Burger Basics

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I’ve been grilling up burgers for decades – with one of my first jobs as a teen being at a fast food burger joint.  But even with all that “time on the grill” some key burger basics eluded me.  So, I scoured the cookbooks of some master chefs, went online to see what the foodies were saying and then tested out some new tips and tricks on my family to see if they worked.  Here’s what I learned, just in time for Labor Day about grilling up a wide variety of burgers – from beef, to turkey to the very trendy bison burgers.

Luscious, juicy ground beef burgers!

First, it’s all about the patty.  Even though we all want to eat healthier most of the time – sometimes you just want a delectable gourmet burger.  For those times, you’ll want to select ground beef that is labeled 80/20  - that’s 80% lean meat to 20% fat.  And across the board, all the experts recommended fresh, course ground Chuck.  I simply went into my nearby Fry’s and asked the butcher to help me out.  We selected a Chuck roast and he did a perfect, fresh grind for me in minutes.   This alone makes a huge difference – fresh and ready to grill.

Shaping the patty – DO NOT overwork the meat.  Just use your hands to gently pat it into a patty shape – the more you handle it the more juice will be removed and result in a less juicy, tougher burger.  Gentle, gentle.

Salt.  This was a shocker to me but makes complete sense and makes a dramatic difference.  Don’t mix in salt into your beef.  Salt draws out moisture and we don’t want that – we want a juicy inside.  Instead try this technique if you’re cooking on a flat grill or on the stove.  Sprinkle the pan or grill with Kosher Salt and fry up your patties on that.  This tip came from a couple of books from premier chefs and I have to say, this salt on the exterior of the burger creates a perfectly seared burger – yummy.  You can pre-salt the burgers by sprinkling on top of them if you’re using an outdoor grill.

Temperature – Use a very hot grill or pan and plan on only turning the burger once.  Cook once on each side for the same amount of time.  Here’s the key – for about a 4-5 ounce patty, cook on one side for 3 – 4 minutes for rare to medium rare.  Then for every minute of cooking you add, you add about one degree of doneness.

If you’re adding cheese, it’ll take about 2 minutes to melt so put it on top of the burger after flipping and when you have about 2 minutes to go.  You can also cheat the cheese melt by covering with a lid or the top of the grill.

I have to say; just altering these few things really makes a delicious difference in a burger – truly tasting like the $10 gourmet variety at those popular burger bars.


Now, if you want to go a little healthier, if you don’t eat red meat or if you just like a good turkey burger, here are a couple of things to try.

First, always use the ground turkey instead of the ground turkey breast – it’ll say 85/15 on the package.  The turkey breast will result in a dry burger.

One of the major complaints about cooking a turkey burger is that they tend to fall apart on the grill.  Help prevent this by adding some filler – I found 1 egg white and 1/8 cup of breadcrumbs works really well for 1 pound of ground turkey.

Again, salt just before you put on the grill to prevent the turkey from drying out, use a hot grill, turn only once and cook about 4-5 minutes per side.  Turkey must be cooked thoroughly but pull those babies off the grill as soon as they’re done because they’ll continue to cook a little.


Bison or buffalo meat is very popular right now because it’s very healthy – leaner than even turkey.  Plus, it gives meat lovers a really lean option without any added hormones.   It is expensive running at about $9 a pound compared to the $4.99 a pound I paid for my freshly ground chuck.  But, it is very tasty. 

Here are some tips on bison burgers.

Again, don’t over work the patty making.  You certainly don’t want to lose any moisture with this uber-lean meat.  Shape them gently; use the salt method on a hot grill.

Plus, McCormick makes a Montreal Hamburger Spice that really matches the taste of bison well – try it mixed with your Kosher Salt.

And with bison, it is very important to NOT overcook it.  Most experts say that medium rare is about as “done” as you should go with it before it starts getting very dry – again because of it being so lean. 

And finally, many people say that Dijon mustard is the condiment of choice for the bison burger.  Bison tastes somehow very clean and it was the winner at my house for burger wars as I prepped this segment.

This was such a lesson to me on simple twists to an American classic that really make a difference.

Enjoy and …
Live and Learn