Grilling Burgers
June 18, 2004 10:21 AM   Subscribe

BBQFilter: I'm going to make some burgers tonight to throw on the BBQ, but every time I have done it in the past it has been a failure (either fall-apart burgers, or less than satisfactory in the taste department). I have googled, and tried many recipes, so that is where you wonderful people come in. What are your tried and tested burger recipes and tips? I have some ground beef for me and some ground turkey for the missus thawing as we speak... make my mouth water!
posted by sonicgeeza to Food & Drink (39 answers total)
1. An egg will keep your burger together.
2. A dash of brown sugar will make them taste very nice.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:23 AM on June 18, 2004

Check out these recipes from Epicurious.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2004

Egg + breadcrumbs. If you don't have breadcrumbs handy, put some bread in the toaster a couple of times and then crumble it. Knead the burger well, and really pack the patties hard. I like scallions and green pepper in my burgers too.
posted by Succa at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2004

Knead in a little bit of olive oil, worcestershire, oregano and pepper.
posted by sad_otter at 10:26 AM on June 18, 2004

my mom always put in a bit of oatmeal and egg-- serves the same purpose as the breadcrumbs, i'm sure. you just want something to bind it together. worcestershire is yum.
posted by sugarfish at 10:29 AM on June 18, 2004

Garlic. Put sliced-up garlic cloves in the burgers. Won't hold them together, but hey, garlic.
posted by kenko at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2004

I second the scallions; in addition I added some crumbled bacon in my turkey burgers last night with great results. A bit of salt and black/red pepper, and you're good to go.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2004

My recipe is as follows:

Add olive oil, breadcrumbs, dried parsley, finely chopped onion, salt & pepper [heavy on the pepper] and parmesan cheese [just the crappy stuff you get in a plastic shaker, nothing fancy]. Add olive oil or egg whites if it needs to be stickier and press them FLAT. I find one of the problems with grilled burgers is that they become little footballs when you cook them, try to make them flat and biggish when you shape them because they'll shrink up a little when you cook them. The more you mush them when you mix them, the better they stay together as well.
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 AM on June 18, 2004

This is my time tested burger recipe, it has never failed me:

* regular ground beef (if you're gonna eat, eat)
* salt
* pepper
* a little soy

Get in there with your hands and mix everything together, this is the key to maintaining burger-integrity. Mush it all up then form in to patties.

For me, eggs and bread crumbs just make the burger eggy and bready and what I'm looking for is capital B Beef.

No advice on the turkey burger, sorry.
posted by Capn at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2004

Start wtih fresh meat and you don't need to add so many of these other adulterants.
If you buy a piece of highish fat chuck, cut it into cubes and thoroughly salt it yesterday, run it through your kitchen aid meat grinder attahment today (or chop it up in your chilled food processor) form patties quickly and with minimal handling and grill immediately - you have perfectly juicy burgers. The salt and the fat are what give you good juicy flavor. If you can't do the grinding/chopping - at least go out and get some freshly ground meat from your butcher. They'll chop it up for you if you ask, even at most bigger grocery stores.
posted by Wolfie at 10:59 AM on June 18, 2004

I'll third the worcestershire, I don't even normally like the stuff. As far as adding onion, garlic, etc., the finer you chop it, the more likely it is to stay together. So just add a lot of finely chopped stuff.

As far as using ground turkey, you'll probably want to add a bit more of whatever you're using to flavor your patties, since ground turkey, IME, doesn't seem to retain spices as well as beef does.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:04 AM on June 18, 2004

For beef burgers, I like to mix in chili powder, salt, pepper, and shake on some soy sauce as it's cooking. For the turkey, I'd be inclined towards herbs: rosemary, sage, tarragon. Or you could go another way with curry-type spices. To keep them together, I usually use bread crumbs as a binder and oil the grill. Also, resist the temptation to flip them more than once or twice.
posted by transient at 11:08 AM on June 18, 2004

I think that the key, in the flavor department, is salt. People are much too afraid to salt their food these days. My secret to bitchin burgers is just salt and pepper. Plenty of salt, lots of black pepper. Mix it in with your hands, make patties, slap em on the grill. There's nothing else to it. If you've got very lean meat, however, you're in for a rough time; never, ever, ever make hamburgers with > 85% lean ground beef. 80% is preferable (although lower than that might be too greasy for you). Lean beef isn't flavorful and doesn't hold together.

As far as turkey burgers ... ground turkey is probably too lean to be of practical "burger" use, and will probably stick to your grill and fall apart. You will probably want to give it the same firm massage treatment as the beef, season it, and oil the outside of each patty well to promote color and keep it from sticking. In the future, though, for the no-red-meat crowd, you'd be better off grilling up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:08 AM on June 18, 2004

i'm hooked on free range grass fed aged beef hamburgers from a grill i go to, and they get it from texas.

regular ground beef tastes like it isn't even from the same animal.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:18 AM on June 18, 2004

Freeze the burger patties before grilling - how the restaurants do it - will make them juicier if you like medium well.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:20 AM on June 18, 2004

I used to cook at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry in Madison, WI, a former regular on the Best of the Big 10 burger list (unfortunately it doesn't really exist anymore). This is not the only or best way to make a burger, but it is a successful way:

We used quality ground beef, with I think a slightly lower percentage of fat than normal, but it wasn't lean. We didn't use any binder or filler ingredients. Come to think of it, we didn't use any flavoring ingredients either (not even salt). Must have been good beef.

Patty-making was done by hand: grab a handful, weigh out a third of a pound (we easily got to the point where we didn't need the scale), form it into a ball, then press it flat.

Don't go too thin, or they will fall apart. I think our standard was about an inch think and the width of a CD. Make all your patties as identical as possible. You won't be able to cook burgers consistently if they aren't all cooking the same way.

Many people will swear by charcoal for flavor, but I swear by gas for consistency of heat.

Keep them cold before putting them on the grill, or they will fall apart.

Once on the grill Don't Press Them. I can't overstate this. Pressing them produces a lovely sizzling from the grill, but at the expense of juicy goodness -- the sizzle is your flavor evaporating.

Cook them on one side until peeking under them reveals a nicely browned crust, then turn.

Try to only turn them once. Frequent turning doesn't give the outside a chance to properly brown and crust (which provides lovely flavor and stability). Use a wide spatula, avoiding tongs, forks, etc, which can damage the patty.

For doneness, I use the thumb test:

1. Close your hand into a fist with the thumb alongside your index finger (as if you are going to make your hand into a senor wences-style face).

2. With your other hand, poke the muscle at the base of your thumb.

3. Now poke your burger and compare. A relaxed thumb muscle approximates medium rare. A half-tightened muscle approximates medium. A fully tightened muscle approximates well done.

If you need to, cut one open to check, but just use the corner of your spatula to dig a hole, don't cut all the way through. And don't check all of them -- if you made the patties right, they should all be cooking the same way.

A major key to flavor is doneness: If the juices run clear, you've cooked most of the flavor out.

When you take them off, turn the over onto the bun (turning them over helps the juices pooled at the bottom to fill the burger, instead of the bottom bun).

Don't discount the contribution of buns and toppings for flavor. I prefer a potato bun, but whatever you get, make sure to toast it a bit... Butter is optional, but we used it and it makes a big difference (melt some down and brush it on the open faces of the bun).

As for toppings, Mayo used to skeeve me out, but then I tried it. Mayo rules. For me it's mayo, ketchup, lettuce, tomato and hot sport peppers, with a dill pickle on the side.
posted by o2b at 11:22 AM on June 18, 2004 [3 favorites]

I've always dropped in an egg for every couple pounds of meat, salt, pepper, and finely chopped onions. I've managed without bread or oatmeal, but if that adds cohesiveness, it might be worth doing with ground turkey--I've always had problems holding turkey patties together.

I find that a minimum amount of handling seems to result in better burger cohesion as well (not sure why this is)--that is, don't spend forever patting each patty into shape.

For a flavor sensation, throw a few jalapanos on the grill with the burgers, slice them up, and use those as toppings. Use sparingly--the oil in the seeds (which is extra-hot) seems to explode in the roasting and makes the jalapenos hotter than you'd expect.
posted by adamrice at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2004

Freeze the burger patties before grilling - how the restaurants do it

Burger King grills frozen meat, but no other restaurant I've worked in does.

Unless you like thin burgers, a frozen patty will burn on the outside before it cooks in the middle.
posted by o2b at 11:25 AM on June 18, 2004

I asked a question about meatballs to the people on Kim O'Donnell's foodie chat on WashingtonPost and she mentioned that you need to use a higher fat content meat since the fat helps hold things together. So, if you're using lean ground beef, that could be a big part of the problem.

My mother always put eggs, oatmeal and onions in her burgers.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2004

Like some others, I swear by worcestershire (even if you don't like the taste, give it a try, it's pretty subtle), oregano and salt. Not a fan of the bread products. As noted, too "good" (i.e. lean) a grind of chop meat is in fact detrimental to the perfect burger, but I've had success mixing in a bit (1:3-ish) of top sirloin with 80% chuck - enhances the flavor but still keeps things juicy. Mmmm, burgers...

(for a yummy treat: mix half ground beef and half ground pork sausage...)
posted by jalexei at 11:33 AM on June 18, 2004

1 pound of ground beef (usually the 80-85% lean sort, because you need the fat for flavor, as others have said)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (fresh garlic is too harsh for burgers)

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of black pepper

Mix all ingredients well and form four equally sized patties. Grill for five minutes per side, flipping only once.

Refrigerating (not freezing) the patties (or starting with well-chilled beef) does seem to help them hold together. Adding eggs, breadcrumbs, oatmeal, etc. is wholly unnecessary.
posted by briank at 11:50 AM on June 18, 2004

First of all, adding an egg and breadcrumbs means you're basically making a "meatloaf-burger". (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but it'll give you a good idea of how the end product is going to end up. I've tried it, and gone back to good, not-too-lean beef and S&P.) Other seasonings are up to you, but the better the quality of meat, the less you need to dress it up.

One important point is the shape of the patty you make--the shape that those "pre-formed" patties come in is too thin, but if you just make "normal" thick patties by hand, the seared meat on the outside contracts the patty into a sphere, and you end up with the classic "baseball on a bun" problem.

Cook's Illustrated did one of their comparison tests on this topic, and found that the best shape is actually like a red blood cell (which is eerily appropriate, if you like your burgers rare). I've used that approach for a while now, and it definitely works.

Making the patty a bit thinner in the middle, and thicker around the rim, means that even as the outside contracts, it still ends up more like a hockey puck than a baseball. In addition, the whole thing ends up cooking a bit more consistently--you can still cook it as rare or well-done as you'd like, but you don't end up with a burger that's 50% well-done and 50% rare.
posted by LairBob at 11:57 AM on June 18, 2004

From Esquire, which has worked well from me since I tried it.

Thicker, fattier patties loosely formed with a thumb indentation in the top. The indentation helps keep it "flat" as the burger plumps during heat.
posted by karmaville at 11:59 AM on June 18, 2004

I've had luck with searing burgers first (steaks too) over very high heat for a minute or so per side. You can accomplish this with an adjustable grill rack, or you can just put charcoal in half your grill and move the meat to the other half after searing. Seals in the juices and helps keep the burgers together.

As for flavoring, I know the purists will scream, but I like the old standby -- Lipton Onion Soup Mix.
posted by Otis at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2004

i have switched entirely to buffalo burgers, and have had nothing but terrific feedback.

1 lb ground buffalo
1 T Worcestershire
6 or more twists freshly ground paper
1/2 t salt

simple, but delicious. save the extravagant flavor for the toppings/spread.

the turkey *will* fall apart, as noted above. you will need to use egg/breadcrumbs or mix with ground beef
posted by lescour at 12:26 PM on June 18, 2004

o2b knows what he's talking about:

Dotty's has truly amazing burgers, and I disagree with him only in small ways. I add a little salt to my burgers, and form them by first breaking all the meat into small chunks in a bowl, then loosely forming patties (lots of air! you want air inside those patties!) from those chunks. The burgers will cook quickly this way (and won't turn into baseballs), so don't be shy of high heat and searing them fast.

Buy high-quality beef (organic, or grass-fed, free-range at the least), and you won't need to futz with other seasoning. Good meat speaks for itself.
posted by rocketman at 12:33 PM on June 18, 2004

Searing in the juices is a myth. It doesn't happen. It is a widely believed myth, but still a myth. The fascinating book On Food and Cooking explains all.
posted by adamrice at 12:55 PM on June 18, 2004

You don't need to add anything to get the beef patties to stick together. You have to slap the meat (um...yeah) firmly, from hand to hand, a few times, to compact it and get the air out. Really pound it. It'll stay together.

Two nice things my husband does: he adds Jamaican Jerk to the beef before making patties - people rave about them. And sometimes he puts a bit of American cheese or cheddar and a thin slice of good tavern ham in the middle of the patty, totally sealed within, and the juices from the cheese and the ham run through the beef while it cooks. People rave about that, too.
posted by iconomy at 1:10 PM on June 18, 2004

I've not tried it myself, what with being a veggie, but the Jamie Oliver Botham Burger is supposed to be fantastic.
posted by chill at 1:46 PM on June 18, 2004

Response by poster: What wonderfully varied (and predictably conflicting) ideas!

Well, I've taken a smattering of all the advice and my burgers are chilling in the fridge.... I'll be back in a few hours with the results!
posted by sonicgeeza at 2:05 PM on June 18, 2004

You need salt not just for flavour, but because it helps the minced meat to gel. A half teaspoon per punds should be enough if you have other falvouring agents.

If you shape patties by hand, keep a bowl of water handy. Meat will not stick to wet hands.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:41 PM on June 18, 2004

We like to use this.
posted by speedo at 3:38 PM on June 18, 2004

I used to have the same problem. It went away over time as I got my system down. I use salt and pepper to season, medium on the salt and heavy on the pepper. Sometimes I add a little dried onion, but usually not. The main thing is to let them be for a while after throwing them on the grill. If they cook sufficiently before the first turn they'll hold together pretty well. Using a big spatula with a sharp blade helps too.
posted by Nothing at 5:16 PM on June 18, 2004

Response by poster: Success!!

Thanks to all involved. For the beef I used worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, oregeno, and some olive oil. For the turkey I used the same except I subbed egg for the oil. Slapping the meat a la iconomy worked well.

Put them in the fridge for a while before cooking, then threw them on an oiled grill, waited till they were nicely browned and flipped once with a sharp, large spatula.

No fall apart, and excellent flavour.

I love AskMefi :-)
posted by sonicgeeza at 6:07 PM on June 18, 2004

o2b, your post has Wisconsin written all over it.

So, uh, anyone have any good semmel recipes?
posted by mrbula at 6:31 PM on June 18, 2004

the o2b (a renegade member of the Wu-Tang Clan?) is my new meat-cooking guru

*standing ovation*
posted by matteo at 8:04 PM on June 18, 2004

4oz of BEER per 1lb meat.
posted by johnny7 at 8:51 PM on June 18, 2004

i'm hooked on free range grass fed aged beef hamburgers from a grill i go to, and they get it from texas.

What grill? That sounds damn good.
posted by rorycberger at 9:30 PM on June 18, 2004

Here's my 2ยข (from Gormet Magazine, 1996ish):

15% fat ground beef - 6 oz per burger.

Big dollop of sour cream
Big dollop of grey pupon mustard
finely chopped dill
fresh ground pepper

mix all that stuff up and then add the meat. Mix very well and form into patties. These burgers are admittedly soft, so make 'em thick. But the combo of sour cream for richness, mustard for bite, and dill for pretentious dillness cannot be beaten. Seriously, some of the best burgers I've ever eaten.
posted by zpousman at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2004

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