Build a Better Burger on a Budget

by Deborah Taylor-Hough
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Use these 10 tips to build a better burger on a budget and find your way to Hamburger Heaven in your own backyard.

Summer’s here, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve already made at least one trip to the store to refill the propane tank on your backyard grill.

One thing I often hear from guests is that my grilled hamburgers actually taste good, rather than just being hard and dry as hockey pucks like so many of those traditional family reunion grilled hamburgers we’ve all endured from time to time.

In honor of the hallowed summertime tradition of outdoor cooking, here are some of my favorite tips for finding your way to Hamburger Heaven in your own backyard.

1. Don’t build your burger from low fat meat.

Get a package of ground beef with in 80/20 or even a 70/30 ratio of meat to fat. The fat keeps it moist and flavorful and drains off during the cooking process so the calorie count ultimately isn’t much higher than the lower fat varieties, but the flavor is so much better.

Be aware, though, that the higher the fat content in your meat, the more the patty will shrink while cooking. So plan accordingly.

2. Mix it up.

For additional flavor, try mixing ground beef with other ground meats like pork, sausage or lamb. A good ratio is two parts beef to one part other meat. Also, if you use ground turkey to save money, keep in mind that turkey is probably one of the least stable burger materials you can find, so mix it 50/50 with ground beef to keep those burgers in one piece on the grill.

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3. Handle patties with care.

When forming burgers, mix the ingredients together gently, handle your burger patties as little as possible, and don’t fully compress the meat. Remember that you’re not making meatloaf or meatballs.

If you form the raw beef into patties with wet hands, the grease won’t stick to your skin nearly as much.

4. Keep added ingredients small.

If you like adding extra things to your ground beef before making patties, make sure to keep the pieces small.

Large chunks of onion or garlic make the patty unstable and more apt to fall apart while cooking. Be sure to finely chop or grate all added veggies.

5. Spice it up.

Some particularly tasty additions to the burger mix are freshly ground pepper, minced garlic, finely chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, grated carrot, crushed vinegar and salt potato chips, or soy sauce.

I’ve discovered that burger purists tend to insist on top-of-the-line ground beef (Sirloin) with nothing added but salt and pepper (after grilling). Honestly, I love a good, pure burger, but sometimes it’s fun to add the extras for variety.

Also, if you add steak sauce or applesauce to your burger patties, try mixing in some dry bread crumbs, quick-cooking oats, or beaten eggs to help stabilize the burgers.

6. Cook over a medium flame rather than a high one.

You want to cook the patties just slow enough to cook all the way through. You don’t want them charred on the outside and a raw mess on the inside.

7. Don’t squeeze.

Don’t press down on the cooking burger patties with your spatula or flip the burger using tongs that squeeze the burger. You’ll just be squeezing out all the delicious juiciness and leaving behind a much dryer and tougher finished product.

Make an indentation with your thumb in the center of each burger before cooking to help keep them flat without squishing them under the spatula.

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8. Don’t poke.

Never poke your cooking burger patties with a fork or other pointy object. It’s a guaranteed trip to Hockey Puck Hamburger Land when all those delicious juices pour out through that hole.

9. Flip frequently.

The less you move the burgers around on the grill, the better looking the grill marks. Ideally, you only want to turn the burger once, but be sure to focus on safety and full cooking more than making the prettiest burgers on the block.

You’ll hear mixed messages from burger aficionados about what temperature to cook the burgers and how often to flip them, but I tend to not worry about the perfect grill marks and have found that frequent flipping tends to keep the juices in the burger a bit better.

10. Let them rest.

Let the grilled hamburgers rest for a minute or two before serving to give a chance for the juices to settle. Serving too soon may cause the burgers to dry out.

Rather than melting cheese onto the burgers during the grilling process, I like to set the cheese slices on top of the finished burgers while they’re “resting.” The cheese melts without dripping off the burger onto the grill.

When the cheese is done melting, the burgers are done resting and ready to serve.

Add your favorite toppings to your grilled hamburgers and enjoy!

Reviewed August 2023

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