There is more to know about how to make burger patties than simply forming ground beef into a patty shape. To make the best burger like your favorite restaurant you need to pay attention to a few simple details.
I take my burger patty recipe very seriously. I have made burgers in every different way imaginable on my quest to make the best homemade burgers. I've bought meat, ground my own, used ground 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?
Basically, what I am trying to say is, I know a thing or two about crafting the best burger recipes.
Ingredients - Choosing the Right Hamburger Meat
First things first, I'm talking about how to make homemade 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. So let's talk about starting with the right ingredients.
The most important aspect of making the perfect burger is using the right meat. This isn't just talking about the right cut of fresh ground beef, 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 good quality ground beef 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 lean beef such as ground sirloin will be too dry to make a good burger. Burgers need a higher fat content 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.
How to Form Burger Patties
Now that we have the right burger meat, we need to make the perfect homemade hamburger patties. The best tip I can give you to form your patties 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. This is the best way to ruin any hamburger recipe.
Separate your freshly ground beef into chunks sized for the burgers you are making (use a kitchen scale if you want to be exact). I like to make thick patties, typically around ⅓ - ½ pound burgers, unless I'm making a fast food style burger (like smash burgers), which is a whole different story. I gently form the raw burger 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 beef 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 patty. This will help the center cook more evenly.
How to Cook a Burger
To make burger patties on the stovetop I recommend using a cast iron skillet set over medium or medium-high heat to sear the exterior (you can add olive oil to the skillet, but it isn't necessary). 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. If your heat is too high, you will burn the exterior of your stovetop burgers long before the interior reaches temperature.
Regardless of whether you cook up juicy burger patties in a cast iron skillet or on a hot grill, for the juiciest burgers 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 dry burgers. Yum.
Only flip the burger patty once, and don't keep messing with it. 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.
Tip: Using a digital meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature is an easy way to ensure you don't overcook your burger patties. However, with a little practice, they won't be needed for long.
You can also cook your burgers on a charcoal or gas grill. 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.
Best Buns for Burgers
You can top your burger with whatever you want. However, the bun you choose makes a BIG difference in how great your burger tastes. My favorite by far are brioche buns. 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. Classic burger toppings include simple ingredients such as crisp lettuce, fresh onions, 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 hamburger? 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. This will ensure you have the most flavorful burger possible.
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, not additives like Worcestershire sauce. If you use exceptionally lean ground beef 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 Delicious 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:
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How to Make Burger Patties
- 1 pound fresh ground chuck (80/20)
- salt and black pepper
- 3 brioche hamburger buns
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 slices mild cheddar cheese
- favorite burger toppings
- 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.
- Set your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (you can add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to help the patty sear) and cook your burger patty until the top starts to darken in color. Flip once, top with a slice of cheese, and cook a few minutes longer.
- Butter inside of the hamburger buns and lightly toast them in a separate pan, cut side down.
- Place your burger patty onto the toasted bun, add your favorite burger toppings, and enjoy.