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Food & Recipes

Pro Tips to Build a Better Burger, Including the Throwaway That Adds Extra Flavor

Whether you prefer to cook them on a grill or on a stovetop, homemade burgers can’t be beat. They’re inexpensive, fast and the perfect food for serving a crowd. But it can take a bit of practice to get your burger just right. So we polled burger and grilling pros and asked them to share their secrets on how to build a better burger — from the best way to season it to the best toppings (and how to add them). Read on for their top tips, then fire up the grill and get ready to wow your crowd!

Guarantee a juicy patty

Burger patties on the grill
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To ensure a juicy patty, you’ll want to start with the right meat. “Opt for ground beef that’s 80% lean,” suggests George Motz, author of The Great American Burger Book. “You can almost ensure that you’re going to have a juicy burger.”

When it’s time to cook the burger, resist the urge to move it too much. “You just want to flip it once,” says Chuck Sillari, co-owner of the Boston Burger Company, which has four restaurant locations in Massachusetts. “Don’t press it down and don’t flip it multiple times. You want to put it down on a nice hot grill and leave it there.”  (Pro tip for propane grills: Motz suggests cooking the burger in a cast-iron skillet on the grill, as the fat will stay in the pan.)

Related: The Best Way to Season a Cast Iron Skillet + The Mistake People Make

The final secret to a juicy patty? Let it finish cooking away from heat. “Whatever your desired temperature is, pull it off 5 to 10 degrees before it reaches that,” says Joseph Bodenbach, kitchen manager at The Pharmacy Burger Parlor in Nashville. “The meat will continue to cook and the juices will redistribute throughout the burger.” (Use a meat thermometer to ensure your burger is safe to eat.)

Build a better burger: Make sure it’s properly seasoned

Salt and pepper shakers
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For a burger that’s packed with flavor, seasoning is a must — and the more the merrier! “When you think you have too much salt and pepper on your burger, use a little bit more,” says Sillari. “If you go to high-end steak houses, you see the way they season the steaks before they cook them. You want to create a nice ‘crust’ with salt and pepper.”

Another great way to add flavor to your burger: Use leftover bacon fat. “I always keep all the extra leftover bacon grease from cooking eggs and bacon for the kids’ breakfast in a jar on a counter for grill time,” says Leslie Klemm, executive culinary director for The Pharmacy Burger Parlor. “This is the best seasoning I have used. It’s something my grandmother taught my mother and she taught me as a child and is definitely a genius idea we have passed down in my family.”

You can also cook up bacon to add to your burger, then use that bacon grease for cooking your patty, as seen in the video below:

Discover why eggs cooked in bacon grease are so tasty too!

Be generous with sauce

Sauce being spread on a hamburger bun
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Slathering condiments onto your burger is a popular way to add flavor. To make things extra delicious, try this:  “If you’re going to use a sauce, whether it’s ketchup, mustard, mayo or Thousand Island, sauce the bottom bun and the top,” advises Sillari. “That’s going to make a world of difference.”

You can also jazz things up by upgrading your condiments! “That means taking basic ketchup and adding something interesting to it, whether it be orange juice, orange fragments or pickled onions,” says chef Eric Levine, author of Burgers, Bowls, Jars. Blue cheese and ranch dressing can also be elevated by mixing in marinated mushrooms or roasted artichokes.

Build a better burger: Choose great buns!

One of the make-or-break elements of your burger comes down to choosing the right bun. “For a beef burger, you want something that has a buttery flavor, like brioche,” suggests Levine.

Related: How to Make Milk Brioche Bread: Pro Baker’s Easy Secrets for a Sweet + Airy Loaf

To make the bun even better, butter it and throw it in a frying pan for a little bit. You’ll get a nice, crispy and buttery bun, adds Sillari.

Add the cheese at the right time

Burgers topped with American cheese
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If you’re making a cheeseburger, opt for a “melty” cheese, like mozzarella or American, the pros say. You’ll also want to be mindful of when you add your cheese.

The key for stovetop burgers: Squeeze a bit of water into the pan, put cheese on the burger, then cover. “That steam is going to make the cheese melt just the way you want it,” says Sillari.

For outdoor cooking, add the cheese a bit later. “If I’m using a charcoal grill, I finish the burger, pull it off the grill and put cheese on it while it rests and I cover it to let the remaining heat melt it,” says Bodenbach.

Give your burger toppings an upgrade

A burger topped with onion rings
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You don’t have to be a professional chef to give your burger a gourmet twist. All it takes is choosing the right toppings. “Crunch makes a difference, whether you top your burger with fried onions, onion rings, potato chips or fried mushrooms,” says Levine. Want crunchy onions on the side too? Try this homemade Outback Bloomin Onion recipe.

If you prefer softer onions, Klemm has her own suggestion: Add the onions to your pan or grill top when you’re about to flip your patty over to the other side. “Adding the onions to the bottom of the patty while cooking will add an extra pop of flavor and a caramelizing crisp to the texture of the patty, as well,” she explains.

Like the tanginess of ketchup on your burgers? Try this tasty alternative: Slice some plump tomatoes, brush with olive oil and garlic and roast in the oven.  “You’ll have these soft discs of tomato that are very flavorful,” says Motz. “It satisfies the need for having to get ketchup involved, which is very sweet.”

How to avoid a soggy burger

Burgers with the toppings on the bottom bun
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Regardless of what toppings you choose, few things ruin a delicious burger quite like a bun that gets soaked or slides around. Toasting your bun can help cut down on mess, as can letting your burger sit before you layer it with toppings.

Where you add your toppings is also important. When building your burger, pile your toppings under the meat. “They help absorb drippings, keeping your bun dry,” shares Bodenbach.


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