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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Leo daniels
    Leo daniels
  • Sue
  • DonaldW
  • Smaug
  • Turro Diab
    Turro Diab
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Leo D. June 3, 2019
PICKLE BOY LIKE !!!!!!!!!!!
Sue February 27, 2019
Pan of choice. Cast iron though you can get the same tasty results from a quality stainless steel chef's pan. The pan just needs to be heavy enough to hold that high heat well against having raw meat applied to it, and to allow the browned meat to release itself from the pan surface before you flip it.

Smoke. Well, while the cast iron skillet heats up, crack a window and get the vent going. Unless yours isn't vented outside in which case forget the vent completely.

Seasoning. Don't skimp on the salt, and don't use anything with sugar or herbs in it as those will only quickly burn sending up lots more smoke.

80/20 all the way as you want this much fat to keep a juicy burger (if you want it juicy). The longer the burger's in the pan, the more fat will render out. I cook no more than three 1/4 pound patties at a time and clear the rendered grease from the pan before cooking more patties.

Clean up. The deeper the pan, the less spatter around it, but I've also used towels to cover the control panel and countertop close to the pan to help with this.
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.
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.