The process may seem simple enough: Fire up the grill, throw on the hamburgers and get the kids ready to eat. However, as with any type of cooking, cooking hamburgers on the grill requires that you pay attention to detail and technique if you want to get it right. Follow a few tips to ensure that at your next barbecue, your family enjoys burgers that are plump, juicy and delicious, and not burnt, dry and tasteless.
Cook Hot, Cook Fast
Don’t lose sight of the fact that when you are grilling burgers, you are using direct heat from the grill’s coals or burners; you are not slow-cooking or smoking the burgers. So turn the heat up high -- or get the coals nice and hot -- and cook those burgers as fast as possible. Grilling burgers at high temperatures for short periods of time will cause the outsides of the burgers to develop a nice, light crispiness, which traps in the juiciness. Because precise cooking times will vary based on the size of your burgers, use a meat thermometer to determine when the burgers are done. The USDA notes that the interior of your burgers should reach a minimum temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Say No to Squishing
If you are forming the burgers from ground meat instead of buying prepackaged patties, resist the temptation to pack the meat into super-tight, super-flat patties. When you cook such burger patties on the grill, they often come out dry and tough. Regardless of whether your patties are store-bought or home-made, do not squish the patties with a spatula while they are grilling. Squishing will force the juices out of your burgers, which again can result in dryness. If you typically squish your burgers down to eliminate swelling or bloating at the centers of the burgers, here’s an trick that you can use: Before grilling, put small indentations in the centers of the burgers with your thumb.
Don’t be flip-happy at the grill. Grilling a burger to perfection requires just a single flip. You will know when it is time to flip when juices begin to bleed from the tops of the burgers. The appearance of these juices indicates that heat is penetrating through to the center of the burgers, which forces juices upward. Any additional flipping after the first flip will allow more juices to seep out and burn off, increasing dryness. If tending to your kids in the yard caused you to grill the patties a bit longer than desired, pile on the condiments, such as mustard, ketchup and ranch dressing.
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay notes that when choosing burgers for the grill, the more fat the better. This is because fat carries both moisture and flavor, which are essential ingredients for producing delicious burgers. For best results, choose ground beef -- or pre-formed patties -- that contain 80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat.