Burgers often come off the grill tough, dry, and bulging in the middle. We wanted a moist and juicy burger with a texture that was tender and cohesive. Just as important, we wanted a flavorful, deeply caramelized crust and a nice level surface capable of holding as many condiments as we could pile on. For juicy, robustly flavored meat, we chose 80 percent lean ground chuck. We formed the meat into fairly thick 6-ounce patties. Our first few batches came off the grill puffed up like tennis balls, but we quickly figured out that slightly indenting, or dimpling, the center of each burger helped them cook to a perfectly even thickness. Grilling the burgers over a superhot, concentrated fire ensured that they developed a good crust without overcooking. For our cheeseburger variation, we took an unconventional approach and mixed the cheese in with the meat for an even distribution of flavor. We also made two other flavor variations with savory add-ins that complemented the grilled burgers’ smokiness.
Weighing the meat on a kitchen scale is the most accurate way to portion it. If you don’t own a scale, do your best to divide the meat evenly into quarters. Eighty percent lean ground chuck is our favorite for flavor, but 85 percent lean works, too. If you like, toast the hamburger buns on the grill while the burgers rest.
1. Break meat into small pieces in bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss lightly to mix. Divide meat into 4 portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, lightly toss from hand to hand to form ball, then gently flatten into 3/4-inch-thick patty. Press center of patties down with your fingertips to create 1/4-inch-deep depression.
2a. For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
2b. For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
3. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place burgers on grill (on hotter side if using charcoal) and cook, without pressing on them, until well browned on first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip burgers and continue to grill until burgers register 120 to 125 degrees (for medium-rare) or 130 to 135 degrees (for medium), 2 ½ to 4 minutes.
4. Transfer burgers to platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve on buns.
Perfect Grilled Cheeseburgers:
Mix 3/4 cup shredded cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey Jack cheese or 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese into meat with salt and pepper.
Perfect Grilled Hamburgers with Garlic, Chipotle, and Scallion:
Toast 3 unpeeled garlic cloves in 8-inch skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and mince. Mix garlic, 2 tablespoons minced scallion, and 1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce into meat with salt and pepper.
Perfect Grilled Hamburgers with Cognac, Mustard, and Chives:
Mix 1 ½ tablespoons cognac, 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard into meat with salt and pepper.
Food Science: Dimples aren't just cute
To prevent hamburgers from puffing up during cooking, many sources recommend making a slight depression in the center of the raw patty before placing it on the heat.
But we find that the need for a dimple depends entirely on how the burger is cooked. Meat inflates upon cooking when its connective tissue, or collagen, shrinks at temperatures higher than 140 degrees. If burgers are cooked on a grill or under a broiler, a dimple is in order. Cooke with these methods, the meat is exposed to direct heat not only from below or above but also on its sides; as a result, the edges of the patty shrink, cinching the hamburger like a belt, compressing its interior up and out.
But when the patty is cooked in a skillet, only the part of the patty in direct contact with the pan gets hot enough to shrink the collagen. Because the edges never directly touch the heat, the collagen it contains doesn’t shrink much at all, and the burger doesn’t puff.
Grill Hack: Tagging with toothpicks
When grilling for a crowd, you need a way to tell well-done burgers from medium-rare at a glance. Try assigning each level of doneness a particular number of toothpicks (e.g., one for medium-rare, two for medium, three for well-done) and pegging the proper marker into the patties as the come off the fire.