Properly cooking a burger

Someone in the Omaha Steaks thread mentioned that their burgers were too thin. When I had friends that lived near here, we’d have Wednesday Night Barbecue. Basically, get meat and throw it on the charcoal grill. They used to make fun of my burgers, which were huge. But their fun-making was their way of saying ‘These are awesome!’ I don’t necessarily want this to be a how-to-season-a-burger thread. Instead, I’d like to know how you prefer a burger to be cooked, and how big do you like them?

As I said, I had a penchant for making ginormous patties – easily half a pound. For fast-food burgers, I like the char-broiled flavour of Carl’s Jr. But in all my life, I’ve never had better burgers than were served at Joy’s; a little diner that was on the outskirts of Barstow when I was a kid. Joy’s was a little shack-like place that had seating at a counter. The Mojave Desert heat was tentatively kept at bay by means of a swamp cooler. The screen door had a wooden frame, and was kept closed by a simple spring. Anyone who remembers those times will know the distinctive whack! whack-whack those doors made when they closed. The burgers were thin patties cooked on a flat-top grill, and (probably) seasoned with salt and pepper. How hard could it be to cook a patty with salt and pepper? Strangely, neither I nor any restaurant I’ve been to since has made burgers as tasty as Joy did. (Dope Burger in Seattle came close, but they had a fire a couple of years ago and never re-opened. I’ve heard Red Mill makes similar ones, but I’ve never been to one.) Joy’s macaroni-and-cheese salad was great too, and I’ve never had its like since. Joy closed her business when I was still a pre-adolescent to take care of her ailing mother.

So cooking… Dad liked gigantic burgers cooked in a covered pan on the stove. The cover kept the burgers juicy and helted the cheese nicely. The Clover Grill in New Orleans cooks theirs under hubcaps. I preferred not to have the cover, since I liked a more charred flavour. Patties cooked on the barbie have that nice charcoal taste. Love it. But it’s a hassle to start the coals, clean the grille, make sure the cat doesn’t get out while I’m cooking… And it always seems a waste to have those hot coals just burning away after I’m done.

Lately when I cook burgers (not as often, as the SO seems to think that it’s not acceptable to eat burgers every day) I’ve been trying to make them thin, and cook them in a cast-iron frying pan. It’s the closest I can get to a flat-top grill. I think that restaurants and diners use beef that is more finely ground that what I get at the market, as my patties still tend to be thicker than what I’m shooting for.

When it comes down to it, properly cooking a burger is how I cook it on any given day. Pan-frying, cast-iron flat-top simulation, over coals; 1/3-pound patties, 1/4-pound patties, or thinner patties…It’s all good.

When I saw the thread title, I was ready to answer “there’s no one proper way to cook a burger,” but I see you’ve covered that. For the thin patties, try doing either the smash down method while cooking, or make the party into a ball, place it between two sheets of wax paper, and smash down authoritatively with a heavy pan.

There’s an idea. When I was a kid we had a patty-maker. It was an aluminum clamshell with a circular cavity inside. Please pause in your reading whilst I nip off to find an image… OK, this is the same concept. This plastic one has the shape I remember, with the handles. I thought it was great, until I figured out it was quicker, easier, and I could make bigger patties if I did it by hand.

I do the latter, then fry them very hot for a very short time. My wife likes them, but she’s also a fan of a thicker burger wrapped around some bleu cheese and eaten with a fork.

You can even try a tortilla press, if you want, although I find smashing with a pan to the best for producing those paper thin patties. Most of the time these days, though, I just do the smashing method in the pan. Here’s the technique. I like it because it’s a little less mess and hassle.

One aspect of my grilling?

NEVER clean the grill. Trust me it will be sterile by the time you are ready to cook. And if it isn’t I don’t care. The more organic crap in there smoking, burning, charring, and sticking to what I am currently cooking the better it is IMO.

The problem for me with not cleaning the grill isn’t about worries of food safety. It’s that everything sticks to the damned thing unless you brush the crud off.

Foghorn Leghorn:

That’s the price of flavor son.

Not when all that flavor sticks to the grill. I mean, I don’t scrape the damn things clean, but I do run a wire brush over it until I get a nice surface I can work with. I don’t really bother with the underside at all, but the grilling side? (And bitter char isn’t exactly a flavor I like in my food.)

I heartily endorse the smash technique. If you are cooking a burger indoors it works like a charm.

A random point I recall reading here on the Dope not too long ago. When it comes to cooking most things, constant flipping is NOT the way to do it. Ideally you want one flip and one flip only. Now until you get the hang of how long it takes to cook X under conditions Y you might have to do a couple of flips. But constant flipping, while seeming like a good idea, is exactly what you don’t want to do.

I’m a fan of the smash technique. Double up on the patties and you get just as much burger as you would with a thick pub burger but with twice the browned surface area. Of course, pub burgers are good too. And grilled burgers with some oak or hickory smoke are great as well. Even meatloaf burgers with egg and breadcrumbs and such cooked into the meat can be good. Basically, my burger philosophy is “Yes, please!”

Actually, for burgers, constant, regular flipping until desired doneness iis reached works very well. It’s not how I do it, but flipping every 15 seconds is supposed to be ideal if you have a thick burger and want to cook it over a hot fire (as opposed to bringing it slowly up to temp at low heat and then searing at the end, which is how I do it.)

You and I aren’t going to agree on anything are we :slight_smile:

I like them thin and wide.

There used to be a local place that made a burger that was six to seven inches in diameter. Very thin. Nicely salted with a little pepper. OMG best burger I ever ate in my life.

Mixing mayo and a little mustard is a good topping.




I’m a charcoal griller. I sometimes add a pre-mixed seasoning to the meat, sometimes just add salt and pepper myself. I make somewhat flat patties before cooking, but not too flat. Cook on a medium hot grill, turning only once. Don’t smash them on the grill–you lose too much juice and the resulting flare up will over-char your burger.

Have we disagreed a lot? I just remember the recent grill talk. Anyhow, here’s a little page on it with pictures. Towards the bottom he goes into my preferred method of heating slow and searing at the end (this is only for about 1/2 pounders and up for me).

For thin patties, one flip is more than enough. And haphazard flipping isn’t really good, either. You kind of want to do constant, regular flipping to do it right.

If I’m making my own patties, I use 80/20 chuck and form them with a patty maker like this (I’d like a better one, but I don’t make patties often enough to spend the money). The patties are probably about a third of a pound. Season both sides with black pepper and onion salt, nothing more. Heat up the grill and slap those puppies on there. I usually do a first sear at high heat for 2 minutes per side, then back it down to medium-low and let them coast up to fully cooked, flipping about every 90 seconds. After the last flip, I put the cheese on while it’s still on the grill to melt. Then, remove and eat.

there were a couple cases recently where people swallowed a wire bristle from a grill brush with serious health consequences. i don’t know if cheap or worn brushes were involved.