It’s hard to imagine anything better than a perfectly grilled burger – juicy meat that’s well-seasoned and kissed with flame, bookended by a toasted bun and topped with gooey melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. Well just in time for the 4th of July, here are tips for making perfect burgers that are simple and easy to follow.
A perfect burger starts at the grocery store.
Ground Beef Basics
A great burger is only as good as the ground beef it’s made from, so it pays to seek out high quality meat. Grocery stores typically carry ground “chuck”, “round”, “sirloin”, and more generic “ground beef” or “hamburger”. The biggest difference between these varieties is their fat content – ground sirloin is not, as its name might indicate, ground up sirloin steaks. Instead, ground sirloin is ground from trimmings from the sirloin area of the animal and contains 8 to 10% fat (the label may read “90% lean”).
Here’s the fat content of different types of ground beef at a glance:
- Ground chuck: 15 to 20% fat (80 to 85% lean)
- Ground round: 10 to 15% fat (85 to 90% lean)
- Ground sirloin: 8 to 10% fat (90 to 92% lean)
- Ground beef: no more than 30% fat content
You might think that the more fat in the ground meat, the better, but that’s not necessarily the case. There needs to be some fat to keep the burger moist, but too much will cause excessive shrinking during cooking, and dripping fat will cause flare-ups and scorching. When making grilled burgers we reach for ground chuck.
Grass vs. grain-fed: Most grocery store ground beef is from beef that’s been grain-fed (primarily corn), but there’s growing interest for grass-fed beef. The difference is largely in fat content, flavor and price – grass-fed beef tends to be leaner and beefier-tasting than grain-fed, and is also usually more expensive.
Seasoning & Shaping
Most people first shape the burgers then season both sides with salt, pepper or other seasoning blends. But we’ve found that adding seasoning to meat before shaping results in a more evenly seasoned burger. If seasoning before shaping, we recommend using your hands to incorporate the spices – it keeps the ground beef “fluffy” and doesn’t compress it like a spoon can.
However, when shaping, we like to use a fork to gently form the meat into a patty – again, the beef doesn’t compress as much as it does when shaped with your hands. Simply form equal-sized portions of ground beef (typically between 4 and 6 oz.), gently patting them out on parchment or wax paper using the bottom of a fork.
As you shape, keep in mind the size of the bun – aim to make the burger about ½ inch larger in diameter than the buns to allow for inevitable shrinkage. Avoid making the patties too thick: it’s important to cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F., and thick patties will take longer to cook. A thickness of ¾-inch is perfect.
Here’s how we do it:
Preheat the grill to medium-high for at least 20 minutes, then clean the grates with a grill brush. Lightly brush a vegetable oil-moistened paper towel onto the grates (hold the paper towel with tongs) to help prevent sticking. Now lightly coat one side of the burgers with nonstick spray, then place them on the grill, sprayed-side down. Brush the exposed side with that oiled paper towel before closing the lid and cooking for 4 min. Whatever you do, resist the urge to open the lid and NEVER press the burgers down with the back of a spatula – contrary to popular belief that it seals in juices, it really just sends those juices right into the flames below.
After 4 mins., turn the burgers over, close the grill and cook until the burgers reach an internal temperature of 160°F., about 3 or 4 more mins. Butter the buns and toast in the last minute of cooking; add a slice of cheese now too if you’d like.
Toppings & Sides
Toppings: With a toasted bun and perfectly cooked burger, you don’t need much else, but a great burger gets better with an array of toppings and condiments. Traditional things like lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles are a must, but bacon strips, BBQ sauce, roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, pesto and caramelized onions are fantastic options. Caramelize onions in Swanson® Beef or Chicken broth or stock until they’re richly browned and sweet – they’re outstanding on a burger with Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms and rosemary aioli!
Sides: When it comes to burger accompaniments, salads rule the day: potato salad, vegetable salad and cold pasta salad are all perfect sides to a grilled burger. This collection of summer favorites will get your creative juices flowing (but we bet your burger will be even juicier!).