Perfect Grilled Burgers

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There’s nothing better than an outdoor barbecue with the family! And for a successful outing, I’m sharing my tips on how to master grilled burgers. It’s all about choosing the right type of ground beef, correctly forming the patties, and prepping the grill.

Grilled burger on a plate with cheddar cheese and sesame seed bun.

It’s time to fire up the grill and cook a fun & flavorful meal in the backyard! At our house, juicy burgers are the go-to favorite when it comes to satisfying the kids and adults. The customizations make it perfect for picky eaters and those like me who like it a little more gourmet.

A delicious burger starts with choosing the right ingredients, but there’s a particular way to form the patties to ensure the right texture when cooked. I’m also a big fan of using Kingsford Charcoal to infuse smoky-woodfired flavor into the meat. I’ll show you how to set up your two-zone fire for grilling properly. It’s an easy culinary technique to know for perfect burgers every time.

Ground beef selection

There are various types of ground beef you can use for burgers, but my top choice for the most flavor is ground chuck. It typically comes in 80% lean meat to 20% fat. Try ground sirloin, which is 90% lean meat, for a leaner option. Remember that the hamburger patty shrinks as the fat melts, and the proteins pack closely together when cooked by about 20 to 25% is expected.

Gently handle the meat

Four seasoned beef patties each with a indent in their centers.

This step is crucial! The less you mix the ground beef, the better. The more you handle the meat, the more packed together it will become. This potentially makes the texture tough and rubbery without adding a starchy panade.

Portion the meat into equal sizes, about 6 ounces per patty. Gently form each into a ball, lightly press it down to ¾-inch thickness, then slightly reshape the sides into a round. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Dimple the patties

Adding a slight indent into the center of each burger patty prevents it from puffing up during grilling. Just add a ½-inch thick dimple in the middle. The intense heat inside the grill causes the connective tissue in the ground beef to shrink quickly.

When the meat compresses, it pushes the inside up. A simple indent prevents the dome effect from happening and keeps the surface level, perfect for stacking garnish and sauces.

Keep the seasonings simple

For a delicious hamburger seasoning, all you need is kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. But I also like adding more aromatic, savory notes with garlic and onion powder. It’s essential to sprinkle them on both sides right before grilling. If you add it too soon, the high salt concentration will dissolve the meat proteins, which will bind them more closely together like sausage.

Charcoal grilling vs. gas grilling

One big difference is that charcoal produces more smoke from the combustion of organic molecules, which yields a more diverse range of flavor molecules. Gas creates carbon dioxide and water, which has no flavor.

You’ll notice a lot of smoke generated as the fat drippings from the meat hit the hot coals below. This adds that characteristic barbecue taste, which gets even more concentrated when cooking foods like ribs for a longer period.

Use a two-zone fire setup

Burgers grilling with flames.

Our goal is beef burgers with golden brown sear marks and a slightly pink center (medium-rare). It starts with creating a two-zone environment in the barbecue with high heat direct radiation and another area with indirect heat for gentle cooking and flare-ups.

For those who like well-done burgers, move the patties over to the grill’s indirect side to finish cooking without the fear of burning the surface.

Ideal grill temp for burgers

Target around 400 to 450ºF (204 to 232ºC) inside the barbecue when covered, although the actual temperature of the grill grates will be much higher. Charcoal can easily get up to this range, so adjust the vents on your grill accordingly, open to increase the heat and close to reduce the heat. Exposure to oxygen makes the coals burn faster and hotter.

If the coals are losing firepower, add more briquettes on top of the hot coals, this will take 15 minutes to turn grey and heat up, so don’t wait too long. Otherwise, you can start another chimney with new coals. For the gas grill, turn the burners to high, cover, and let heat up for about 15 minutes.

How long to grill burgers?

Melting slices of cheese on burger patties on the grill.

Place the burgers on the direct heat side of the grill, and sear the first side until a golden-brown crust is visible and some juices begin to pool on top, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for 2 to 5 minutes for the desired doneness. Use a meat thermometer inserted on the side of the patties to check the internal temperature, as grill times can vary.

When to add the cheese

Add your favorite slice of cheese, like American, cheddar, or Swiss, about 1 minute before the patties are done cooking. Move the patties to the indirect heat side, then add the cheese, cover and let it melt.

Toasting the buns

While the cheese melts, toast the hamburger buns cut-side down on the same indirect side of the grill. Wait until you see charred grate marks on the bread, and remove them before the edges burn. Sesame seed, brioche, and potato buns, pretzel, and whole wheat buns are all great choices to pair with these beef burgers.

Elevate your sauce game!

A good sauce brings the entire meal together, but instead of using a typical bottle of ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise, make a creamy and tangy combination. A mix of ketchup, mayonnaise, honey, relish, salt, and apple cider vinegar. This is our family’s secret sauce, dramatically elevating these juicy beef burgers to gourmet levels.

More topping ideas

I like to give my hungry family options by customizing their burgers with colorful toppings like crispy bacon, lettuce, onion, avocado, pickles, and tomato. Some homemade barbecue sauce adds a Southern twist!

Tasty sides to pair with

Family time in the backyard eating barbecue.

Recipe Science

Heating the charcoal with lighter fluid

Instead of using a chimney starter, try lighter fluid. The fuel is typically butane which is a liquified gas that’s highly flammable and heats up charcoal quickly. Make a mound of briquettes like a pyramid for maximum contact. Add lighter fluid and carefully light it. The gas will burn off, and the coals will begin to heat and get ashy on the surface. Once this happens, spread the coals out, place the grate on, and you’re ready to cook.

Grilled Burgers

The key to juicy grilled burgers is choosing the right type of ground beef, not overworking the patties, and setting up a two-zone fire on the grill.
4.84 from 18 votes
Prep Time35 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American



  • 1 ½ pound ground beef, 80% lean ground chuck
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, for seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, for seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • vegetable oil, for greasing the grill grates
  • 4 slices cheddar cheese, optional
  • 4 hamburger buns


  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon sweet relish, or finely chopped pickles
  • 1 teaspoon honey, granulated sugar or maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  • Form the Patties – Without mixing the ground beef, portion it into 4 even-sized mounds, 6 ounces (about ⅓ pound) per patty. Gently form each portion into a loose ball. Press each one down to a ¾-inch thickness by about 4 ½-inches wide. Reshape the sides into a circle. It’s okay if the edges are jagged.
    Create an indent in the center of each patty, about ½-inch deep. If the patties feel warm after handling, chill them before grilling so they hold their shape better. Refrigerate if not using within 10 minutes of shaping.
  • Season the Surface – Right before grilling, generously season each side with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  • Make the Burger Sauce – In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, honey, vinegar, and black pepper.
  • Set up the Grill – Using a two-zone fire configuration (one side direct heat, the other side indirect heat), cover, and preheat for 5 to 10 minutes until the grates are hot. Clean the grates, and grease with oil to prevent the burgers from sticking.
  • Grill the Burgers – Place each burger on the direct heat side of the grill. Do not press down on the patties. Cook until deep golden brown on the first side, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the desired doneness (see notes) is reached, about 2 to 5 minutes. If a medium-well or well-done burger is desired, transfer to the indirect side after flipping and cook for 2 minutes to gently complete the cooking process.
  • Melt the Cheese – If using cheese, add to the patties about 1 minute before reaching the desired doneness. Move the patties over to the indirect heat side, add the cheese on top, cover, and allow it to melt.
  • Toast the Buns – Transfer the burger patties to a plate, loosely cover with foil and rest for 5 to 10 minutes while heating the buns on the indirect heat side.
  • To Serve – Place patty inside toasted buns and add desired toppings and sauce.


  • Doneness: Stop cooking about 5 degrees before the desired doneness temperature. Medium-rare: 125-130ºF / 51-54ºC (pink with a hint of red in center). Medium: 135-140ºF / 57-60ºC (light pink center). Medium-well: 145-150ºF / 62-66ºC (brown with a hint of pink in center). Well-done: 150-160ºF / 66-71ºC (brown center).
  • Topping Suggestions: Lettuce, bacon, tomato, pickle, onion, avocado, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.
  • Charcoal Grilling: Open the bottom vent of the grill. Light a chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes, about 40 pieces for a smaller chimney. Use more if cooking 4+ burger patties. When the surface of the coals is partially covered with ash, pour them into the grill on one side to create a two-zone fire. Let them sit in a pile until most turn gray, about 5 minutes. Then evenly spread the coals out, but still keeping two zones. Place the cooking grate over the hot coals, cover, and open the lid vent.
  • Gas Grilling: Turn burners to high, leaving one area for indirect heating. Cover and allow the grill to heat up to about 400 to 450ºF (204 to 232ºC).

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 668kcal (33%)Carbohydrates 27g (9%)Protein 34g (68%)Fat 46g (71%)Saturated Fat 15g (75%)Cholesterol 127mg (42%)Sodium 1098mg (46%)Potassium 537mg (15%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 7g (8%)Vitamin A 84IU (2%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 105mg (11%)Iron 5mg (28%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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