If you’re celebrating International Burger Day on 28th May, it could be time to brush up on your grilling technique. Check out our ultimate guide to grilling the perfect burger for everything you need to know to become a master of the grill.
Tools and equipment
Before you start grilling, you need to make sure you have the right kit. Grilling the perfect burger doesn’t require an array of fancy gadgets, but there are three essential tools no grill champion should be without.
First, you need a good quality metal spatula. Select a spatula with a thin, bevelled edge so it can slide easily underneath your burger without breaking it apart.
Our second must-have grilling tool is a thermometer, to make sure your meat is cooked to perfection. A waterproof model is best, to withstand food grease and spills, and a clear, easy-to-read display is a must.
Finally, when the grilling is done, you need a grill brush to keep your grill clean and ready to go. A good grill brush should have strong, durable bristles to stand up to repeated use, and a scraper attachment for removing burnt-on food.
Type of meat
The most important thing to get right when selecting your meat is the fat content. For a juicy and flavourful burger that holds together while you’re cooking it, the sweet spot is between 15 to 20% fat. Any less and the meat will dry out and crumble, any more and your burger will be too greasy. If you’re going for beef, a 20% fat ground chuck is perfect, but you can use different meats, or even a blend of several, as long as you keep the fat content the same.
Chill the meat in a refrigerator until right before you need it, and try not to overwork it when forming your patties. Room temperatures combined with the heat from your hands can cause the fat to melt, which can prevent it from binding with the lean meat and lead to an over-rendered, tough burger.
How to grill the perfect burger
Now you have your trusty grilling tools and your ingredients, take a look at our essential dos and don’ts for grilling the perfect burger.
DO make your patties slightly larger than your buns. Burgers tend to shrink a little when they’re cooked, and a burger that’s all bread and no meat is always a sad sight. Make your burgers so they look just a little too large and they should fit perfectly once they’re done.
DO stick your thumb into the burger. Making a dent in the centre of the burger will prevent it from puffing up as it cooks, keeping it flat.
DO brush the burgers with a little olive oil before you start cooking. This prevents them from sticking and creates a nice sear, sealing the juices inside.
DO turn up the heat. High temperatures help create that delicious outer crust that all the best burgers have.
DON’T use your spatula to press down on your burgers while cooking. Many people do this to try and speed up cooking times, or to get a good sear, but all it really does it’s to squeeze out all those delicious meaty juices and make your burger dry. Leave your burger alone while it’s grilling and you will be rewarded with a tastier, juicier burger.
DON’T keep flipping your burgers. This is another way of losing those precious juices and risking a crumbly burger. Each burger should be flipped once only, to keep it intact and juicy.
DO get your timings right. If you like your burgers rare, they should take around 4 to 5 minutes total to cook. For medium rare, increase the cooking time to 6 to 7 minutes, and for medium, cook for 8 - 9 minutes. Always use your thermometer to check the meat is cooked all the way through. USDA guidelines state that ground meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (or 165°F for turkey) to kill any harmful bacteria.
DO Leave your burgers to rest for 5 minutes before serving. This will allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat.
If you want to take your burgers to the next level, take a look at how to make smash burgers, for a moist and juicy burger with the ultimate crust.
Charcoal/wood grill or gas grill
If you don’t have your own grill yet, and you’re wondering whether to go charcoal or gas, there are pros and cons to consider for each.
Wood and charcoal burners are capable of reaching greater temperatures, which will give a good sear to your meat, and different types of woods can be used to give your food a delicious smoky flavour. On the down side, they are difficult to control, so you can end up with burnt food or an overwhelming flavour of smoke.
Gas grills offer more control, making them better for cooking delicate foods like fish or vegetables. You don’t have to wait for them to heat up, and there’s less mess to clean up afterwards, too. They do tend to be more expensive than charcoal or wood grills, however, as well as being heavier and less portable.
Seasoning for burgers
If you want to add a little seasoning to bring out the flavours in your burger, we love this burger seasoning blend from The Spruce Eats.
Other ingredients for a hamburger
It may be the main attraction, but it takes more than meat to make a hamburger. Add the finishing touches to your perfect burger with our guide to everyone’s favourite burger toppings.
The bun - the foundation to any good burger is a good bun. Whether you prefer a classic seeded bun or a gourmet brioche, try toasting it before you start to build your burger - it will need reinforcing to hold all those tasty fillings.
Cheese - a must for any burger. Classic choices include American, Jack, provolone or Swiss, but why not try something a little different with brie, Gruyère, cheddar or feta?
Onions - another classic burger topping, you can add raw onions for added crunch and pungency, or caramelised onions for a sweeter, more mellow flavour.
Lettuce - the right lettuce adds a light freshness to balance out the heavy flavours of meat and cheese. Avoid delicate varieties that droop easily and choose a crisp, fresh iceberg or romaine.
Tomato - a slice of tomato is another vital salad ingredient. Choose a ripe tomato without too much pulp - beefsteak tomatoes are a good choice.
Pickles - small but mighty, a few slices of pickle cut through all those rich fatty flavours perfectly.
Burger sauce - when it comes to burger sauce, you can keep it simple with ketchup, or use your favourite smoky burger sauce.
Mayo - classic mayo goes great with burgers, or you can add interest by stirring in some spicy chipotle or garlic and herbs.
Something a little different - there are lots of non-classic burger toppings you can choose from too, including bacon, mushrooms, pineapple, egg, peanut butter or avocado.
How to build a hamburger
The classic way to build a burger is in the following order:
- Add your burger sauce or ketchup to the bottom half of the bun (if you’ve caramelised your onions, add those too)
- Add the burger
- Add the cheese
- Add the salad - lettuce, tomato, onions (if raw) and pickle
- Spread your mayo on the top of the bun, and place on top of the burger.
How to serve a hamburger
A classic dish deserves classic sides. Think simple cookout food like salads, slaws and easy grilled vegetables.
Try one of these quick and easy pasta salads, perfect for al fresco dining on summer days.
A tasty twist on the classic potato chip, these sweet potato chips are great for sharing and so simple to make.
Onion rings are always a popular side with burgers, and we love these crispy beauties from Taste of Home.
Burgers and slaw are a marriage made in heaven. Check out our coleslaw recipe for the creamiest, crunchiest slaw ever to grace your table.
Potato salad is another classic no cookout should be without. Our recipe adds a Mediterranean twist with olives and feta.
Instead of fries, try these crispy, herby grilled potatoes from The Cozy Cook.
For a healthy but delicious side, try some smoky grilled asparagus, fresh from the grill.
Simple, fresh and tasty, this grilled zucchini salad from The Kitchn is another dish you can make using your grill.
The ultimate grilled veggie has to be corn on the cob, oozing with melted butter.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, this melon and cucumber salad is wonderfully clean and refreshing after all those big flavours.