Dear Test Kitchen

3 Tips for Making Totally Great Burgers Without a Grill

Straight from our test kitchen.

January 31, 2019

We could debate forever about grilled versus griddled burgers—and, while we’re at it, about charcoal versus gas grills. But let’s say you don’t have a grill. Or, I don’t know, that it’s below-freezing outside. How do you make a great burger without leaving your kitchen?

On this week’s Dear Test Kitchen, Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen answers just that, putting three cooking methods to the test—griddled in a cast-iron pan, “grilled” in a grill pan, and broiled.

The good news is: All of these produced pretty dang tasty burgers. (To see which one reigned supreme, check out the video above.) But there were some tips and tricks that applied to every method.

In other words: Whether you want to griddle or broil is your call. Just don’t forget to follow these rules for indoor success.

1. Don’t skimp on the fat.

Ground beef is classified according to its fat content. This is important in all ground beef recipes—from meatloaf to meatballs—but especially so when it comes to burgers, which are usually nothing more than, well, ground beef. Josh’s go-to: 20 percent fat. Sounds like a lot, but if you’re making burgers—make ’em right! This fat content yields a juicy, flavorful result, while leaner options flirt with blandness and dryness (not what we want).

2. Season right before cooking.

After you form the hamburger patty, season the heck out of it with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper—but don’t season it before then. Mixing the ground beef with salt (like you would with meatloaf or meatballs) affects the texture of the meat, making it tougher (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt goes into the science of this over at Serious Eats). By seasoning the outside before you cook, you get a super-flavorful, super-tender patty.

3. Get the pan (or broiler) crazy hot.

What’s so great about grilling burgers? The smoky char you get from a blazing-hot grill. So by fully heating your pan or broiler, you’re treating your burger to the intense heat it deserves. That’s what creates the crustiest crust, which is as much about textural contrast as it is about big-time flavor (thank you, Maillard reaction). For bonus points, you can heat your pan under the broiler before adding the burger to the pan.

What are your indoor burger tips and tricks? Tell us in the comments!

9 Comments

DonaldW February 2, 2019
Cast iron is my choice after outdoor grill. I do like to use a spatter shield, it looks like someone cut a circle out of a screen door. I have a good vent to deal with the smoke butbthe spatter of grease makes for nasty clean up on my gas stove.
 
MtAdventurer February 1, 2019
Another great compare method video! I'm a fan of the cast iron method and like it better than "on the grill". Yes, the smoke, but worth it to me! Plus, I live in a little house with lots of windows, in a rural area, so I just open up and clear out. I'm also a fan of cloves and cinnamon sticks in simmering water to freshen the air after.<br /><br />@Smaug Maybe it is just perspective, but I like a burger cooked in its rendered fat - ala the cast iron method in the video, which gives the burger a crust as they spoke about. To me, that is not greasy. I have had burgers that are slimey-greasy and I don't like those.<br />
 
Smaug February 1, 2019
I like to cook most meats, and certainly any sort of sausage, in their own rendered fat, but 20% is way more than you need for that and only a small amount of it actually renders out- leaving you with a greasy burger. To me, the fat just dilutes the flavor of the meat and renders the texture unappetizing. This does seem to be an uncommon point of view, and certainly the culinary establishment, from the glory days of French cuisine through McDonald's to todays ubiquitous restaurants and cafes has based most of it's success on pushing fat, sugar and salt- atavistic desires that we should really be trying to overcome rather than promote.
 
MtAdventurer February 1, 2019
To each their own! I guess we must "agree to disagree" :) … I like at least 20% fat in my Montana grass fed ground beef … I'm fine with being "common". Cheers from the Treasure State!
 
Smaug January 31, 2019
So am I the only one who finds greasy hamburgers just plain yucky?
 
Turro D. February 3, 2019
20:80 will not give you greasy one..cheers
 
Smaug February 3, 2019
I suppose that would depend on your standards. It would give me an extremely greasy one.
 
Turro D. February 4, 2019
Very true...but generally speaking, 80:20 is good for majority :)...hey,if you are eating burgers,you do not count calories ;)
 
Smaug February 4, 2019
I don't know that that's true- there's no reason that things like hamburgers and pizza can't be perfectly healthful foods, and can't be made well without excessive fats. A hamburger needs a certain amount of fat to hold together- I grind my own and don't know the percentage, but it's way below 20%. Personally, I'm 6' tall and weigh 150- I'm not really concerned with calories; I often consume butterfat at an appalling rate, I just find fatty meats in general to be gross. And I find the notion that you can't have good experiences with meats without consuming huge amounts of fat- generally promulgated by people who have fat to sell- to be untrue and counterproductive.