It’s fairly easy to grill a decent hamburger—but grilling a really great one takes a few tricks…
1. Choose a fairly fatty meat. Chuck with 20% fat is ideal. Less fatty meat lacks juiciness and cohesion—your burgers might fall apart and will taste dry.
Alternative: If you have a meat grinder, consider combining a chuck roll (the typical meat for burgers) with either skirt steak or short ribs in a roughly 50/50 ratio—these cuts add a nice beefy flavor. But if you do grind meat, chill it to nearly the point of freezing before doing so. That helps the grinder cut the meat properly. Also, ground beef’s fat and flavor start to melt away when it becomes warm.
2. Mix “fifth dimension powder” into the meat. This gives burgers a savory flavor that makes you want another bite and then another! Combine six tablespoons porcini powder…two tablespoons portabella powder…two tablespoons Worcestershire powder…two tablespoons onion powder…and two tablespoons garlic powder. Use one tablespoon of the mixture per pound of meat. The powders can be purchased at specialty stores or online at Amazon.com.
3. Form flat patties. Make loose balls of meat six to eight ounces in size, then flatten these balls into patties about a half-inch thick. Don’t pack these patties very tight, and don’t leave the center thicker than the edges—thick-in-the-middle patties don’t cook evenly. Next, use two fingers to press a dimple roughly one-quarter-inch deep into the middle of one side of each patty. This divot prevents the burger from puffing up in the middle as it cooks. Preformed burgers are great in a pinch, but burgers formed by hand are juicier.
4. Build a hardwood charcoal fire. This sort of charcoal doesn’t just impart a smoky flavor, it also burns hotter than the typical gas grill or charcoal briquette fire. High heat—ideally 600°F to 800°F—sears the outside of meat before the inside becomes overcooked. That sear is what gives great grilled meat its wonderful caramelized flavor. To check if the grill is hot enough, hold your hand about five inches above the grill. The grill is ready when you can’t stand the heat for three to five seconds.
Helpful: Form a charcoal fire off-center in your grill. That way you can move the patties away from the highest heat later, if necessary, to have them cook further without burning.
5. Season the patties liberally on both sides with kosher salt and cracked pepper right before you grill them. Season too soon, and the salt will tighten and dry out the meat.
6. Let the patties cook virtually undisturbed for two to three minutes. Peek gently underneath after two minutes. If the patties lift easily off the grill and are golden brown underneath, it’s time to flip them. If not, let them continue to cook for up to an additional minute. Do not poke, prod or push down on patties as they cook—that just pushes juice and flavor out of the meat.
7. Use a meat thermometer to monitor temperature after flipping the patties. Cook to 160°F for safety. Helpful: Consider buying a Thermapen, a digital meat thermometer favored by professional chefs for its fast, accurate readings ($96, ThermoWorks.com).
8. Let cooked burgers sit for five minutes before eating. “Resting” burgers allows their juices to distribute throughout the meat. That way the juice—and the burger’s flavor—won’t spill out onto your plate when you take the first bite.