There is more to know about how to make burger patties than simply forming meat into a patty shape. To make the best burger like your favorite restaurant you need to pay attention to these simple details.
I take my burger patty recipe very seriously. I have made burgers every different way imaginable on my quest to make the best homemade burgers. I've bought meat, ground my own, used chuck, brisket, butcher's choice, 80/20, 70/30, 90/10, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, I tried it all. Oh, and did I mention I once owned a gourmet burger food truck? Well, technically it was a truck, but if it never really ran can you still call it a truck?
Basically, what I am trying to say is, I know a thing or two about crafting the perfect burger.
Choosing the Right Hamburger Meat
First things first, I'm talking about how to make burger patties like a GOOD made-from-scratch restaurant. I'm not talking about restaurants that ship in their patties already made, or worse, pre-frozen.
The most important aspect of making the perfect burger is selecting the right meat. This isn't just talking about the right cut, or the right grind, or the right fat ratio. It is all of that, and more.
Let's start with the packaging and work our way backward. To make exceptionally tender burgers you need to grind your own meat or buy it from your grocery store freshly ground. If your hamburger was stuffed into meat tubes it was already compacted too much and will never make a great burger. Use that for taco meat. Instead, you want to still be able to see the individual strands of meat still loosely intact after coming out of the grinder, as shown below.
Fresh ground meat creates a more tender burger because it was never compacted tightly together.
Next, you want to make sure it is the right cut. You want fresh ground chuck. Ground chuck will typically have the perfect ratio of fat to meat, which is 80/20. Plus, the fat isn't as stringy as brisket can be. I know brisket burgers sound cool because they make you think of BBQ, but they are second tier.
As mentioned, you want 80/20 beef. 90/10 may sound like a good idea because it is healthier, but it will be too dry to make a good burger. Burgers need fat to be juicy. You also don't want anything fattier than 80/20, if there is too much fat the burger will shrink excessively during cooking and you will end up with meatballs swimming in grease. This is the same ground beef used for a good classic meatloaf as well.
Forming the Patties
Now that we have the right meat, we need to make the perfect restaurant quality burger patty. The best tip I can give you is to never overwork the meat! You only want to press and form the meat as much as needed to form your patty. Any more than that and your burger will start getting dense.
Separate your freshly ground beef into chunks sized for the burgers you are making. I like to make ⅓ - ½ lb burgers typically unless I'm making a fast food style burger, which is a whole different story. I gently form them into a rough ball shape, just pressing enough to ensure the meat holds together, then I place them on a flat surface and press them down.
Using a burger press, or just a flat plate, works great for this! However, I love having wax papers to place between the burgers and the surfaces because it ensures they won't stick and they can be more easily transferred to the cooking surface.
Now simply, and firmly, press straight down to form the patties into shape. As you can see in my picture you can still identify the strands of meat from the meat grinder. This is a sign that you succeeded in not overworking the meat. The strands will separate more easily from each other when you take a bite than if you squished and squeezed the meat together. This is what makes your patty so tender. My personal preference is to keep the strands of meat running vertically when pressing the meat.
Make sure you press the patty to be larger than the bun you will serve it on. The patty will shrink a bit during cooking. If you like your burgers thicker, press your thumb into the center of the burger. This will help the center cook more evenly.
How to Cook a Burger
First of all, regardless of whether you cook burger patties in a skillet or on a grill don't press the patty while cooking!!! Just don't do it! You are not making it cook faster, you are squeezing all the juice out, guaranteeing you will have a dry burger. Yum.
Only flip the patty once. Don't play with the patty, let it do its thing. By flipping it once you will allow it time to build up a charred crust which adds flavor, and it is easier to time doneness, in my opinion. I typically let it cook till the top appears to be turning purple and juice is starting to puddle on top, then I flip, top with cheese, and cook a few minutes longer. It typically will take 3-4 minutes per side before the burger is fully cooked.
How to grill them
The secret to grilling the best burgers is zone heating. Whether using gas or charcoal, it is best to have a hot zone and a cool zone. This allows you to get a flavorful sear on the patties over the hot side of the grill, and then move them away from the heat source as needed to regulate the temperature and ensure they don't burn before the interior comes to temperature.
Admittedly, this is less important on gas grills where you can simply turn down the burner, but it still is nice to have an area set aside to move cooked patties before they are served. On a propane grill, I crank the heat up to high and grill them directly over the heat.
On a charcoal grill, I achieve this by piling up a chimney of hot charcoal on one side of the grill. This creates a searing hot zone where the coals are piled directly under the grate and a cooler zone on the opposite side of the grill. I cook the patties directly over the hottest part of the grill and move them away when they have finished cooking, or if they are starting to burn.
I encourage you to also check out my detailed write-up discussing How to Grill Burgers for those of you who crave a more in-depth look.
Cooking on the stovetop
When cooking a burger patty in a skillet on your stovetop, the process is similar. You want a higher heat to sear the exterior. However, I find the exact temperature setting varies depending on the stove and type of cookware used. Typically, turning your burner on high will burn the exterior of your patty long before the interior reaches temperature.
You you make burger patties on the stovetop I recommend using medium or medium-high heat on the stovetop. Thicker burgers need a lower heat because the interior will take longer to come to temperature, whereas, thin patties cook quickly and need high heat for searing.
You can top your burger with whatever you want. However, the bun you choose makes a BIG difference in how great you burger tastes. My favorite by far is a Brioche bun. However, a pretzel bun is fantastic as well. You simply want a bun that feels light and squishy. A heavy, dense bun will steal the show from the tender burger patty.
A great hamburger patty needs equally great toppings to really hit its full flavor potential. Traditional toppings include lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles. However, if you are craving something new and flavorful, try these creative ideas:
- Pickled Red Onions - These add a bright and tangy crunch.
- Gourmet Burger Sauce - Sweet and tangy! It is a burger's best friend!
- Caramelized Onions - This would taste great with my chipotle mayo!
- Refrigerator dill pickles - These pack a better crunch than traditional pickles.
- Big Mac Sauce - This copycat recipe tastes just like the real thing!
Expert Tips and Suggestions
- Do you know which lettuce is best for the perfect burger? Green leaf lettuce. It has better flavor, better texture, and a more pleasing appearance than romaine or iceberg lettuce.
- I use wax burger paper, although parchment paper also works, to form my burgers on. They release easily off of it without sticking, the paper is cheap, and it a package will last for years.
- Always toast your buns. Toasting the interior of your bun improves the texture, and flavor significantly. It is best to toast face-down in a skillet on medium heat after painting with butter.
- When cooking the patties, do not press the burger with a spatula and only flip it once. Pressing creates a dry burger, and flipping excessively can prevent the meat from developing a proper sear. Check out how to brown ground beef to learn more about the importance of proper browning.
- Let your burger rest for a few minutes after cooking so the juices settle back into the meat.
You do not need breadcrumbs or eggs to hold a patty together. Just press firmly down on the meat with a flat object (like the bottom of a plate) when forming and it will hold its shape. Using wax paper also helps because you can transfer the patty to your cooking surface without overly disturbing the patty. Using the correct meat is also important. If the beef is too lean your burger will be dry and crumbly.
Juicy burgers start with using meat that contains enough fat. 80/20 beef is recommended, as the fat is what creates the juice. If you use exceptionally lean meat your patties will be dry because there won't be enough fat to render during cooking.
No, adding egg would create a meatloaf sandwich, not a burger. If you add an egg to your burgers you have to overwork the meat in order to mix it in, this creates a less flavorful, denser burger. With proper instruction, you can create exceptional burgers without egg or breadcrumbs.
More Homemade Burger Recipes
Now that you know how to make great burger patties, use any of the recipes below to craft your own custom homemade burger:
How to Make Burger Patties Like a Restaurant
- 1 lb Fresh ground chuck (80/20)
- Salt and Pepper
- 3 Brioche hamburger buns
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 3 slices mild cheddar cheese
- toppings of choice
- Select a pound of freshly ground chuck from your butcher. You should still be able to see the individual strands of meat from the grinder.
- Divide the meat into three equal chunks, compressing the meat only as need to hold it together in a loose ball.
- With strands of meat standing vertically, firmly press down on each chunk of meat to form into patties. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
- Place on medium-high grill or skillet (if using a skillet I like to add 1 tbsp of oil to help the patty cook) and cook till the top of the patty starts to darken in color. Flip once, top with cheese, and cook a few minutes longer.
- Butter inside of the hamburger buns and lightly toast them in a separate pan, cut side down.
- Assemble your burger with desired toppings and enjoy.