Bite into a hard, dry hamburger, and you might as well be eating a hockey puck -- there's no flavor left in the meat, and it's all but impossible to chew. But the fine line between a well-cooked burger and an unappetizing disk of overcooked meat makes it challenging to turn out a juicy burger that's also safe to eat. Heat kills surface bacteria, allowing you to serve whole cuts at rare or medium-rare temperatures without fear of E. coli or salmonella. When cuts get ground, any bacteria present on the surface spreads through the meat, so you must cook hamburgers to a higher internal temperature. to kill all of the bacteria.
Make a small depression in the center of the patties with your thumb, which prevents swelling and allows the burgers to heat evenly throughout.
Start cooking the hamburgers on medium-high or high heat -- this allows you to achieve a crispy outside and lock in the juices.
Cook the burgers for 2 to 5 minutes on each side or until you achieve dark brown color.
Lower the temperature to medium and flip the burgers back to the first side; a lower temperature cooks the inside without burning the outside. Cook the burgers for about 5 more minutes, then flip them to the second side to cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. It takes 12 to 15 minutes total to cook a burger to well done.
Insert a meat thermometer into the center of each burger. Remove the burgers from the heat when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the USDA guideline for well-done ground meat. Wait until the center feels firm before inserting the thermometer. The probe hole allows juices to escape, which can result in dry burgers if you test the temperature too early or too frequently.
- Cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the burgers. Hand-formed, 1-inch thick fresh burgers take longer to cook than thin, thawed burger patties, which can cook through in as little as 5 minutes.
- The USDA recommends cooking ground poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- The only sure way to test a hamburger's doneness is with a meat thermometer. The internal temperature must reach 160 degrees. Color is not a reliable judge of doneness with ground meat. A fully cooked burger may have some pink in the middle, but a burger can also turn brown throughout before it reaches the safe consumption temperature.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.