7 Tips for Your Best Burger Yet

Originally Published on Friday, July 2nd 2021

The 4th of July is going to be different this year. Life is (almost) back to normal and everyone has cooked A LOT over the last year. That means they’ve had time to hone their skills. And they’re going to bring their A-game to your cookout! So you better be ready too!

We all know the 4th of July is about burgers. So if you want to impress all the friends and family you haven’t seen in over a year, you need to grill a great burger. But don’t worry we’ve got you! Here are our best tips for up-ing your burger game! Get ready to knock their socks off—or flips flops if they aren’t wearing socks—at your backyard cookout.

A lot of these tips are for meat-eaters. But if you don’t eat meat, there are still plenty of takeaways in here for you too!

1. Use Great Beef

This one is a little bit obvious but important to call out. For a great burger, you need great beef. We obsess over the quality of our steak so why not do the same for our burgers?

That might mean using the amazing pre-made patties that you ordered in your box this week from our friends at Elita. Or it might mean becoming buddies with your butcher. Go visit them late on the 3rd and ask them for the best, freshest ground beef they have. They might even grind it fresh for you right then and there if you ask nicely! Or if you really want to show off, try grinding it yourself. You only need a food processor to make it happen!

Maybe most importantly, consider the right meat-to-fat ratio. Don’t go too lean. 80/20 is ideal, but 85/15 works too. Fat keeps the burger juicy as it cooks.

If you don’t eat meat, then make sure you’re picking the best alternative you can. The folks at Serious Eats ran some intense taste tests to figure out:

The Best Plant-Based Meat-Replacement Burger

The Best Supermarket Veggie Burgers

The Best Supermarket Black Bean Burgers

2. Salt at the Right Time

While it might not seem like a big deal, when you add salt to your patties matters.

It really matters.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt—the author of the Food Lab—did an experiment where he dropped pots on top of burgers to measure how tender they were. He learned then that you should never salt your patties before they’ve been formed. Why? Salt breaks down proteins in the beef that make the burgers dense and springy. They can end up being something closer to sausage.

So for more tender, juicier burgers add your salt on top after you’ve formed your patties.

3. Minimize Mixing & Handling

The more you mix the meat, the more proteins connect with each other. This makes the burgers more dense. So don’t handle your patties a ton when forming them.

This is also why you should NOT treat your patties like meatloaf. If you’re using great beef, you shouldn’t need to add extras like onions, breadcrumbs, or other seasonings. Plus, there are better ways to sneak in flavor! (More on that in a bit).

4. Form Your Patty Properly

We’ve all eaten that awkward burger where the bun engulfs the patty because the patty “poofed up” on us (interestingly the patty doesn’t poof, but more so the outer edges shrink while the middle doesn’t). That golf-ball syndrome only happens when you grill a burger. And since it’s the 4th of July, let’s be real, you’re grilling!

How do you keep your patty flat then? Whenever you form a patty that is larger than 6oz (“poofing” doesn’t happen smaller than that), take these 2 steps. (1) Form the patty slighter wider than your bun. The meat will shrink as it cooks. (2) Press a small indentation in the middle. This will redistribute the meat so the middle stays the same height even after cooking.

5. Cook It Perfectly (Aka Use a Thermometer)

We all wish we had that natural ability to just press a piece of meat with our finger and know its exact doneness. But unless you’re a burger whisperer, odds are you don’t have that skill. I know I don’t!

There’s no shame in breaking out the thermometer. We worked hard to get great beef, season it at the right time, and minimize mixing. But none of that matters if the burger isn’t cooked properly. Overcooking your burger is the easiest way to make sure you don’t end up with a juicy burger.

Luckily, using a thermometer is easy. Just stick it in the thickest part of the patty until you get a good reading. Here are the temperature breakdowns you’ll need:

Medium-rare—pink and warm: 130°F (54°C)

Medium—pink but drier: 140°F (60°C)

Medium-well—greyish pink: 150°F (66°C)

(Wirecutter reviewed a variety of thermometers and chose their favorites if you don’t have one yet.)

And don’t forget this! If you’re having trouble getting the inside of the burger to the proper temperature before the outside burns, use two-zone cooking. That means keep part of your grill at a lower heat than the rest. When the outside of your burger is done, but the inside isn’t, toss it on the cooler side to finish off.

6. Treat Your Bun like a Star

The bun is a huge factor in your burger. From a ratio standpoint, it might make up ⅓ of each bite! Therefore, don’t go to extreme lengths to form and cook a great burger only to throw it on a stale, tasteless bun. Your burger deserves better!

Spend a little extra on a delicious bun like the brioche ones you might have ordered in your box this week from Rebel Bread! It will add a nice sweet element to your burger. Or go with a tasty, soft potato bun. Or get even fancier with a salty, crispy pretzel bun!

And above all else, make sure you toast your bun! Toasting not only adds flavor but also crisps the bun. A slightly crispy bun will hold up better under your juicy burger! Ain’t nobody got time for a soggy bun.

7. Enhance Your Toppings

Romaine lettuce, raw onions, and a slice of tomato won’t impress anyone! Instead, boost the flavor of your toppings at every opportunity you’ve got.

Sneak diced chipotle peppers or basil in your mayo for extra flavor. Lightly dress your lettuce with lemon juice to sneak in some acidity into your fatty burger. Take the time to caramelize your onions so you can contrast the smoky, grilled burger with sweetness. Or make your own quick pickled carrots, radishes, and cucumbers to throw on top. They’ll be the perfect tangy crunch! And if all else fails, throw your tomatoes and onions on the grill too.

Oh! And of course, melt your cheese! Why not give your burgers some gooeyness?!?

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