10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Grilling the Perfect Burger
“We’ll just grill some burgers.” This was the text message from my sister the other day, the last in a back-and-forth chain making plans for a weekend get-together that involved lots of sunscreen, a swimming pool and my 5-year-old nephew displaying the seemingly endless variations on jumping in the water that he’d been practicing all summer long.
Isn’t that how so many of our summer afternoons end, whether at the pool or park, hiking or biking — tossing some burgers on the grill. Really, nothing is quite as good at satisfying those mysterious post-pool munchies like good grilled burgers, and they’re so easy to make. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to grill the perfect burger, too. No fancy techniques; no exotic or expensive cuts of meat. Just a few simple tricks can take your good burgers to great.
Health-conscious as many of us are, now is not the time to skimp on fat. If your ground beef is too lean, your burgers will be too dry. A good ground chuck or ground sirloin is probably your best bet; they have a fat content of between 15–20 percent.
But the more fat in the beef, the more your burger will shrink on the grill, losing up to a quarter of its weight for fattier meat. So keep the fat content of your meat in mind as you decide how thick to make your patties.
If you like your burgers on the rare side, it’s a good idea to find a butcher who grinds his meat on site from fresh, whole cuts of meat (or even grind your own if you’re adventurous). Freshly ground meat is less likely to harbor the kinds of bacteria that can make you sick. You’ll also be able to get meat that has a coarser grind, which makes for better burgers.
You want to keep the fat in the meat as cold as possible before it hits the grill, because you’ll keep more flavor in the burger. To that end, rinse your hands under cold water before forming your patties (which will also help to keep the meat from sticking to your hands) and chill the patties up to an hour before grilling them. Take them straight from the fridge to the grill.
Don’t overwork the patties when you form them either, which will also help the fat stay cold and keep the burgers from getting mushy. Work gently and quickly — as soon as the patty is formed, stop messing with it.
So how thick should you make them? Well, thinner patties cook more quickly and evenly, but thicker patties can compensate for the loss of fat. A good rule of thumb is about ¾-inch to an inch thick for ground chuck or sirloin.
Don’t salt your patties until right before you put them on the grill. Salt extracts precious moisture from the meat.
For gas grills, heat your grill on high, then turn the heat down to medium, which will help control cooking. Once your patties are on the grill, don’t try to turn them for about 3 minutes or so — as the meat chars and the fat seeps out, the patty should naturally release from the grate.
Only turn your patties once. Move them to an unused part of the grill if you can.
And for heaven’s sake: don’t press down on your patties with your spatula! You’re just wringing all those delicious juices out of your burgers and watching them (literally) go up in smoke.
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