If there is one thing Americans know, it is a good hamburger. We love to grill them, fry them, get them at a restaurant. If you think about it, you can even make a hamburger fairly healthy by buying lean meat and eating without bread or using a whole grain bun. If you’re anything like me, though, you probably don’t always enjoy a home-cooked burger.
Have you ever gone to a friend’s house and they served you a burned, dried up piece of meat that you had to drown in ketchup just to choke it down? Maybe you are the one that cooked the dried up piece of jerky that is unrecognizable as a hamburger. Whichever the case, I’m going to share how I cook the perfect burger at home. If you use these methods, you’ll never again wish you could just go buy a hamburger from McDonald’s. In fact, those burgers aren’t even real food compared to the way a home cooked burger can taste.
The Meat Matters
You can’t just buy the cheapest package of ground beef and expect your burger to be delicious. The type of meat you start with is just as important and how to cook the meat. It will make a difference in flavor, how well the burger holds together and tenderness.
- Go for 85-90% lean meat. The reason is that your burger will not be greasy and have that diner taste that turns most people off.
- Make sure the meat is fresh. If your butcher will grind it fresh for you so much the better.
- Consider buying grain fed beef. The taste is just better. You’ll see what I mean when you spend the extra money on it.
- Go for the more expensive cuts of meat. Honestly, another $1 or $2 a pound isn’t that much and you’ll have a better tasting burger.
Prepare the Burger
Once you’ve chosen the meat, try to cook your burgers that same day. This goes back to the idea of using the freshest meat possible. If you must wait, consider forming the burger into patties, freezing and thawing slightly before cooking.
- Add some meat tenderizer and work it into your ground beef. How much depends on how many pounds of ground beef. For example, if you’re planning to use a pound, add a teaspoon of meat tenderizer and mix it in with your hands. Remember that meat tenderizer can be a bit salty, so there is no need to add additional salt.
- Per pound of beef, add three shakes of Worcestershire sauce, three shakes of black pepper, one shake of garlic powder. Mix completely with your hands, working the seasonings throughout the meat. If you like a bit of heat (and know everyone else does too), you can add a very small shake of red pepper and either forgo or reduce the black pepper. Use this in moderation!
- Add one whole egg per pound of ground beef and work throughout the mixture. This helps hold the patties together but won’t change the taste of your burger as eggs are bland and take on the taste of the food around them.
Now, you can use your hands to form balls and flatten them or you can buy a hamburger press at any kitchen gadget location, such as your grocery or a big box retailer. I prefer the presses when having company because they make the hamburgers a standard size. They also help you get the patties thin.
Cook it, Don’t Incinerate it
One of the biggest mistakes I see with home cooked hamburgers is that people burn them because they want to make sure they are cooked through. Here are some tips to avoid that.
- Start with thinner burgers. Remember the press I mentioned above? It helps get your burgers thin. This means they will cook through much easier and you’ll be less likely to burn the outside just to get the center browned.
- Cook on VERY low heat, especially if grilling. It can be hard to perfect grilling. The grease from the burgers drips and little flares of fire shoot up. This can overcook the outside of your burger. Start on the lowest heat you possibly can on a grill.
- I actually prefer to cook my burgers inside on a grill pan. this avoids the issue of flares burning them. However, you don’t quite get that outside grilled taste, so sometimes you just have to deal with a burnt edge here and there.
- Don’t turn your burgers too often. If you watch the sides of the burger, it will help you estimate when it is time to turn. When you see the browned edge reach about halfway up, you can now flip your burger and cook the other side.
- I usually reserve one extra burger that I put in the center of the batch. When I think the burgers are done, I remove it, cut it in half and check the center. I may just save this burger for me to eat and have it for leftover the next day.
- DON’T press down on the burgers while cooking. This just pushes the juices out of the burger and makes it less moist. Resist the urge.
- Once your test burger is done, if you want to add cheese, now is the time to do it. Go ahead and turn your heat off, add the cheese and within 1-2 minutes, the cheese will melt and you can remove your burger.
Congratulations! You’ve just cooked a burger that Ronald McDonald himself would choose over that inferior fried junk they serve at fast food restaurants.
When it comes to hamburgers, there are so many different things you can do that will make every person in your family happy.
- BBQ Burgers: Add a dash of BBQ sauce when mixing in the seasonings. This will give your cook out a Texas flare. Add corn on the cob and coleslaw for the finishing touches.
- Ranch Burgers: Buy a dry packet of salad dressing mix and add the whole thing to your hamburger mix. If the hamburger seems a bit dry, you can add a drizzle of oil or even a dollop of sour cream.
- Italian Dream Burgers: Give your burgers an Italian taste by adding basil, oregano, fresh garlic (I like to use a Pampered Chef garlic press for this and add about 3 cloves per pound of burger). Now, divide your ball of meal in half and press each half into a side of the hamburger press. Add Mozzarella or Provolone cheese to the center and press the burger together. These burgers cook best in a pan and not a grill as some of the cheese can leak out and create a difficult cleanup on an outdoor grill. Once cooked through, add a tablespoon of pizza sauce to the top of each burger. So yummy!
There are so many things you can do to dress up burgers. You can bulk up your fiber by mixing black beans into the ground beef, for example. This also can stretch your budget a bit if you’re feeding a large crowd and burger is expensive. You can mix in onions, jalepenos, blue cheese, cream cheese – you get the idea. The only limit is your imagination.
How do you like your burger? Share your own favorite combinations/recipes in the comments section below.