Mandatory Burgers: A Master Guide to Cooking the Perfect Burger
Welcome to our newest food segment, Mandatory Burgers, where we’ll be giving you the skinny on all things meaty (and some meatless). But before we can go deep, you’ve got to learn about cooking the perfect burger. Everyone has their opinions (they’re all wrong) on how to fire up the finest backyard burger, but let’s be honest, our host Gennefer Gross knows more about meat than any one person should. If you’re into juicy meats, hot buns, and other sexual burger innuendos, you’ve come to the right place. We’re serving up tried and fried tips for even the most novice griller. Strap on that apron. It’s time for Mandatory Burgers.
Cover Photo: Westend61 (Getty Images)
No grill? No problem.
What?! That's right. While the idea of flipping burgers poolside is appealing, your life isn't a stock photo. And grills are expensive! You can still infuse a smoky flavor into your meat without even hitting an open flame. How? Two words: smoked paprika. A teaspoon of this bright red powder, made from peppers that are dried over wood fires, will penetrate your patty as it cooks up in a cast iron skillet with a smoky, woodsy flavor. Then, you can serve them outdoors. You're not a monster.
Do you have an oven?
Another way to cheat the outdoor grilling system while still creating a deep, charbroiled flavor is with your oven's broiler. While broilers can vary between top flaming, electric coil-glowing wires, or a pull-out drawer, be sure to use a sturdy, oven-safe pan or foil-lined cooking sheet. Depending on your desired doneness, you'll want to broil thicker 5-ounce to 6-ounce patties for three to four minutes per side and 2-ounce to 4-ounce patties for two to three minutes per side. (Thinner patties will brown up much quicker so keep a close eye on them, which means no checking Twitter!) For additional juiciness, add two strips of raw bacon under the meat. The rendered fat will keep the beef from drying out while imbuing it with smokiness and grease. Bonus: You've got bacon.
Be your own Burger King with a grill pan.
We're inching closer and closer to an actual grill here with a ridged grill pan that will give you those great Burger King-style grill marks without subjecting yourself to eating at Burger King. With these pans, liquid smoke (which is basically smoke suspended in water) works best for imparting charred flavor. Heat your pan up for about five minutes on high, pour on a few splashes of liquid smoke, and drop your patties in, grilling them evenly on both sides. Don't press down on the patties while they're cooking. Let chemistry do its job as swirls of smoke envelope the meat like some sixth-grade science project. Feeling slightly more debonair? You can swap out liquid smoke for tobacco-steeped bourbon. Marvelous.
You have an actual grill. Now what?
They key to mastering a delicious grilled burger is often as simple as keeping the protein in your patty from sticking to the grates. The flame (best on high heat for leaner cuts and medium heat for higher fat blends), timing (three minutes on each side for medium rare; increase by a minute for medium), and properly resting the meat after you remove it from the heat (to redistribute the juices) will do the heavy lifting. We recommend using nature's best condiment: butter. By brushing this melted, golden liquid across both sides of your patties, you'll achieve a beautiful brown crust that flavors the meat while making it easy to flip without leaving broken bits of beef behind. Don't overthink it. Cavemen did this over rocks with just a couple of sticks.
The flattop grill is your new best friend.
Consider investing in a flattop grill. They're more affordable than ever, come in various sizes, and are fairly foolproof for churning out crowd-pleasing burgers quickly and easily. Grab a ball of meat, typically around 4 ounces, smash it on high heat with a heavy metal spatula or round grill press, cook for two minutes on each side and um, that's pretty much it. You've got yourself a thin, crispy patty that's the perfect vehicle for transporting gooey blankets of American cheese into your mouth.
This method will garner you a medium-well to well-done patty, so if you want closer to medium-rare, use the "smash and slide" technique where your spatula only briefly comes in contact with the meat as it traverses across it (rather than firmly pressing it down in a smashing motion), allowing the inner part of the patty to remain juicier while still giving you some bits of beef fond along the edges for texture.
Be your own salt bae.
Seasoning-wise on all of these burgers, unless otherwise noted, opt for a simple sprinkle of salt and fresh ground pepper on each side, applied just before it hits the heat. If you want more depth of flavor, try a dash of mushroom powder (to kick up the umami factor) or dried onions.
Toast your buns!
Don't ruin an impeccably cooked burger with a lifeless, room-temperature bun. Toast your buns in butter and the remnant beef fat. Adding pickle juice to the mixture will impart dill flavor in every bite while soft steaming the bun for maximum squishiness. The bun should swaddle the meat and cheese so it all melds together, not be a dense mouthful of bread before you get to the good stuff.