6 Simple Tips to Build a Better Burger, Every. Single. Time.

August 23, 2018

We know you love a good burger (not to mention, a good veggie burger). It's the ultimate quick, hearty summer meal—simple, satisfying, and chock-full of char-grilled 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 OK? And what about toppings?

Paula Disbrowe, our resident grilling sherpa and author of our newest cookbook, Any Night Grilling, shares six tips on how to consistently create the juiciest, most flavor-packed burger. With Paula's advice, you'll never encounter a dry patty again!

Behold, the juiciness! Photo by James Ransom

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 (a Yotam Ottolenghi trick) for added moisture. For the best flavor, look for pasture-raised or heirloom breeds of meat sourced to specific ranches.

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Top Comment:
“Hamburgers do not need to be dripping with grease to be good; I personally like the taste of meat and find greasy burgers disgusting. Grated zucchini in ground meat is an old Mexican custom- works very well. ”
— Smaug

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:

I learned a couple of invaluable tricks from J. Kenji López-Alt’s burger explorations for his book The Food Lab. He points out that 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 (another tip from Kenji).

Perfect With Burgers

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.

What are your top tips for the very best burgers? Share with us in the comments below!

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Any Night Grilling is your guide to becoming a charcoal champion (or getting in your grill-pan groove), any night of the week. With over 60 ways to fire up dinner—no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times in sight—this book is your go-to for freshly grilled meals in a flash.

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  • BerryBaby
  • Joe
  • Smaug
  • sexyLAMBCHOPx
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
Brinda is the Managing Editor at Food52, where she also edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants. Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.


BerryBaby September 2, 2018
Someone told me that after putting an indenture in the burger, put an ice cube in it while grilling. Supposedly helps keep it moist. Has anyone tried this?
Joe August 23, 2018
The video shows seasoning the mixture before forming the patties. The article says not to. Conflict much ?
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 23, 2018
Good catch, Joe! I hope they make up their minds.
Eric K. August 25, 2018
Thanks for flagging, Joe. The article's tip for only seasoning the patties' outsides comes from Paula Disbrowe per J. Kenji López-Alt. As the video shows a different contributor's recipe, method, and opinion, I've switched the video out. Happy grilling!
Author Comment
Brinda A. August 28, 2018
Yes, thanks for catching, Joe! (And thanks, Eric!)
Smaug August 23, 2018
Hamburgers do not need to be dripping with grease to be good; I personally like the taste of meat and find greasy burgers disgusting. Grated zucchini in ground meat is an old Mexican custom- works very well.
Eric K. August 23, 2018
Couldn't agree more.
Author Comment
Brinda A. August 28, 2018
Thanks for sharing, Smaug! Definitely agreed.