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, properly forming the patties, and prepping the grill.
It’s time to fire up the grill and cook a fun & flavorful meal in the backyard! At our house, juicy and tender burgers are the go-to favorite when it comes to satisfying the kids and adults. The customizations make it perfect for the picky eaters and those like me that like it a little more gourmet.
A delicious burger starts with choosing the right ingredients, but there’s a special way to form the patties to ensure the right texture when cooked. I’m also a big fan of using Kingsford Charcoal as a way to infuse smoky-woodfired flavor into the meat. I’ll show you how to properly set up your two-zone fire for grilling. It’s a really 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. For a leaner option, try ground sirloin that’s 90% lean meat. Remember that the patties shrink as the fat melts and the proteins pack closely together when cooked, by about 20 to 25% is expected.
Gently handle the meat
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 the addition of a starchy panade. Simply portion the meat into equal sizes, about 6 ounces per patty. Gently form each into a ball, lightly press it down into 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 quickly shrink. 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
To season the exterior of the patties all you really need is kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. But I also like to add a little more aromatic savory notes with garlic and onion powder. It’s important to sprinkle them on both sides right before grilling. If you add it too soon, the high concentration of salt will dissolve the meat proteins, which will bind it 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 and this gets even more concentrated when cooking foods like ribs for a longer period of time.
Use a two-zone fire setup
Beef burgers with golden brown sear marks and a slightly pink center (medium-rare) is our goal. It starts with creating a two-zone environment in the barbecue with high heat direct radiation, and another area that has indirect heat for gentle cooking and flare-ups. For those who like well-done burgers, simply move the patties over to the indirect side of the grill to finish off cooking without the fear of burning the surface.
Ideal grilling temperature 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?
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 about 2 to 5 minutes for the desired doneness. Use a meat thermometer inserted on the side of the patties to check the internal temperature.
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. Simply 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 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 and it dramatically elevates 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
Heating up 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.
- 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 patty down to a ¾-inch thickness, by about 4 ½-inches wide. Reshape 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 the meat before grilling so it holds its shape better. Refrigerate if not using within 10 minutes of shaping.
- Right before grilling, generously season each side with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
- To make the burger sauce, in a small bowl combine mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, honey, vinegar, and black pepper.
- Setup 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 will oil to prevent the burgers from sticking.
- 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 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.
- Transfer 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, add the patties and desired toppings.
- 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).