How to Grill the Perfect Burger

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All of the tips and tricks for making the best hamburgers on the grill, with step-by-step photos.

Grilled burger on picnic table plate topped with cheese and condiments

For grilled burgers fans, summer can’t come soon enough. Images of outdoor dinners featuring plump, sizzling, juicy, tender burgers right off the grill are a burger lover’s dream. But not just any burgers: perfect grilled hamburgers. And then check out these tips for how to form perfect hamburger patties for grilling.

Woman eating grilled burger with cheese and other toppings at a picnic table.

How to Grill Perfect Burgers: All of the tips and tricks for making the best hamburgers on the grill, with step-by-step photos.

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What Kind of Beef to Use for Burgers?

Bobby Flay, who knows a thing or two about burgers, recommends ground chuck, preferably certified Angus beef. He recommends chuck because of its relatively high fat content. Look for chuck that is 80/20, meaning 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat. Fat is your friend when it comes to hamburgers (and, in other cases, too!). It carries flavor and provides moisture and juiciness. 

Buying Beef for Burgers

The best bet is to find a good butcher who grinds their meat on-site fresh daily. If you have a butcher nearby, getting great ground beef for burgers is a very affordable option. Online, you can also find quite a few really good meat purveyors who will ship fresh ground beef to your home, usually frozen.

The other option is to buy your beef at a good supermarket or grocery store where they grind their beef in-house. Shop at a store with a high turnover so you know your meat is fresh. There might be a butcher counter in the market; get to know the butcher! Or look for ground beef that is bright red, and make sure to pick the package with the furthest away expiration date. You can find grass-fed ground chuck in most good markets.

It’s best to stay away from pre-formed or packed patties, as the meat is probably older, and they can be inconsistent in freshness, flavor, and texture. Yes, in a perfect world, you would grind the beef yourself, but that’s more than most of us are up for — and understandably so. 

How to Defrost Ground Beef

You can defrost ground beef in the fridge overnight, in a very well-sealed bag in a bowl of cold water, or use the defrosting option in the microwave. The best method is to thaw it overnight in the fridge. Never defrost or thaw ground beef on the counter or at room temperature. That is not safe and an invitation for bacteria to form.

Forming Hamburger Patties

Using a gentle touch, mold the meat into patties no more than ¾-inch thick. Try not to overwork, compress, or squish the meat, which can make your burgers dry or tough. Make your patties as perfectly round or irregular as you like (all of of the how-to here), but try to get a consistent thickness to the patty, and make the little indent in the middle which will swell up to result. ina flat burger after cooking.

Woman pressing fresh hamburger patty

Burger Grilling Tips

Keep the meat in the fridge until you are ready to shape the patties, and keep the patties in the fridge until you are ready to grill them. This prevents bacteria from forming. 

Do not press down on the burgers as they cook! You will simply be pressing all those flavorful juices out of the burger into the fire. You want those juices where they belong, right there in the meat. (Pressing down on the burger can also cause flare-ups, which are annoying and possibly dangerous.)

Don’t flip the burgers constantly. Leaving them sit for a few minutes over the heat will give them those nice grill marks and prevent them from falling apart when you turn them. 

Flipping burgers on the grill with a spatula.

Never put cooked burgers on the plate you used to bring the uncooked patties to the grill. This can cause contamination, so use a fresh plate, platter, or board for your cooked patties.

Set your gas grill to high for grilling burgers, and for a charcoal grill, make sure your coals are bright orange and ashy. You want high heat here.

How Long to Grill a Burger

These cooking times are a guide, and the cooking time will, of course, depend on the heat of the grill, the thickness of your patty, and so on. But this will give you a sense of timing for grilling your hamburgers.

The USDA recommends cooking ground beef until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for safety reasons. You should stick to this if there are any immediate health concerns or if you are serving the burgers to someone who is immunocompromised, very young, elderly, or pregnant. 

Adjust the time if your burgers are thinner or thicker than ¾ inches.

Cooking Times for ¾-inch Burgers

DonenessCooking Time per SideTotal Cooking TimeInternal Temp
Rareabout 3 minutesabout 6 minutes140 F
Medium Rareabout 3 ½ minutesabout 7 minutes145 F
Mediumabout 4 minutesabout 8 minutes150 F
Medium-Wellabout 4 ½ minutesabout 9 minutes155 F
Well Doneabout 5 minutesabout 10 minutes160 F

Best Buns for Burgers

Most of us agree: soft buns are best. Sesame or plain is up to you but look for a bun with some presence, like a potato bun. Brioche buns are a nice, slightly elevated option as well. Lightly toast the buns over medium heat just until the cut sides turn golden for the best flavor. 

How to Top a Burger

Some condiments and toppings are very traditional: ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced onions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these choices, alone or in combination! But if you want to jazz up your burger in a more unusual way, try topping it with:

Chipotle Mayo in white bowl with spoon

Best Cheese for Cheeseburgers

Truly, any melting cheese is great on a hamburger. Here are some great options for turning your burger into a cheeseburger. You can use a slice of cheese or shredded cheese (though with shredded cheese, you do tend to lose a bit through the grate as you top the patties).

Cheddar: Cheddar is actually the most popular cheese around the globe. In the U.S., high-quality cheddars are made in large quantities in Vermont, Wisconsin, and New York. This cheese is made from cow’s milk, and it ranges in flavor from quite mild to extra, extra sharp. The younger and milder the cheddar, the smoother and meltier it is. Save the aged cheddar for your cheese boards!

American: Some cheese purists look down their noses at using American cheese in cooking, but for creamy meltability it can’t be beaten. American cheese is a processed cheese that might be an orangey yellow or creamy white in color, but the flavor is the same. You can get it sliced at the deli and avoid having to unwrap those pesky, crinkly plastic wrappers on each slice; plus, the cheese is “fresher,” and you can get it cut to your desired thickness. 

Monterey Jack: This American semi-hard cheese is originally from Northern California, where it gets its name. It’s made from cow’s milk, has a mild flavor, and is great for melting. Pepper Jack cheese is Monterey Jack with chopped hot pepper added; it melts well and brings some lovely heat to your burger if that appeals to you.

Mozzarella: You can choose between packaged low-moisture mozzarella or fresh mozzarella. Packaged mozzarella will melt better, but fresh mozzarella has that inimitable fresh taste. Both are fine options!

Provolone: This semi-hard cow’s milk cheese is slightly sharp, having been aged for at least 4 months. Some provolone has a smoky flavor, too.

Swiss Cheese: This cow’s milk cheese, with its distinctive holes, is creamy and nutty. The more aged the Swiss, the nuttier and sharper it will get. Gruyère is a similar Swiss cheese, though aged for a longer time. 

Blue Cheese: There are a lot of varieties of blue cheese, and some people love a blue cheese burger above all others! Blue cheese can be made from different animal milks (cow, sheep, goat) and can range significantly in intensity. Pick a blue cheese that you like, and take it from there!

Feta: Feta doesn’t really melt as much as it softens, and it gives a nice Greek flair to a burger (I love it with turkey burgers). Feta can come from France, Bulgaria, Greece, France, and the U.S. Its salty, briny flavor can range from delicate to intense, so see what your cheese tastes like and pile it on accordingly.

Queso Fresco:  This Mexican cheese translates to “fresh cheese.” It is crumbly, and the flavor is tangy, a bit salty, and somewhat reminiscent of a mild version of feta. It won’t melt, but it will get soft.

How to Grill Burgers Step-by-Step

  1. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions. Form each piece into a patty, working as lightly as possible with the meat, not squishing it. 
  2. Use your thumb to make a deep depression in the center of the patty, about 1 inch in diameter, and halfway through the thickness of the patty. 
Woman pressing dimple into ground beef burger patty.
  1. Season both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper.
Seasoning burger patties with salt
  1. Heat a gas grill to high, or heat the coals in a charcoal grill until they are glowing bright orange with ash all over the outside of the coals. Lightly brush both sides of each patty with the oil. 
  2. Grill the burgers for 3 or 4 minutes on each side (see chart above for approximate cooking times and levels of doneness). 
Flipping burgers on the grill with a spatula.
  1. Add the cheese, if using, during the last minute of cooking. Close the top of the grill while the cheese melts. 
Cheese melting on grilled burgers.
  1. Place the split buns, cut sides down on the hot grill for just about 10  to 15 seconds, then remove them. Place the burgers on the bottom halves of the buns, top as desired, and place the top of the buns on the burgers. 
Woman holding cheeseburger with toppings at a picnic table

Grilled Burger Sides

Grilled Cheeseburgers with Herb Sauce on white plate with chips

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5 from 4 votes

How to Grill the Perfect Burger

All of the tips and tricks for making the best hamburgers on the grill, with step-by-step photos.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 People
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Equipment

Ingredients 

  • 1 ½ pounds ground chuck (80/20 percent)
  • Vegetable oil (for brushing)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 4 slices cheese (such as cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Swiss, or American, optional)
  • 4 hamburger buns (split and toasted)
  • Burger Toppings (ketchup, relish, mustard, pickles, mayo, and see above for more ideas!!)

Instructions 

  • Divide the meat into 4 equal portions. Form each portion into a patty, working as lightly as possible with the meat, not squishing it. Use your thumb to make a deep depression in the center of the patty, about 1 inch in diameter, and halfway through the thickness of the patty. Season both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a gas grill to high, or heat the coals in a charcoal grill until they are glowing a bright orange with ash all over the outside of the coals. Lightly brush both sides of each patty with the oil. Grill the burgers for 3 or 4 minutes on each side (see chart above for approximate cooking times and levels of doneness). Add the cheese, if using, during the last minute of cooking. Close the top of the grill while the cheese melts.
  • Place the split buns, cut sides down on the hot grill for just about 10 to 15 seconds, then remove them. Place the burgers on the bottom halves of the buns, top as desired, and place the top of the buns on the burgers.

Notes

Cooking Times for ¾-inch Burgers
Doneness Cooking Time per Side Total Cooking Time Internal Temp
Rare about 3 minutes about 6 minutes 140 F
Medium Rare about 3 ½ minutes about 7 minutes 145 F
Medium about 4 minutes about 8 minutes 150 F
Medium-Well about 4 ½ minutes about 9 minutes 155 F
Well Done about 5 minutes about 10 minutes 160 F

Nutrition

Calories: 670kcal, Carbohydrates: 23g, Protein: 40g, Fat: 45g, Saturated Fat: 19g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 17g, Trans Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 149mg, Sodium: 834mg, Potassium: 544mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 300IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 291mg, Iron: 5mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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