A good burger is the ultimate quick, hearty summer meal—simple, satisfying, and chock-full of flavor—but surprisingly hard to get right. What’s the ideal ratio of lean meat to fat? To mix-in, or not to mix-in? Is smashing the patties as they cook alright? And what about toppings?
Here are some tips on how to consistently create the juiciest, most flavor-packed burger.
Quality meat for quality eats: No matter what variety of meat you’re using to make your burger, using freshly ground meat (as opposed to a dense, prepacked block) creates a lighter texture. When it comes to beef, go with an 80/20 percent mix of ground chuck to fat; anything leaner can lead to dry burgers. Use the same approach with other meat varieties. For chicken burgers or turkey burgers, look for ground thigh meat, not breast meat—or consider adding grated zucchini to the mix for added moisture.
Don’t overwork it: For the juiciest results, use a light hand when combining meat varieties and shaping the patties—overmixing will create a tough, dense burger.
Shape it right: Burgers shrink during cooking, so to avoid the mismatch of a small patty lost in a giant bun, you should make sure the diameter of the uncooked patty is 1 ⁄ 2 inch (1.3cm) larger than the bun. Then use your thumb to create a small indentation in the center of patty, which prevents the meat from contracting and bulging up in middle. That means they stay hefty, because if you don’t need two hands to hold a burger, you’ve done something wrong. Only season the exterior.
Season well—but on the outside only: Working salt and pepper into the meat when you’re shaping the patties results in a dense, springy texture, because the salt begins to dissolve proteins in the meat, causing them to cross-link with each other. Get around this by seasoning only the outside of your patty, but doing so generously.
Flip it good: Relying on a single flip allows the upward-facing side to lose too much heat. Frequent flipping (and moving the burger to the cooler part of the two-zone fire, as needed, to avoid flare-ups) cooks both sides simultaneously and helps the meat cook more evenly. Whatever you do, resist the urge to press the burger with your spatula, as this squeezes out flavorful juices.
Rest up: Yes, it’s difficult not to dig right in to a hot, juicy burger. But, as with other meats, allowing the patty to rest for a few minutes allows the hot juices to settle and results in a more satisfying flavor and texture.