needs longer cooking to be safe.

If you can't get ground beef with a high enough fat content, you can add some finely chopped bacon.
posted by pipeski at 1:33 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I like a bit of powdered sage.
posted by uosuaq at 1:42 PM on May 13, 2015

Freshly ground beef with (a lot of) salt and (a touch of) pepper and a nice little indent in the center. Cooked to medium rare. Do not press down on it while it's cooking.

I use this method for grinding beef without a meat grinder.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:48 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you grind your own beef (and if you have the capability, you should!), get it really cold before you grind it. It'll grind more easily and the fat won't smear everywhere. You could also grind a little raw bacon into your ground beef mix (mmmm...).
posted by Weeping_angel at 2:08 PM on May 13, 2015

jon1270: "This should be a fast and messy process. If your skillet isn't spitting molten grease onto the adjacent counter, it's not hot enough."

This needs to be emphasized. The key to juicy burgers is to get that heat into 'em fast. Crank that griddle up to 11.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:28 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I use my mom's recipe which involves adding eggs, mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper, dill, and onion powder, and -- wait for it -- some pepperidge farm stuffing mix. It's nigh undetectable once cooked, but everyone comments on how delicious her burgers are.

I know you said no fillers, but this is as much about the seasoning as it is about the fillers. I tried with just breadcrumbs once when I couldn't find the stuffing, and it was nowhere near the same.

I think the eggs, ketchup, and mustard do a good job of keeping things moist, though yeah, cooking on the stove is nothing like grilling for keeping them juicy. And yes, quality of ground beef matters.
posted by olinerd at 2:51 PM on May 13, 2015

85% lean meat, three patties per pound, at least an inch thick, high heat, finish medium rare. Salt when it's done.

When my daughter was vegetarian she made an exception for these burgers.
posted by mr vino at 2:52 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Couple things:

1) Anything under well-done can be dangerous unless you, yourself, have ground the meat or you have a butcher who has done it for you. E.coli loves ground beef, can seriously mess you up, and will definitely mess up anyone who is immunocompromised in any way.

2) When I'm making burgers at home I use Heston Blumenthal's method (I have no actual recipe, I just throw whatever flavours in I feel like at the time, plus an egg): you actually want medium-low heat, and you want to flip your burgers every minute or so until they're cooked through. Essentially, you're making burgers on a rotisserie--the constant flipping bastes them, as well as moderates the temperature. So they cook slower, which means less moisture loss. Use the flat side of the skillet, not the grill side.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2015

Nothing but salt before cooking. Afterwards, mustard and onions (no ketchup!!), with perhaps some mayonnaise if your beef hasn't got enough fat in it.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:07 PM on May 13, 2015

The best burger isn't ground beef, it's ground lamb. Add a little minced onion, minced garlic, and salt. Fry in a pan. So good.
posted by bricoleur at 7:46 PM on May 13, 2015

I made burgers the other day. 85% lean angus beef, some worcestershire, a little panko in the burgers. I didn't have buns, so I put more panko on the outside. It was good beef, so the flavor was good, the panko was crunchy, and they were very tasty. probably about 1/4 lb. of beef. Too much fat will melt away, too little and the taste is not as luscious. Do Not Overcook them. Even the fear of food poisoning can't make me enjoy a well-done burger.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2015

The most important thing is the quality of the meat. Seriously, it changes everything: I've heard people say mine were the best burgers they have ever had, and I do nothing. I don't add anything before cooking, and only salt and pepper while they are on the griddle. Every time I have tried to use pre-ground meat, it has been a disappointment, even if that meat has been ecological and single farm quality meat.

If there is a butcher where you live, go there, and ask for the meat to be ground while you watch. 80-85% lean is good. If you find it expensive, well then burgers are a weekend treat.
If you don't live near a butcher, you can get a hand grinder for 23 dollars. I have an attachment to my KitchenAid now, but before that I used a hand-grinder, and it was fine.

I loosely form the meat into balls, flatten the balls with a big knife, and then use the knife to cross-hatch the patties and form the edges. I don't overwork them, but I do like my edges nice. The cross-hatching means gives a lot of surface for the salt and pepper and fat to intermingle while cooking, as well as the same effect as the dent in the middle. Even the best meat will shrink a little, so the patties need to be 10% bigger than the final product.

As said above, high heat is imperative. I like them red or pink inside, but that is a matter of taste. If you like them well done, cook them on high heat on one side, turn them over, and only then turn down the heat.

For me, the salad, raw onion, tomato, pickled cucumber and condiments are essential. But I always leave it up to the individual to decide that. Also I agree softer buns with sesame seed are better than fancy crusty buns.
posted by mumimor at 9:56 AM on May 14, 2015

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