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Hockey puck or juicy burgers

Barbreque and grilling season is almost here. How can I ensure my backyard burgers will be juicy by the time I bring a platter full of them back in to the kitchen table? Traditionally, they are tasty but dry. More heat? Less time on the grill? Don't buy such a lean product? Hints, "rules of thumb," and techniques to keep in mind for the season are welcome! I love a "medium rare" juicy burger when I can find a restaurant that dares to cook them up that way, but for the hundreds of times flipping the bad boys in our grill, my results at home come up lacking. Thanks to all.

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  1. How lean is the meat you're using? How long do you grill them for?

    I have a hard time getting a juicy burger with anything 85%+. You could try putting in a piece of butter in the middle of the patty, or use shredded cheese mixed with the meat, or a piece of cheese in the center. But those all involve adding a lot of fat in, which you may be trying to avoid by using lean meat... in which case you might as well buy the less lean meat to begin with.

    2 Replies
    1. re: juliejulez

      You know, out of habit, "health conscious" or whatever, we have usually gone for really lean, and without thinking much about it, I just thought that's what everybody bought these days. But the Chowhounds up and down this thread are reminding me there's something to be said for "more fat," to quote Brandon N. We have put cheese in the middle from time to time, but it doesn't seem to do much. The butter idea sounds good! Thanks julie!
      Florida Hound

      1. re: Florida Hound

        A friend's "more fat" in burgers got her to experimenting, and now she swears by a couple of spoonsful of melted bacon fat over the meat before she molds the burgers. I've eaten the finished product (haven't made 'em that way--yet), and it was darned tasty.

    2. Most of the answers I give you won't be practical. They work for me, because I am they guy behind the meat counter.

      More fat. 80% lean makes a luxurious juicy burger.

      Less processing. My personal grind goes through the machine once. It looks uneven, dark, and nasty to the common customer. The stuff I put out for sale gets ground twice. It has the nice even red color that the average customer will buy, and will never be a good as mine.

      Form patties quickly and gently.

      Don't over cook the darn things.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Brandon Nelson

        Form patties quickly and gently.
        ________________________

        That's the key right there. Don't squeeze, just coax the meat into a spherical shape.

        Re: grinding. I wouldn't even use a processor. Knife and manual labor are best.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Here's a short video on making a disc like shape out of the hamburger patty. I don't mash it with a spoon like they do at the end, but I do disc it.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms0e_V...

          80%/20% is my favorite for burgers

          1. re: pagesinthesun

            I make the indentation with my thumb, not a spoon, but he's right - it really does keep the burger from swelling up in the middle as it cooks.

        2. re: Brandon Nelson

          Brandon, my grind I do at home only goes through once as well... and you're right, it looks nasty, but it's sooo gooooood.

          Also ditto the advice to form the patties quickly and gently. Over "kneading" (can't think of a better word) will result in tough burgers.

        3. I buy 85% lean. Years ago, I learned on Chowhound to add water to the mix. Salt, pepper and a splash or 2 of water. I swear it works. I like my burgers well done, and believe it or not, they are still juicy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: valerie

            Valerie, would you say that's about 2 tablespoons of water per pound?

          2. You hit on the key factors for success: don't use lean meat (I prefer 80% meat/20% fat), less time on the grill so they don't dry out, and one you didn't mention is keep handling to a minumum. That is, don't crush and compact the meat when making the patties, compress just enough so the meat particles adhere into a cohesive patty. Turn just once. Keep heat fairly high though, so the burger gets a nice sear and cooks quickly. Low heat will dry them out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: janniecooks

              Yes! No "smooshing" your burger patty on the grill..first thing I ever learned about grilling.

            2. Make the patties with an indentation in the middle. Patties cooked on a grill will puff up in the middle as they cook (as opposed to ones cooked on a flattop). No pressing on the patties while they cook. This is just forcing the juices out of them.

              1. How do you grill? Covered? Uncovered?

                1 Reply
                1. re: wyogal

                  Prett much close down the lid. But if you advise otherwise...!

                2. Keep in mind carry over cooking time, if you cook to med-rare by the time they get to the table they''ll be med. I always under cook.

                  1. Lots of good advice here already.

                    Due to health issues, we always buy the leanest grind we can find. To get around that I add lots of light olive oil. I just love a juicy, drippy burger. I also add soy sauce (for the salt and flavor) and a smidgeon of bread crumbs to soak up the soy. I agree with all things said about forming the patties gently and not pressing them while on the grill.

                    We cook them on high heat with wood smoke... covered.

                    Never had a dry one.

                    1. Here is a link to a technique that transformed my burger grilling:
                      http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/ha...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ebethsdad

                        Funny, I've come to the same conclusion as the one you're pointing out, but from a completely different starting point.

                        When I want a burger, I use my sous-vide to cook it. 134F for about 45 minutes brings it to a rare-medium rare sweet spot, then a quick sear outside. I use short rib as my meat.

                        Insanely delicious, juice dripping everywhere and perfectly safe to eat. As much as I love my Big Green Egg (i.e.: Big Green Matt), the sv makes a better burger.

                        Seeing as how sv units are still uncommon, I agree completely with low-and-slow, followed by a quick sear. Good stuff!

                      2. We grind out own meat and that makes a difference, IMO. We gently form the patties (we only do 5oz.). Cook 3-4 minutes first side. Same or less the second side. Gorgeous. Time after time.

                        1. Lots of good tips here, but haven't seen anyone mention one of my favorites yet - don't use cold meat. We like super thin patties (think Steak N' Shake) made with 73-80% lean, brought to almost room temp, then very lightly formed into patties.

                          Letting the meat warm up makes it very easy to form into patties with minimal work, and makes for a pretty floppy patty before grilling, even when we opt to make them a lot thicker for a "chopped steak" meal.

                          1. Please forgive me for sounding pretentious, but I've been uninvited to quite a few yearly BBQ for pointing out these seven very simple things.

                            1 The higher the fat content, the juicier they will be.
                            2. Make burgers at least big. 80/20 shrinks almost 20%
                            3. Don't pack them like you're making a snowball....gentle
                            4..Season them liberally with salt and pepper
                            5. Cook on high heat
                            6. Flip only once and do not press down with spatula
                            7. And this one, is the most obvious and most common mistake. If you are serving ten people, do not put all the burgers on at the same time and then take the ones that are less cooked off first. Put the well done ones on first and then take them all off at the same time. People who like them well done tend to be a little less picky about juiciness

                            There are other little tricks
                            1. Don't take the meat out to get to room temperature, they will tend to separate and lose juices.
                            2. Put a dimple in middle so you can get the outside medium rare without having a middle with a heartbeat.
                            3. Don't buy preformed patties.
                            4 Let them rest at least 2-3 minutes

                            Oh and the most obvious thing, try and make sure they are all the same size. I know some people who use a scale.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jhopp217

                              I use a scale! We grind five or so pounds at a time, make and then freeze the patties. We started with 6oz but have reduced to 5oz. I recently weighed a pork burger before and after and found an almost immeasureable loss in weight. Haven't done this with beef but there seems to be little difference.

                              Good points. When I see those burger presses in catalogs, I want to scream "Noooooooo."

                              1. re: jhopp217

                                The dimple in the patty is the only thing I've ever learned by watching Rachael Ray.

                              2. I use the Market Ground Beef from Publix which is, I think, 75/25. Not as good as when I fresh grind my own at home, but still tasty and juicy. As others have said, DO NOT pack the burger too tight; I find that using 2 forks to form the burger does a great job, but it can be tedious if you're making more than 4. I also believe my burgers are better when cooked on the flat-top or even in a cast-iron pan, but grilling is the way to go when making them for a crowd. Again, never mash them with the spatula. That's just for flipping and I usually only do that once.

                                1. Kenji over at the Food Lab (seriouseats.com) makes a great argument AGAINST mixing salt into your ground beef. It tightens the protein structure and results in a bouncy sausage texture instead of a loose juicy patty. See the results of his testing here.

                                  http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2...

                                  1. Here's a couple things you can try.

                                    First, and the most important, is NOT to overmix or mash to form or when grilling the burger. Use a light touch when forming and cooking.

                                    Second, you can try a fattier blend.

                                    However, I say using a light tough is the key to not having hockey pucks.

                                    1. Oooooohhhhhhh, don't touch the patty. But, Smashburger does just the opposite and sells millions. Folks, do what you enjoy....experts are for Wash. D.C. Enjoy.

                                      1. I learned from a local bar and grill (serving awesome fat juicy burgers) he soaked his patties in au jus before grilling. I tried this, and they were great. Maybe this follows in the "add water theme"?

                                        1. http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2...

                                          http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2...

                                          Or maybe look for some other Burger Lab article. Dat man's crazy about burgers.

                                          1. For dinner last night I made the classic smashed burgers from serious eats, here:

                                            http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                                            Now this isn't a recipe for the grill. You need to use a heavy pan on the stovetop. BUT it produces the juiciest burger ever. A classic three-napkin burger. Give it a try and you won't be disappointed.

                                            1. What do you juicy craving hounds think of this burger?

                                               
                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: grampart

                                                To me it looks like the meat needed more fat and to be ground MUCH more coarsely. Also more 'crust' on the outside.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  I agree with C Oliver. Looks more like a meatloaf sandwich than a burger!
                                                  Regardless.. it looks tasty and not something I'd turn down.

                                                2. re: grampart

                                                  I agree w/ c oliver. And, that thin bottom part of the bun w/ all that juice on it is going to fall apart, and would drive me absolutely insane while trying to eat it.

                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                    Different points of view being expressed here also. I'd sure like to have one, though!

                                                    http://www.roadfood.com/Digest/949/is...

                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                      Seems like only one person commented on the burger and found it unappetizing. The rest were commenting on the restaurant.

                                                        1. re: grampart

                                                          Well I don't put ketchup on my burgers, so if that is really ketchup, doesn't appeal to me. Even if it is "blood", it's the thin bottom bun that bothers me, not whatever the juicy stuff is. I like juice and I like it on the bun. I don't like juice on a bun so thin that it falls apart before you've finished the burger.

                                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                                            Agreed. Our burgers are pretty rare, enough so that juice 'oozes' out and a bottom bun that thin would be like wet newspaper after a couple of minutes. Doesn't even look like an especially appealing bun for a burger. Maybe a chicken sandwich.

                                                    2. re: juliejulez

                                                      Yeah, that bottom bun is a turnoff. We've gone to toasted English muffins instead of buns.

                                                  2. Smash(ing) burgers at home sound like a technique I'd have to try.

                                                    On the grill (OP original question), requires some experimentation.

                                                    For a regular hand formed patty, a light touch is the way to go.