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My Hamburgers never work, tips?

I was never a big hamburger fan then about a year ago , there was a rush of "gourmet" hamburger options i my area and I feel in love. They are always very tasty (not like bbq sauce or taco seasoning) , but great flavor of meat and spice. Just great..

However, I can not duplicate anything I ever had from these places. I am not great cook, but for most part can make somethign worth eating . My hamburgers are just awefull, I tried higher quality meats, differnt prep methods, seasoning, marinades EVERYTHING and they never turn out good.

Any tips , ideas, .. with summer approaching I would love to add this to my list of grill foods

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  1. What is the problem with yours? Perhaps the places you visit use a blend of different cuts that you could only duplicate by grinding yourself or having it custom ground at a local butcher.

    4 Replies
    1. re: AdamD

      The problem with mine are they are always to well done, (wich I will eventually get the cooking method right) and never juicy. When I add spices they are either lost in the meat or too noticeable. I am sure those places do have special bends of meats, I don't want to make a exact replica. I just want to be able to whip up a nice juicy tasty burger... seems soo simple hahah

      1. re: Augie6

        O. Asking how to make the best hamburger here may be like asking a group of psychologists the best way to love your child. So I'll just address the juiciness.

        Juicy food is experienced in two steps according to Herve This. (I've experienced it myself; just giving credit where it's due.) First you bite into the food. The first couple of chomps are juicy, because of moisture in the food. The chomping after the first few bites are juicy because of the oil/fat in the food and the moisture the person eating the food makes. (Pavlov salivated at good food just like his dogs.)

        If the burger isn't juicy at all on the first bite, you've probably cooked the moisture out of the burger. This could be because you cooked the burger too long (burnt) , or because your heat was too low and a long cooking time was necessary (grey). You don't need to be shy about heat. If the burgers are cooking quickly just flip them; it'll sear the outsides like rotisserie. You can also add extra moisture to your burgers. I put few tablespoons of flavorful liquid into the burgers I make, and people tend to enjoy the results. Dale's, marinade, chicken stock, veg stock, or just water. For a long discussion on the technique check out this thread:
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/412255

        If the burger is dry all the way through, you may have rendered all of the fat. This will be apparent in the pan, because the fat isn't going to evaporate. You might also be using a very low fat blend of beef. I go 75 / 15 or 80 / 20. Some people declare that 85 / 15 is the most fat they could accept. Ground sirloin I think is something like 10% fat; it's also lacking in flavour. (This is probably another debate, but I greatly prefer the flavour of cuts from the shoulder.

        )

        Good luck with your burgers, and let us know how they come along. :)

        1. re: Altarbo

          I think it's been determined that searing doesn't seal in the juices.

          1. re: c oliver

            Lol, no of course not. Cooking of almost any type releases juices in the form of pleasantly fragrant steam. If you cook the burger too long, you'll cook out all of the moisture. Searing is just for flavour.

    2. For a good hamburger, start with two simple rules:
      Good quality beef with enough fat (about 20% fat is good for me). I don't bother to grind my own; I just buy it from my reliable butcher
      Be gentle when you form your patties; season it with salt and pepper; don't press down on it when you cook it.
      After that, you can add other things: herbs, grind up bacon, etc.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PBSF

        And if you press your thumb lightly in the center of each burger, they'll cook more evenly and won't puff out so much.

      2. First, use an 80/20 or 85/15 mixture in the meat, (i.e. chuck). Anything leaner than that won't be very tasty or juice.

        Second, don't "overwork" the meat. By that I mean if your'e mixing in spices, cheese, peppers or onions, etc with the meat, you don't want to over mix it. The meat loses its texture if you do. Just loosely blend whatever and quickly shape your patties.

        Lastly, makes sure your fire is good and hot. You want to quickly sear the the burger on both sides and DO NOT, under any circumstances press the patty and squeeze out the juice.

        It pisses off the hamburger gods, and they will give you a dry, flavorless hamburger as a penalty.

        I'm hungry.

        1. I have done it this way for many years & been very happy: http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Edible-H...

          1. Maybe they are too thin? I take ground beef straight from the package to the skillet and it comes out juicy and flavorful.

            1 Reply
            1. re: redfish62

              That had crossed my mind. I am going to try to make larger patties next time.

            2. it's hard to fix something when we don;t know what's wrong with it.

              how are your hamburgers falling short?

              1. Well that is just a matter of getting the cooking technique down which depends on the size of the burger and the amount of heat.

                I read that Laurent Tourondel (BLT steak) suggests dunking the patty in cold water for about 30 seconds before grilling. It works.

                1 Reply
                1. re: AdamD

                  I was going to suggest water, but in the mixture. Years ago on this board I learned from jfood...just beef, salt pepper and a few tablespoons of water. Even the more well done ones come out moist.

                2. I had a minor burger epiphany yesterday. After years of mixing, seasonning, and wrestling with forming ground beef I finally hit upon the perfect burger regimen.

                  80/20 ground chuck. Tear off a wad straight out of the package and work into a ball about 1/3 lb., lay between sheets of plastic wrap and press with round cast iron bacon press to about 1/3 inch thickness. Salt, pepper, grill.

                  I've been minimizing seasonings for a while, and have long since stopped trying to mix in garlic/onions/cheese/jalepenos and all that stuff, but the bacon press really was an amazing advance for me. Instead of hand forming patties that inevitably end up shrinking into oversized meatballs with ragged edges, these babys looked professional and cooked up evenly.

                  Topped them with brie, and a little Dukes, but I'm looking forward to dressing up a lot more of these this summer.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: laststandchili

                    I'm curious as to how you find a bacon press does this better than the palm of your hand. The simple act of pressing down on the ball of ground beef (all the press seems to change) doesn't seem like it would be the thing making that big a difference.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      Hand pressing has always left me with split and ruptured sides. Working with the press resulted in a much neater patty, being consistent over the entire surface area, and a lot quicker as well.

                      1. re: laststandchili

                        I guess a consistent pressure across th entire surface of the meat is less likely to cause ruptured sides. I'll have to give it try with something similar. It just seems like they'd rupoture somewhat no matter what you used.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          I thought the same thing and was pleasantly surprised. My bacon press is not the typical rectangular Lodge model, but a lower end round press about 6 inches across with ridges that created a nice uneven surface for the S&P to cling to.

                        2. re: laststandchili

                          Have you tried any of the hamburger presses that shape the meat into patties? I have, and my only real complaint is that I have to live with the exact size of the form. Overall, though, much better shaped burgers that cook more consistently that the hand made versions.

                          1. re: RGC1982

                            This current thread generated almost unanimity among CHs, a rare thing, that those presses are not highly regarded.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/787067

                    2. I agree with the other posters. You should buy prime meat, cause it is fattier, from a reputable butcher or grind it yourself and treat it gently. I like a sirloin and round mixture. Grinding it yourself is very easy to do with a food processor if you don't have an actual meat grinder. (I have both and I use the food processor if I'm just chopping a small amount of meat.) When cooking, you must use high heat and some kind of timer (whether it's your wristwatch or something that rings) so that you don't overcook the meat. When I cook outdoors, I do lower the heat after the initial searing on both sides for a minute or 2, because my gas grill would otherwise incinerate the meat, but indoors I either broil the burgers in my oven or on the stovetop in a grill pan over fairly high heat. I like my burgers rare to medium rare and they are always juicy even at medium because of the quality of the meat.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: msv

                        I never buy prime meat. I just use plain ole 7-bone chuck. I only use my KA grinder attachment but have read that one must be VERY careful if using an FP that it doesn't get turned to mush. I form by hand into 6oz patties. To keep the sides from falling apart I use my fingers to compress the sides. I grill over high heat and cook 3-4 minutes per side. I use only s&p for seasoning. If I cook inside, I sear one side quite brown in a CI skillet, turn and then put in a 400 oven for a few minutes. I don't believe the quality of the meat is what keeps it juicy. I think it's the forming of the patty and the way it's cooked.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I agree. buying prime meat just seems overkill for burgers. Sure it will increase the tastiness a tad bit more, but it doesnt' seem worth it to me.

                          1. re: darrentran87

                            Well, you haven't tried my butcher's hamburger blend. That's my first choice for burgers and it is prime and makes burgers to swoon over. Except for maybe Luger's burger which is also prime.

                            1. re: msv

                              And YOU haven't tried what I grind at home. We don't swoon cause we'd drop the burger but we do moan :)

                          2. re: c oliver

                            FOOD PROCESSORING PRIME MEAT?!?!?!

                            NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEZ

                            1. re: j8715

                              You'll notice that *I* don't do either :)

                              1. re: c oliver

                                So you can't pulse. If it's good enough for Bittman, it's good enough for me.

                                1. re: msv

                                  Grinding's also good enough for him and, since I have the grinding attachment, that's what I use. I use my FP when making a quintuple recipe of Bolognese sauce and need LARGE quantities of carrots. I'm always very cautious and still wind up with pieces that are too big and have to be chopped by hand. The reverse could be the issue with grinding meat. And the grinder attachment is even easier to clean than the FP.

                                  1. re: msv

                                    Pulsing is often used on cooking shows because they want to use equipment that is commonly found in the home kitchen. Food processors are common, grinders are not.

                                  2. re: c oliver

                                    oooh hit the wrong reply. it happens.

                              2. re: msv

                                So you prefer prime because it has more fat, but then choose 2 of the least fatty cuts on the cow? Why not go with choice and grind in some extra fat?

                              3. Try this the next time you make them:
                                Buy slightly more than one pound of 80/20 ground chuck and choose the most loosely packed beef you can find.
                                Using a spatula, divide the meat into four squares and don't handle the meat any further than that.
                                Heat a skillet (cast iron if you have one) over medium-high heat for several minutes.
                                Lightly oil the patties on both sides and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper right before you add them to the skillet.
                                Cook for three minutes and then flip and cook a further three (or to your desired doneness), adding a slice of American cheese with about one minute remaining (you can cover the pan with a pot lid for the last minute to help the cheese to melt even further).
                                Serve on your bun of choice with your condiments of choice.

                                If you are not going to grind your own beef this works almost as well, every time.

                                1. Fat content makes a juicy hamburger. 80/20 at the minimum. You can make healthy hamburgers but that's not why you're eating them. You can even go 70/30. As others said, don't pack them into densely compacted balls. Don't flatten them on the grill with the spatula. I usually get the grill up to the highest heat and stick on the burgers. I sear them on both sides and then turn the heat way down to let them cook on the inside. That helps to seal in the juice.

                                  ...and as with most things on the grill, don't multi-task. Manage the items on your grill and nothing else or you'll risk over cooking them. Have your husband/wife and kids help out with the rest or have it ready to go before starting the burgers.

                                  1. I am loving all the feedback, I really appreciate it. I side note, my burgers ALWAYS stick to the grill no matter how hott or long they stay on. I can always coat with some oil , but no other meats every stick (steak , wings, chicken lamb) just burgers.. and Ideas?

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: Augie6

                                      Yes, leave them alone for the first couple of minutes they hit the grill. After a minute or two, sear the second side, turn the grill down and finish the cooking. The more you move them or fiddle with them the more they will stick.

                                      1. re: Augie6

                                        now that's interesting. how many times do you flip your burger? should be once, IMO. possibly you are flipping too soon.

                                        OR...are you putting stuff in your burger? It should be ground chuck, salted and peppered on the outside, and that's it.

                                        1. re: danna

                                          I think additives are open to discussion. I'm an s&p only person but try to keep an open mind. But definitely turn only once. And, yes, to the meat thermometer. And far, far better to err on the side of overcooked than under. Bob once pulled them off when they were pretty much raw. Easy enough to pop them back on the still hot grill for a couple minutes.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Although i admit I do oppose "additives" on aesthetic grounds unless we're talking about DB Bistro short ribs and foie gras, I was mainly just trying to think of WHY a burger would always stick. I envisioned egg or something else wet or sticky or goopy mixed in.

                                            1. re: danna

                                              Ah, that makes sense. I've never had one stick either. I did buy a very long, metal spatula which will slide all the way under and out the back but that's more for stabilizing the somewhat fragile burger when turning.

                                              This thread has really had me hungering for burgers :) But I'm going to resist - for at least a night or two.

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              i'd be hard pressed to say whether id prefer to err on over than under.....

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                >>"And far, far better to err on the side of overcooked than under."<<

                                                Don't you mean the other way around? You can always cook an undercooked piece of meat a little more. You can't un-cook something that's overcooked.

                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  Ooopppppssss! Mis-typed :) Thanks for catching me - again.

                                            3. re: Augie6

                                              To avoid sticking, you're need enough fat (as mentioned above, 20% seems about right). But you also need to let the burger sit until the bottom picks up a decent char. The meat will "release" from the cooking surface and stiction will be far less of a problem.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                Thanks ab. "Stiction"? One more new term learned on CH.

                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                  plus one. My new favorite cooking term.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I don't think we should get too deep into this as Webster's seems to have a slightly different definition: "the force required to cause one body in contact with another to begin to move." http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio...

                                                    I like the term the way it is. Sometimes you can Google too much.

                                                    ;o)))))

                                            4. There is some good advice in this thread. Go with a higher fat content ground beef to begin with. Try putting a small ice cube in the middle of your patty. That will melt and keep the meat from getting over done. Don't flip the thing 50 times or mash it down while on the grill. Let us know what works for you.

                                              1. You haven't indicated whether you do this or not, but the one mistake that will quickly ruin a hamburger in my experience is to press it down while it's cooking on the grill. It's been mentioned a few times in this thread, but I think it's worth stressing again.

                                                You may also want to consider buying an instant read thermometer to avoid over cooking the burgers. I know there are other ways to check if it's ready or not, but a good thermometer is a reliable way to check.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: BKK Brendan

                                                  yep. thermometer is the easiest way to vastly improve the cooking of any meat. best kitchen gadget to buy.

                                                2. My method #1: "Hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick." This takes care of the first side. Oil the top just before turning. This takes care of the other side. One turn only, no squeezing, pressing down, or peaking at the bottom.

                                                  Method #2: (Use with fatty grind only) Very hot empty pan. Sprinkle pan well with salt. Wait for salt to get very hot. too. Put burger, un-oiled in pan, turn down heat. When first side cooked (sides of burger tells you), turn heat to very high, wait until loud sizzling noises, and turn burger. Turn down heat, wait til done (check by touching for firmness, no bottom peaking).

                                                  Method #3: (unconventional, derfived from making meatballs) Season breadcrumbs with black pepper, chili powder, onion powder, salt, etc. - your choice of any or all. Take 1/3 to 1/2 lb of burger from package and roll loosely into a ball, no squeezing. Roll ball in crumbs until fully covered. Heat the pan. Flatten ball into burger by pressing flat on top of remaining crumbs. Gently press irregularities of edges back into burger disk. Roll edges in crumbs. Add "too much" cold oil to pan (about 1/4 inch) and immediately put burger in pan, then immediately turn so that there is an oily crumbed uncooked top. Cook at high 2 minutes, then turn down to low until bottom is cooked. It will release. Turn over, turn heat to high for 2-3 minutes, turn down to low until burger is done (touch pressure method). Result is dark brown crust, juicey burger.

                                                  1. If I am making an all-beef burger, I go for the 80/20 chuck recommended by so many others.

                                                    A few years ago I was given a long discourse by Aldo, a restaurant owner, about hamburgers and he recommended I try a mix of 30% ground beef (not too lean), 50% ground pork (fatty), 20% chicken thigh. I tried that and IT WAS GOOD. After that bit of palate education had settled in, I decided it was a bit too sweet, and so I adjusted the mix to include about 40% each pork and beef. That was too heavy on the beef for me, so now I have settled on a mix of about 47% pork 18% chix & 35% beef. You could substitute turkey for chicken and probably find all three types of ground meat at the store so you wouldn't have to grind it yourself or have a particularly accomodating butcher.

                                                    Ditto what has been said about not over-working the meat or compressing the patties and putting an indent in the center.

                                                    I season with salt and pepper, maybe a bit of garlic salt, or McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning. A sparse coating on both sides.

                                                    I use a hot pan or grill to sear both sides and, if the patties are of any thickness (like more than fast-food place thickness), I reduce the heat or move them to a cooler part of the grill to cook them to the desired done-ness. If I want to top them with cheese, I do it once I've flipped the burger to sear the second side.

                                                    With a little practice and without a thermometer, you can get a feel for how done they are by how they respond to pressure if you press on them just a little bit. (Hint: When they are firm, they're well done.)

                                                    1. Freshly ground meat is the (not so) secret to great burgers at home (see c oliver, others above). Grinding your own makes a huge difference.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: steve h.

                                                        KISS (keep it simple, stupid.) It really IS a huge factor, isn't it? Leaving Monday for Rio :)

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Life's too short for crap food.
                                                          Have a great time in Rio. Keep us posted. Don't spare the excruciating details.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              I am. Tall and opinionated, too.
                                                              Eat well in Rio. A full report when you return is expected.

                                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                                Ooh, I love tall :) Heading off in the morning. Reports forthcoming. x,c

                                                      2. Tell them if they don't you'll have to kick them out. Oh, and make them pay rent!

                                                        1. I buy different meat for different burgers. If I am cooking them in the cast iron skillet I put the salt in the skillet, then the meat as someone above mentioned. I saw Julia do this.

                                                          ground round- pretty low fat The burgers are very thin and the skillet is very hot The idea is to have a well caramelized patty. Maybe it is a family thing but we like them this way. I love to put green tomato relish on them because it is how my grandmother fixed them. I also like them with peanut butter and thin sliced onion.

                                                          ground chuck or a mix but something sort of 20/80-thicker patties and a little lower heat Ideally caramelized on the outside, just done and juicy inside

                                                          70/30--for grilling outside-make the patties thinner, maybe half inch thick and about 50 percent bigger than you want to end up with put a little half inch hole in the middle These will shrink but still be juicy when you get finished grilling. Purists,look away, but we like to put BBQ sauce towards the end of cooking.

                                                          1. What I do is this:
                                                            We always grind the meat - usually either just chuck or a equal parts of beef (usually sirloin) and pork.

                                                            We season the meat before grinding - toss the chunks of meat with just salt and pepper, or during grilling season, my husband likes to use leftover spice rubs if there are any knocking around - then grind. That seasons the burger all the way through.

                                                            I make balls 5 to 5-1/2 ounces, then gently flatten them. I like to use a glass pie pan to press evenly. Handle the burgers as little as possible, and only turn once.

                                                            1. try to add an egg + breadcrumbs + cream/milk, like u would with meatballs. I know most ppl dont add this to burgers but it makes the burgers moist and they dont fall apart. For seasoning salt is the most important thing. I normally take little more than a tsp/ lbs meat.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: L987

                                                                There are periodic discussions here and many define that as meatloaf rather than hamburger.

                                                              2. a lot of good advice in the thread so far.

                                                                personally i prefer my burgers on the lean side, closer to 15% fat, and yes there is a flavor sacrifice, i just prefer the mouth feel and to me its worth it. there is a difference between a juicy flavorful burger and a fatty greasy one (due to family health history i was raised on lean meat, skim milk, and no heavy sauces.)

                                                                the fresher the grind, the more flavorful. since stores pretty much buy it in bulk these days it's hard to get fresh ground, so more and more people are grinding their own.

                                                                don't overwork the meat. it should be as loosely packed as possible and still hold it's shape while cooking.

                                                                minimize the additives. we are talking about hamburgers, not meatloaf. if you can't live without the flavor of A1, or worchestershire in your burger, so be it, but keep it to a minimum. Salt (and maybe pepper) are all i want in the burger, anything else should be a condiment - applied externally after cooking.

                                                                start with a hot pan. it will minimize drying out as the meat cooks faster, gives that nice crispy crust, but leaves the middle moist and juicy, whether pink or grey. you have to leave a burger on high heat a really long time to actually burn the outside- and by then the center will be dry as dust.

                                                                Cook on one side tll the edges start to sieze up and juice just starts running out of the top of the burger, that means the fat in the middle is melting. Its time to flip that burger. Leave it on the other side just long enough to cook it to the done-ness you want, which takes some time to learn. And as several have mentioned... resist the temptation to flatten the patty with the spatula!

                                                                either salt or grease in the bottom of your pan will help with the sticking issue. if you have a real sticking problem, use a different pan.

                                                                practice makes perfect. i ruined a lot of burgers before one day - viola - a good burger. Went through a lot of ketchup in the meantime, and the next door neighbor's dog thought i was a gift from heaven. Poor pup never forgave me for finally learning how to do it right, even though i still tossed one or two over the fence from time to time.

                                                                1. The three biggest mistakes burger cooks make are

                                                                  1. Using too lean of beef. Chuck 80/20 is perfect.

                                                                  2. Never mix the spices, especially salt, with the beef prior to cooking. Season the patties with just salt and pepper, just before it goes on the grill/skillet. If you mix salt with the beef before you form the patties, it'll instantly start breaking down and the resulting patty will be very dense like meatloaf.

                                                                  3. Handle the beef as little as possible. Keep the patties a bit loose and never press down on them.

                                                                  1. Augie, have you tried again with some of this advice?

                                                                    I've had the best luck with the cheapest grind possible (I get it from Pat LaFrieda, so it's still fantastic quality, but it's not Prime Wagyu/Kobe, what have you), seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a hot, bare skillet about 3 minutes per side for perfect medium-rare.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: loratliff

                                                                      loratliff-- This advice is all GREAT! I was not expecting so many tips.. Since the weather is finally nice is Western PA I have been experimenting with the suggestions. (Love the grill) Put a little list together below on what I found works the best.

                                                                      1. I stopped using any additives while mixing the meat together. I just salt and pepper the patty before grill

                                                                      2. I do not handle the meat much at all anymore (mix to death), and form THICKER Plumper pattys. (leaves them juicy with pink center, much easier)

                                                                      3. I turn them over only once! (I always did that but now wait much longer on one side)

                                                                      I have also turned to the local butcher instead of the super market deli counter. I get a 70 30 course blend of regular ground beef. (have not tried anything different yet) I am enjoying the results so far, will be using different blends as summer goes on !!!

                                                                      Thank You everyone

                                                                      1. re: Augie6

                                                                        You've gleaned the best tips possible. I also had a bad run of hamburger making, but now I do just as you've learned; just s&p and the absolute minimal handling possible. I don't even bother making the darn things perfectly round if it means more handling. I just grab and lightly shape and that's it.

                                                                      2. re: loratliff

                                                                        Cheapest grind may have more fat than other blends.

                                                                        I remember many, many moons ago when we threw a big cookout in college. We purchased the lowest priced pre-ground meat at the store. They tasted great and were really fatty.