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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.