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Lesson 1: The Perfect Burger

Sarah Breckenridge; Video by Bruce Becker and Dariusz Kanarek; Editing by Cari Delahanty. Shot on location at the Dana Holcombe House, Newtown, CT.
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Lesson 1: The Perfect Burger

Whether you’re already an accomplished griller or just a novice, grilling cookbook author Fred Thompson will turn you into a grill master in just 10 short episodes.

Everyone knows how to grill a burger…or at least everyone thinks they do. The truth is that burgers are one of the most-abused foods on the grill. The worst crimes are overworking the ground beef when you shape the patties, and pressing down on the burgers with a spatula, which squeezes out all the juices. In this video, Fred demonstrates how to avoid both of these pitfalls and make the Classic Ultimate Hamburger better than you ever thought possible.

Burger Recipes
Classic Ultimate Burgers Bacon Burgers with Bacon-Onion-Balsamic Jam Thai Curry Turkey Burgers Bison Burgers with Thousand Island Barbecue Dressing
Classic Ultimate Hamburgers   Bacon Burgers with Bacon-Onion-Balsamic Jam   Thai Curry Turkey Burgers   Bison Burgers with Thousand Island Barbecue Dressing

Step One: Choosing the Beef
At some of the high-profile hamburger joints that have recently opened across the country, the restaurant’s custom blend of different types of ground beef is often a closely-guarded secret. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Fred’s favorite mixture is 3 parts ground chuck, which has enough fat for a nice texture, plus one part ground sirloin, which adds a “beefier” flavor. For a basic burger, season the meat simply with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper-but use a light hand here; you’ll add more later to the outside of the burger.

Step Two: Shaping the Burgers
Mix the ground beef very gently, with a light, kneading motion. Overworking the meat drives out the juices and makes for a tough burger. Shape the meat, again using a light touch, into 6-oz. patties. You don’t need to make these perfectly round–if they are, that’s a sign you’ve over-handled them. One easy way to shape the burgers is to use an 8-oz plastic deli container as a mold.

The most important part of shaping is to put a thumbprint in the center of each burger. As the burgers cook, the heat drives the juices to the center, causing the burger to puff up in the middle. To combat this, you want to start out with a concave center, so that as they cook up, the burgers end up with a nice, flat top and bottom.

When the burgers are shaped, season the outside with a little more salt and pepper. This lets you use less salt overall-because it’s on the outside where you’ll taste it–and it also helps give the burgers a nice crust as they cook.

Step Three: Cook the Burgers
First oil the grill grates, turn all the burners on high (or build a hot charcoal fire), and leave the lid closed for 10 to 12 minutes. This preheat gets the grates super clean, which both prevents sticking and helps get a good sear on the burgers.

When the grill’s good and hot, put the burgers on the grill, close the lid, and turn down the burners just a bit. Cook 4 to 6 minutes without disturbing them.

The burgers are ready to turn when they’ve got nice grill marks on the first side, and they release easily from the grill. Turn the burgers just once. Because these burgers are loosely packed, they could fall apart if you turn them over and over. Do NOT press down on the burgers with your spatula; it only squeezes out the juices.

If you like cheese on your burger, add it in the last two minutes of cooking time, so it gets nice and melty. And put your buns, cut side down, on the grill about a minute before the burgers are done.

Check for doneness by touch or using an instant-read thermometer, inserted sideways into the center of the burger.

Unlike most meats, burgers don’t need to sit and rest after they come off the grill. Dress them with whatever toppings you like, and serve right away!

More Burger Recipes:
BLT Burgers
Grilled Sliders
Middle Eastern Turkey Burger
Katrina’s Seattle Salmon Burger
Argentine-Style Burger
Stuffed Blue Cheese Burgers

Related Articles:
Tips for Making Better Burgers
Ingredient Profile: Ground Beef
The Other Red Meat
Q&A: How to Keep Grill Grates Clean

Other Lessons in the Series:

Classic Ultimate Burgers New York Strip Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter How to Start a Charcoal Fire
Lesson 1: The Perfect Burger
  Lesson 2: Great Steaks on the Grill   Lesson 3: How to Start a Charcoal Fire
The Two-Zone Fire Buttermilk Brined Chicken Breasts How to Add Smoke to a Gas Grill
Lesson 4: The Two-Zone Fire   Lesson 5: How to Grill Bone-In Chicken Parts   Lesson 6: How to Add Smoke to a Gas Grill
Grilled Fish Tacos Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal Fred's Ultimate Smoked Pork Shoulder
Lesson 7: How to Grill Fish   Lesson 8: Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal   Lesson 9: Slow-Smoked Pork Shoulder
Fred's Finest Baby Back Ribs    
Lesson 10: Real Barbecued Ribs        


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  • kathleen684 | 05/30/2014

    Love these grilling videos!! Thank you for the instructions.

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