Summer is the time to learn how to make a hamburger at home. Sure, hamburgers are great all year round, but for me, there's just something about cooking hamburgers on the grill and eating them outdoors. It's just linked to summer in a mysterious but delicious way.
Now, hamburgers have kind of gotten a bad reputation as being pretty unhealthy fast food, and in a lot of cases that's not too far from the truth.
But if you know how to make a hamburger, you can actually even make something that's not too bad for you.
And it's not hard. Hamburgers are super easy to make. I often end up cooking hamburgers when I looked in the fridge and realized I should have gone grocery shopping 3 days ago, and only had 30 minutes until dinner.
But even though it's not hard, there are still a few tricks you need to know if you want to know how to make a hamburger that's just right for you.
Here we go!
The first thing to know about how to make a hamburger is what meat to pick. Of course you'll be picking some kind of ground meat, but there are a lot of choices out there... lean, regular, beef, turkey, bison. You can make burgers with any of them.
Here are a few tips when picking meat for hamburgers:
Traditionally, hamburgers are made with ground beef, and generally that's what people expect of a burger. But you can also use other ground meats, like ground pork, bison, turkey, lamb, or even little bits of sausage, and you can even mix different meats together.
Fat. Fat, sadly, can be pretty delicious. The most flavorful and juiciest burgers are usually made with ground chuck, 80% lean, 20% fat.
If you prefer a burger with a pure beefy taste, with no spices or anything, you'll get much better results with an 80% lean beef.
If you like to spice up your burger though, you can go for leaner cuts. I'll show you how to make a hamburger that's lean, but juicy and flavorful.
The same applies to other meats. The leaner the meat, the more flavoring you might need to add, unless the meat already has a very strong flavor of its own.
The texture of the burger is affected by how coarsely the meat is ground up.
A coarse grind gives a burger that isn't quite so dense, and that feels juicier. That's how to make a hamburger that's slightly crisp on the outside but juicy on the inside
Now we have our meat selected. The next step in learning how to make a hamburger is forming the patties. In this section, I'll talk about seasoning first, and then I'll go over how to shape the hamburger patties.
The very simplest way to season a burger is to season it with... nothing at all! For a lot of people, knowing how to make a hamburger just means knowing how to shape and cook a patty made of pure ground beef.
Now, if you'd rather learn how to make a hamburger that's dressed up with a little bit of spicing, you have a ton of options available to you. You can add:
Finely chopped or grated vegetables. I like to put onion and garlic in my burgers, but you can put anything. Mushrooms, scallions, hot peppers, zucchini, celery. It just needs to be very very finely chopped or grated. If the pieces are too big, the meat won't hold together well and you'll have trouble shaping the hamburger patties.
There are lots of spices that go great in burgers. Onion salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, basil, mint... there are too many possibilities to name. Just experiment and find out how to make a hamburger that's right for you.
Try a little bit in your burger, see if you like it. You can also use prepared spice blends like Montreal Steak Spice, or even dried onion soup mix.
There's also a number of liquids you can add to burgers. These'll add moisture to the hamburger patties, which will make the burger juicier, especially if you chose a lean meat. Try Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mustard, Tabasco sauce, tomato juice, bacon fat, wine, vinegar, beef stock, olive oil or barbecue sauce.
Breadcrumbs aren't exactly a seasoning, but sometimes the ground meat might be too wet to stick together properly. Defrosting meat can do that. Breadcrumbs can remove some of that moisture.
Adding breadcrumbs comes at a cost – flavor. If you can avoid it, do, but it's better to have burger that holds together.
When you mix your seasonings into the meat, it's important to remember that the more you handle the meat, and the more you squish it around, the more dense your burger will be. You might also squeeze out some of the juices and end up with a drier burger.
If you want to know how to make a hamburger that's less dense, here's what you do: handle the meat as little as possible. Mix in the ingredients with a spoon or a spatula, and avoiding smooshing the meat too much.
Getting the meat mixture just right can be a bit tricky. If it's either too dry or too wet, it won't really hold together when you're ready to form the hamburger patties.
If the mixture looks too dry, try adding some moisture, either by adding liquid or some shredded vegetables, or even an egg.
If the mixture is too dry, add breadcrumbs until you can form a hamburger patty that sticks together.
Sometimes, if the meat is too wet, you can leave it covered in the refrigerator for a few hours, and it'll get a bit drier.
The next step in this guide on how to make a hamburger is how to shape the hamburger patties. First, I'll go over a few general guidelines.
When ground meat cooks, it gets smaller. The more fat in the meat, the smaller it gets. Be sure to make your hamburger patty wider than the bun.
80% lean ground meat can reduce by as much as 25%.
Lean meat doesn't reduce all that much, so the hamburger patty doesn't need to be much wider that the bun.
Try to get your hamburger patty as flat as possible. It doesn't necessarily have to be super thin, but it should be uniformely flat.
When hamburgers cook, the middle tends to round up. This makes it a pain when you're putting the burger together – all your toppings will slip off. Here's how to make a hamburger flat:
Keep the patty as flat as you can.
Don't make the burger too thick compared to its width. A very wide burger for a big bun can be up to an inch thick. A smaller patty meant for a small bun should be closer to 1/2 an inch.
After you shape your hamburger patty, make an indentation in its center. Using your fingers or a spoon, press a 1 or 2 inch circle about 1/4 of an inch deep into the meat. This'll help it not round up as you cook it. Start cooking it indentation side up!
Now, for the actual shaping of the hamburger patties! Here's how you do it.
Instead of pressing down the burgers by hand alone, you can use either a hamburger press or even just a lid from a jar.
Just pick a lid that's the same size you want your hamburger patties. Line it with plastic wrap, and gently press the meat into it. The lid will take care of cracking edges as you press it in, and you'll have perfectly uniform burgers.
Remember, the more you handle the meat, the denser and less juicy your burger will be. So don't squish it!
Wondering how to make a hamburger patty ahead of time? Well, hamburger patties will keep in the fridge for a few hours, or in the freezer for weeks.
To keep them in the fridge, you can keep the hamburger patties separated by wax paper.
Patties stored in the freezer should be very well wrapped.
If you're worried that your burgers aren't firm enough and might break up when you cook them, try putting them in the fridge for 10 to 30 minutes. It'll help them stay firm on the grill.
By now, we already know a lot about how to make a hamburger. But the most important part is coming up - cooking the hamburger.
There are a few ways to cook hamburgers. Depending on the weather, whether or not you have a grill, and even just your personal preference, you may need different cooking methods.
But there are a few things that you need to know no matter how you plan to cook your hamburgers. In this section, we'll talk about these important facts, and then we'll go over how to cook a hamburger on the grill, in the oven, and on the stove.
There are a few important things to take into consideration before you start cooking your hamburgers.
Ground meat is just that – meat that's been ground up. That means that any bacteria that was on the surface of the chunk of meat ends up mixed in all throughout the meat.
The longer you leave ground meat without cooking it, the more chance that bacteria has to multiply inside the meat. That means if you want to kill all the bacteria that can make you sick, ground meat needs to be cooked until it's well done (165F).
If you had a fresh chunk of meat that you just ground yourself, then it's not as dangerous. The bacteria that was on the surface will still be in the meat though – it just won't have had a chance to multiply.
Ground meat isn't like a steak. Cooking hamburgers to well-done won't ruin them. Instead of being a naturally tender cut of meat, it's been mechanically tenderized by grinding it, breaking up the elastin. The small bits of meat that are left don't bunch up as much as the fibers in a big piece of meat, so it stays tender.
The best way to tell if your burger is done is by using a meat thermometer. Ground beef is cooked when it reaches 165F.
Stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the hamburger patty to see if it's hot enough.
Cutting the burger isn't a good idea to see if it's done. Some leaner meats will stay pink even though they're hot enough, and fattier meats will brown before they're cooked. You could end up overcooking your burger or undercooking it.
No matter which cooking method you pick, here are some tips to follow, whether you're a pro or you're just learning how to make a hamburger:
Don't press down on the hamburger while it's cooking. It really doesn't help the burger cook or anything, and it presses out the juices, leaving you with a drier burger. If you're just trying to keep it flat, make an indentation in the patty before you cook it.
Only flip the hamburger once. Cook it half way, flip, then cook the rest of the way. This'll help it keep its juices and reduces the risk of it breaking up if you had a bit of a loose burger.
Once the hamburger is on the grill, don't move it until it naturally releases. The outside will get firm and crispy on its own, and it'll unstick from the pan or grill. Then you can move it without tearing the burger.
Here's how to make a hamburger on the grill:
Preheat your grill to high heat.
Place the hamburger patties on the grill, indentation side up.
Cook the hamburgers for about 5 minutes. They should lift off the grill easily after this time. Flip the burgers over and cook for another 5 minutes.
Some grills have areas that are hotter than others. If you're cooking multiple burgers, be sure to watch the ones on the hotter area – they may need to flip earlier.
The meat will brown as it cooks, starting from the bottom and moving up. You should flip the burger when it has browned about one third of the way up.
If you want to make a cheeseburger, add a slice of cheese during the last minute or two of cooking.
Here's how to make a hamburger in the oven:
Preheat your oven to the broil setting.
Place your hamburger patties on a lightly greased baking sheet.
You can line the sheet with aluminum foil to make clean-up easier.
Place the baking sheet in the over so that the burgers are 3-5 inches away from the heat source.
The closer the meat is to the heat, the less time it will take to cook. Too close, though, and your hamburgers will burn.
Cook the hamburgers for about 5 minutes, flip, then cook another 5 minutes.
Like when you grill, the meat will brown as it cooks, but from the top down. It's time to flip the burger when its browned about one third of the way down.
If you want to make a cheeseburger, it's best to add the cheese after you're done cooking the hamburgers. It'll have more trouble melting, but you lose a lot of heat opening the oven so it's best to avoid it.
Here's how to make a hamburger in the pan.
Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium high heat.
A cast-iron skillet is best because it retains heat better, but other pans will do, too.
Place the hamburger patties in the pan, indentation side up. Be sure not to crowd the burgers or they won't cook properly.
Cook the hamburgers for about 5 minutes. They should lift off the pan easily. Flip them over and cook them for another 5 minutes.
Just like grilling, the meat browns as it cooks, from the bottom up. It's time to flip the burger when it's brown about one third of the way up.
If you're making cheeseburgers, add a slice of cheese on top of the patty during the last minute or two of cooking.
Alright, we're almost done learning how to make a hamburger. The last part I'll go over is how to serve the hamburger.
One of the most important parts of the burger aside from the patty is the bun. It can be toasted or not, depending on how you like it.
If you have a bit of a flimsy bun, very very fluffy bread, it may be best to toast it or the grease and condiments will make it way too soggy.
Don't be afraid to try different types of buns, like a flat bread or a French roll.
The next step is condiments. There are so many choices. Add ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, salsa, guacamole, baconnaise, chutney, chili, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, anything...
You can spread the condiments on the buns, or put them right on the meat... but putting them right on the meat makes it harder for the toppings to stick.
Finally, the toppings. Again, there's an almost infinite number of choices. Just look at the menu in a restaurant you like for some inspiration. But here are a few ideas: bacon, sliced tomato, sliced pickles, fried mushrooms, fried onion, grilled onion slices, grilled pineapple rings, grilled vegetables like eggplant or zucchini, avocado slices, hot peppers... again, anything you like.
Don't be afraid to get creative. If you don't like something, you can always pick off the topping and never do it again! You have to try different things to find out how to make a hamburger that's perfect for you.
A quick note about cheese. Sometimes, a slice of American cheese is all I want on a burger. But it can also be nice to dress it up a bit. Try all kinds of cheeses: provolone, Swiss, mozzarella, Monterrey jack, Gruyere, brie, Camembert, goat cheese, feta, Roquefort... any cheese you like could potentially make an awesome burger.
And then... just put all your toppings on the burger, and you've got a delicious meal waiting.
And that is how to make a hamburger... enjoy!