Memorial Day grilling: 10 tips for making the perfect burgers

Memorial Day grilling: 10 tips for making the perfect burgers

Detroit Free Press

Memorial Day weekend is prime burger time.

May is National Hamburger month. May is also deemed National Barbecue Month, and Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off to the grilling season and one of the most popular times of the year to grill outdoors.

And so, as we head into Memorial Day, here's our guide to grilling burgers to perfection.

What kind of beef should I use?

Choose beef with fat in it. Most cookbooks and burger aficionados say the ideal choice is 80/20 beef chuck. This means it’s 80 percent lean and has 20 percent fat. You can go somewhat leaner if you like with ground beef labeled 85/15. Any leaner be sure to add some moisture like Worcestershire sauce or wine to prevent the burger from drying out. And if you can, grind your beef.

How do I grind my own meat if I don't have a meat grinder?

You can come close using a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Choose the cut of meat you want – chuck, round, brisket, short rib, sirloin – and make sure it's super cold. Cut it into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to get chop into smaller pieces. Don't process it too much or the meat will get mushy.

How should I mix the ground meat?

Make sure it's cold and always mix the meat gently so it just comes together. Do not over mix. If you over mix the meat (the same holds true when you make meatballs and meatloaf) the meat will be more compact and not as tender. Again, you will go straight to burger hell if the burgers are too compact.

Should I season the ground meat?

You can, but don’t let the seasoned meat sit too long. According to Weber's Purviance, allow 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper for each 1½ pound of ground beef. You can mix it in the meat or sprinkle on the outside of the formed patties. If you do the latter, Purviance advises to refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes or less to allow the seasoning to distribute. If you let it sit longer the salt will draw moisture out of the meat, he writes.

What’s an ideal amount of beef to use for each burger?

Plan on a burger that is 6-ounces before cooking. Use a scale if you have one to make sure burgers are all equal size. That 6-ounce burger is an ample size for serving as your main dish. But you can make them any size.

What’s the best size shape for a burger?

After handling the meat as little as possible, this is another big rule. You want to match the size of the patty with the bun. Figure there will be shrinkage, so shape the patty about ½-inch larger than the bun. Generally, a 4-inch in diameter patty, with a dimple in the center, that is at least ¾3/4-inch thick will suffice.

Why should I make a dimple in the center of the formed patty?

If you don’t do this, the burgers will end up more of a round shape and puff up like a tennis ball. The burgers won’t fit the bun and you end up with a top bun that slides off. That also means that you'll be eating more bun than burger with each bite.

How do you make the dimple?

This is an easy and not to be skipped. Once the patty is formed, use the back of a soup or teaspoon or your thumb to make an indentation, about ⅓-inch deep and 1-inch wide in the center of the patty. When the burgers cook, the indentation slowly rise and you get a nice, flat even top.

What’s the best way to grill?

Burgers like high heat. This helps form that exterior crust. Cook them on the non-dimpled side first over direct heat. Once a crust develops, flip them over and cook on the other side. Do not press down on the burger. When you do this, you’re beating up that poor burger and pressing all the juices out.

How long should burgers be grilled?

That depends on how you like them done. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) safe internal cooking temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees. That means it’s well done. And the cooking time will depend on the thickness of the burger – but generally at least 5 minutes per side. If you like it at less done than that and depending on the thickness, figure about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare or 130–135 degrees and 150–155 degrees for medium-well.

Here are a few recipes to help you out

Brie Burger with Caramelized Onions and Spicy Mayo

Brace yourself: this burger is a tasty keeper. The creamy and rich-tasting brie meets a spicy mayo.

  • Serves: 4 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 35 minutes
  • 1 to 1¼ pounds 90% lean ground sirloin or ground beef of choice
  • 1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons white wine, optional
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 jumbo onion, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce (see note)
  • ⅓ cup reduced-fat or regular mayonnaise
  • 3 ounces brie cut into 8 slices
  • 4 thin sandwich buns or bun of choice
  • 4 pieces green leaf lettuce
  • 4 slices tomato

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, wine, salt and pepper. Shape into four equal-size patties about ½1/2-inch thick, making an indentation in the center of the patty; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion slices, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté about 15 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Sprinkle with brown sugar and continue to cook until the onions become deep brown in color, about 15 minutes more. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the sweet chili sauce and mayonnaise; set aside.

Preheat the grill to medium-high and oil the grates when grill is hot. Or heat a skillet with a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Grill the burgers about 4 minutes one side, flip and move to a cooler part of the grill and continue cooking, about 5 minutes more or until they reach desired doneness. Or if using a skillet, turn and reduce the heat and finish the cooking. About 2 minutes before removing from the grill, place 2 pieces of brie on top of each burger and allow it to melt.

Build your burger: Toast the buns if desired. Spread one tablespoon of the spicy mayonnaise on each bun half. On the bottom half, place a lettuce leaf and top with tomato and a burger. Place a generous dollop of caramelized onions on top of the burger. Top with other bun and serve.

Cook's note: Look for sweet chili sauce near the Asian ingredients in most grocery stores. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or egg rolls.

From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

494 calories (42% from fat), 23 grams fat (9 grams sat. Fat), 43 grams carbohydrates, 32 grams protein, 611 mg sodium, 97 mg cholesterol, 7 grams fiber.

Grilled Bacon Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese

  • Serves: 4 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1½ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled and chilled (1 cup) (optional)
  • 4 hamburger buns, toasted if desired

Process bacon in food processor to smooth paste, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Cook bacon in 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up pieces with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned in spots but still pink (do not cook until crisp), about 5 minutes. Drain bacon in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate and let cool completely. Reserve bacon fat.

Add 2 tablespoons reserved fat to now-empty skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and salt and cook until well browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Break ground beef into small pieces and spread into even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with bacon and gently toss to combine using 2 forks. Divide beef mixture into 4 equal portions, then gently shape each portion into ¾-inch-thick patty. Using your fingertips, press center of each patty down until about ½-inch thick, creating slight divot.

For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Season patties with pepper. Place patties on grill, divot side up, and cook until well browned on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip patties, top with blue cheese, if using, and continue to cook until well browned on second side and meat registers 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare) or 130 to 135 degrees (for medium), 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer burgers to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve burgers on buns, topped with onions.

From "The Ultimate Burger" by America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $26.99).


Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

Classic American cheeseburger

  • Serves: 4 / Prep time: 10 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400 degrees to 450 degrees). In a bowl, using your hands, gently mix together the ground chuck, salt, and pepper.

Divide the meat into four equal portions in the bowl. Gently form four patties of equal size, each about ¾-inch thick. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1-inch wide in the center of each patty.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the patties over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until cooked to medium (about 160 degrees), 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice.

Turn the patties only when enough crust has developed on the surface of the meat to ensure they will release easily without sticking from the grates.

During the final minute of grilling time, place a cheese slice on each patty to melt.

As soon as you’ve added the cheese, toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat.

To build each burger, spread the bottom half of the bun with mayonnaise, top with a patty, and then layer with 1 or 2 tomato slices, 3 pickle chips, and lettuce. Spread the top half of the bun with ketchup and/or mustard and close the burger. Serve at once.

From "Weber’s Ultimate Grilling: a Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genuis” by grill master Jamie Purviance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99).


This article is written by Susan Selasky from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to

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