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- We spoke with a dozen chefs, from Food Network’s Robert Irvine to the executive chef of Foxwoods, about common burger grilling mistakes.
- Watch the fat ratio of your meat, warns chef Jose Enrique.
- Don’t flip the burgers too much, says chef Eddie Allen.
- Visit INSIDER’s home page for more stories.
Even though burgers are the quintessential staple of summer barbecues, it’s all too easy to end up with thin, charred hockey pucks instead of juicy patties that melt in your mouth.
Luckily, INSIDER has the scoop on tips from professionals, ranging from Food Network stars to local chefs, who all know a thing or two about making your burger the most memorable part of summer.
Here’s what you (may or may not) be doing wrong with your burgers, and how to fix it:
Buying bad meat
Pat LaFrieda, New York City’s most popular meat purveyor, warns customers to avoid buying frozen meat, and offers this tip for avoiding meat that’s less-than-fresh: “If meat has gone bad, the tell-tale sign is if it has a bad smell to it; meat of any variety should have almost no odor at all.”
Choosing beef that’s too lean
If you want to avoid “hockey puck patty” syndrome, avoid leaner cuts of meat like ground chuck. It might go against your better (and healthier) judgment, but a higher fat ratio makes for better burgers: “The perfect burger is crazy juicy to the point where it drips down your arm,” chef Jose Enrique, James Beard award-winning chef, told INSIDER. “For that, I use ground chuck or meat that is 25%-35% fat, and I’m guaranteed that messy, fatty burger.”
Over-seasoning your meat
Burger meat seasonings are the topic of hot debate, but chef Josh Capon (Lure Fishbar, El Toro Blanco in New York City), warns to not over-do it: “Don’t over season the meat… it’s not meatloaf!” For those who don’t mind a sprinkle of salt on their burgers, Ashley Abodeely, executive chef of The NoMad Truck adds: “Make sure you evenly season the meat. If you do it haphazardly, you might get some tasteless bits and some over salty sections.”
Not cleaning the grill thoroughly
“A really clean grill is an underrated part of grilling,” Alex Guarnaschelli (“Chopped,” executive chef at Butter) says. “While it is not glamorous to meticulously clean the grill before heating and cooking on it, it is critical so the meat doesn’t stick or get any other food on it as it cooks.” She also suggested wiping the grill down with vegetable oil afterward to avoid breaking your burgers.
Not letting your meat warm up
The thicker the burger, the more important it is to temper your meat. Never put your meat directly onto the grill after grabbing it from the fridge. Chris Pandel, executive chef of Balena, Cold Storage and Swift & Sons in Chicago, recommends tempering your burgers for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling. He also warns that you should not temper really thin patties, and should avoid sticking a thermometer in them as well.
Packing the grill too tightly
Alex Guarnaschelli recommends not overcrowding the grill. “It’s easy to load up a big batch of burgers and try to get it done fast. This can prevent the meat from getting a nice char and from cooking evenly. Do it in smaller batches and enjoy the process!”
Grilling on low to avoid charring the meat
Rather than using the “low and slow” method that home chefs are fond of, chef Ari Bokovza (Claudette in New York City) says it’s important to turn up the heat: “Make sure to get your grill nice and hot to avoid sticking.”
Only using direct heat
On the other hand, when you only use high heat, you’re playing with fire (literally): “Sear over very high heat then reduce the direct heat to allow for extended cook times,” Dan Huebschmann of Gibsons Restaurant Group in Chicago said. “On a charcoal grill, allocate 1/3 of it to be free of coals; on a gas grill, be prepared to reduce the heat of your burners once you have the desired char, or, if you have a large gas grill, set one of your burners to low from the start. Cooking over the hottest part of the grill too long will over char and even burn your burger on the outside, and leave you with a disappointing raw center.”
Touching or flipping the burgers too much
This is a tricky one because how else are you going to make the perfect burger if you don’t flip it? Chef Eddie Allen, executive chef at Foxwoods Resort Casino said: “I find that most people cannot resist the urge to continually touch the burger after they put it on the grill. Put it on and leave it alone! You should only have to flip it once. Don’t smash it and don’t touch it!”
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Pushing the meat down onto the grill
It’s all too tempting to push your beef patty down on the grill to hear that satisfying sizzle, but Robert Irvine (“Restaurant: Impossible”) suggests avoiding that: “Don’t push the meat down on the grill; let it do its own thing,” he told INSIDER. “Don’t try to pick it up too early. When the edges of the burger turn a different color brown and you try to lift it, if it comes off easy, it means the food is ready to be turned. If it doesn’t, leave it until it does.”
Using tongs to flip your burgers
The spatula is the way to go, says chef Huebschmann. That way you avoid burning your fingers and don’t risk the burger falling apart.
Not letting the burger rest
Don’t serve your burgers immediately after they’re hot off the grill! Chris Pandel told INSIDER. “Treat a big burger like a steak. Allow it to rest for half of the time it took to cook on the grill. This will ensure you have a juicy burger and that all of the juices don’t end up in your bun or on your plate.” Don’t let it get cold though!
- Read more:
- 11 celebrity chefs reveal the one thing you need to do to take your grilling to the next level
- I tried the growing cult-favorite California chain that makes the ‘best burger in America’ – here’s the verdict
- 11 mistakes you’re making when grilling steaks
- I tried the signature burgers from 5 major fast-food chains, and the winner was obvious