You hear that? It’s the sound of backyard grills being cranked up across America.
The season of cookouts is upon us—soon to be followed by tailgating—and that means aprons have been tied and amateur grill masters are ready to flip beef. Ask them what makes a perfect burger and they’ll throw around a few answers. Maybe name some secret ingredients (although it should be noted that Bobby Flay says no burger should have "secret ingredients,” because then it’s just meatloaf) or a recommendation on patty size or fat content. At the end of the day, however, most of us don’t care how it’s cooked, just as long as it’s good.
So, what makes it good? Sure, it looks easy. Pat down some beef, throw it on heat, flip it a few times and place it on a patty. (A beer may or may not be involved in that process somewhere). But who among us hasn’t eaten an overcooked or undercooked burger? Yes, ladies and gentlemen—if you’ve ever attended a cookout, you’ve been disappointed by a promising hunk of meat.
No longer. Here are a few tips so you can be a backyard burger hero:
· Choose the right meat. We all want to be healthy and eat lean meats and yadda yadda yadda, but the sad fact of the matter is, delicious burgers usually involve some fat. Look for about 20 percent. Grilling Companion, an online site of everything grill-worthy, suggests ground chuck or ground sirloin, but Bon Appetit says the type of meat doesn’t matter that much—it’s that 20 percent that matters.
· Put down the gourmet seasoning and step away from the Worcestershire sauce. You don’t need them. Grilling Companion, the Food Network and Bon Appetit all agree that salt and pepper will do just fine. Toss it with the beef gently before you start on the patties. Of course, if you have a preference for a certain flavor, there are plenty out there to choose from – experiment and find your favorite combination.
· Loose patties make for good burgers, so don’t flatten them like pancakes. Be gentle. Overworked meat gets dry. Just make a patty—you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The Food Network suggests that the patty should be about ¾ to one-inch thick and be as wide as the bun.
· Once you’ve got your nice, loose patties, put an indention in the center of each of them with your thumb. That way it doesn’t bulge and bubble up in the middle, like burgers are wont to do.
· You’re not making a pot roast, folks. Burgers aren’t made to simmer and stew. You want to cook them fast so they don’t dry out. Although Grilling Companion recommends that you put the burgers on high heat with the lid open (to keep the juices flowing), the Food Network suggests medium-heat with the lid closed. Do whatever works for you, but don’t cook them too long, because everyone agrees that dry burgers are no good.
· So there you are, holding your spatula and watching your patties sizzle. You’re tempted to push down on that meat, aren’t you? You want to do it, don’t you? Don’t give in. Resist the urge to squish. This was reiterated by all the foodie burger experts: Never flatten your burgers! It pushes out all the delicious juice, and wouldn’t you much rather have that running down your chin? Grilling Companion notes that one reason people feel the urge to squish because patties tend to inflate or bloat while grilling—but if you made that indent with your thumb, that shouldn’t happen.
· As meat cooks, heat pushes away from the heat source. To craft the juiciest burger, flip it only once.
· How do you know when the middle is cooking through? When you see juices collect on top.
· Last but not least—don’t buy cheap buns. Why go through all that trouble of becoming a burger hero if you’re just gonna throw your works of art on some flimsy dollar-store bread? Go for something good.