Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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From patties to perfection: How to grill a juicy burger

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – Tender, hot and well dressed. That’s how I like my grilled hamburger: a char-marked patty, less than an inch thick, sandwiched on a lightly toasted bun with a thick slice of red onion and tomato, lettuce leaves, sliced dill pickle and a schmear of mayonnaise. Cheese optional.

We may not agree on how we like to adorn our burgers, but we all want a patty that retains its shape and flavour, and remains juicy but doesn’t soak the bun. Here are tips and tricks I’ve learned through years of reading recipes and from practice, practice, practice.

Let’s dig right in.


This is no time for lean meat. Ground chuck with a mix of 80 per cent lean meat and 20 per cent fat, labeLled 80/20 in most supermarkets, is best. Leaner meats will dry out.

If you have access to a butcher, ask them to grind a blend for you. (It will probably taste a bit better).

You want a burger thick enough not to dry out, but not so thick that you can’t get your mouth around the dressed-up sandwich. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST


You want a burger thick enough not to dry out, but not so thick that you can’t get your mouth around the dressed-up sandwich. I’ve found a six-ounce burger is just about right.

Form the meat into a roughly three-quarter-inch-thick patty, about half inch wider in diameter than a standard bun. Handle the meat as quickly and as little as possible to prevent it from getting warm and toughening.

You might have heard about putting a thumbprint in the centre to prevent burger shrinkage. I tried that, as well as making divots with my finger across the surface of the meat.

Both help, but this method works better: Form your patty on a flat surface and make a two-inch depressed circle in the centre with your fingers, leaving a one-inch or so raised edge around the patty. When you grill, place it flat side down first, so the depression stays on top and fills with the burger’s juices. (Safety tip: Keep a water bottle handy for any flare-ups when flipping).

Seasoning? If you’re cooking the burgers right away, generously sprinkle the patties with salt and pepper. (I prefer not to mix seasonings into my burgers, because handling the meat too much causes it to get tough.)

If you’re not grilling the patties right away, pop them into the refrigerator and wait to season them until just before cooking. Salting too far in advance can result in drier burgers.


You can go with a cooler temperature, but I like at least 450 degrees because I want char and grill marks.

With gas, that’s easy; just crank it up and wait. With charcoal, it gets a little more complicated: Fill a chimney starter (or two depending on the size of your grill) with charcoal, light it, and when the coals are white-grey with ash, pour them into the grate and cover, making sure the air vents are open all the way. When all of the coals are grey, 15 to 20 minutes, your grill should be just right.

Use a grill thermometer or test the heat by holding your hand, palm down, about four inches from the grate. If you can hold it there for about four seconds, the heat should be at 450 degrees. Be sure that nothing flammable, such as sleeves or other clothing, is near the heat.

To oil or not to oil: If your grill grate is clean, there is no reason to oil it before adding your burgers. If your grill grate is not clean… clean it.


The only rule here is that when you first put the burger on the grill, leave it undisturbed for at least three minutes so that it seals and gets char marks.

Use a spatula to peek. If your burger is not browned with some marking, your grill temperature is probably below 450 degrees, so leave it a bit longer. After that, you can flip to your heart’s content, but I like to flip just once, so I can cover the grill and allow the burgers to absorb smoky flavour.

Unless you’re grilling a smash burger on a cast-iron pan, never, ever press down on the burgers while they are cooking. This tends to make the thicker burger drier, and the dripping juices can cause flare-ups.


Generally, your burger should take about eight to nine minutes to cook. But that can vary because of the temperature of your grill and the thickness of the burger patty, so the best way to tell if a burger is as you like it is to insert an instant-read thermometer into the thicker part of the patty.

The USDA recommends an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees for home-cooked beef burgers, which means cooking it for eight to 10 minutes, until there is no pink in the centre. For a rarer burger, start checking the patty’s temperature after five minutes of total cooking time.

The burger should be close to medium-rare (130 to 135 degrees). For medium (145 to 150), try about seven minutes total cooking time.


Yes. No one wants a burger that soaks through the bun. Transfer your burgers to a platter, lightly cover them, and let them rest for three to five minutes. This is also the perfect moment to add a slice of cheese, so it can melt and drape the patty.

For an even neater burger, place a wire rack on a sheet pan and put the burgers on it, before adding cheese and lightly covering. This allows any juices that escape to pool away from the meat.

While your burgers rest, toast the buns on the grill. (I like to brush brioche buns with a thin layer of mayonnaise before lightly grilling them cut side down.) Then, dress and serve.