Burgers are basically the blue jeans of the food world. They’re universally loved, simple in design and a staple within pretty much every American’s life. Whether you bite into a $3.99 Big Mac from McDonald’s or a $19.95 american cheeseburger from 4 Charles Prime Rib you know on some level what to expect from every mouthful—a combination of meat, bun and your preferred toppings that tastes like deliciously comforting home.
That’s not to say that all burgers are created equal. There are definitely certain shaping, seasoning, and grilling methods that render some burgers a step above others. Getting everyone to agree on the best ones, however, is nearly impossible—burgers are seemingly straightforward yet covertly contentious. Go to any neighborhood cookout and you’re guaranteed to encounter at least one self-proclaimed grill master who will deem his or her own patty preparation strategy as the only one that counts. Challenge it, and be prepared to face exile from the future potlucks for life.
The thing is, we believe there really is one preparation method that stands above the rest for its failproof ability to produce a classically juicy and tasty burger. Follow the steps below at your next backyard barbecue to see—and taste—for yourself.
Meat Selection Is Key
If you can, find a butcher that sells grass-fed and grass-finished beef and ask them for a blend of ground chuck, short ribs and brisket. The fresher the meat the better, and animals that are raised in good conditions with natural foods will have meat that’s better flavored and healthier. If you do purchase your meat at a grocery store, look for fat contents between 20-30%. In this case, the fattier the better.
Get It Into Good Shape
Make sure to let your meat come to room temperature before shaping and seasoning it. Pulling it out of the fridge and letting it sit for around 30 minutes should do the trick. Next, form 6-ounce balls from the meat and gently press them into patties. Be sure not to overwork meat as it can cause the burgers to become tough. To help ensure the burgers cook evenly and don’t end up plumper in the middle and thin along the circumference, use your thumb to create a small simple in the center of the patty (think of the shape of a red blood cell).
Season It, But Simply
Sometimes, less is more. While complex burger seasonings including everything from truffle to soy sauce are mouthwateringly good, a simple combination of freshly crushed black peppercorns and either sea salt or kosher salt can be equally as good. Don’t mix them into the meat itself, though; rubbing the pepper and salt onto each side of the patty will allow it to form that decadent crust we all know and love once it hits the grill.
Prep Your Grill
While many people think that flame-licked burgers are the way to go, patties actually cook best over moderate heat, as it allows their outer shells to caramelize over time. If you’re using a charcoal grill, throw your burgers on once the coals have burned down to white. If you’re using propane, preheat the grill on high flame and then turn it down to medium once you’re ready to get cooking. Always remember to brush you grill with olive oil prior to cooking in order to avoid your meat sticking.
Cook It To Perfection
And now, for the best part. Throw your patties onto the grill and let them sit on each side for approximately three to five minutes, depending on how rare or well done you like your burgers. The cardinal rule to follow here is do not under any circumstances press the burger against the grill with a spatula. Yes, the sizzle it elicits is incredibly satisfying but it squeezes tasty juices out of the burger that you definitely want it to retain—trust us. Once you’ve removed the burgers from the grill let them sit for another three to five minutes before touching them. The meat will continue to cook during this time and the juices within it will continue to redistribute themselves.
After that it’s up to you to build your dream burger—the perfect foundation is there.