The Beef On Ground Beef

HOW TO: Preparing the perfect burger

Ask any patty flipper, chef or cookbook author how to make the perfect burger, and they’ll each let you in on a completely different secret. Determined to find out if there were any burger-making tips that held true for all walks of burger-heads, we combed through more than two dozen cookbooks (from the River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman) to compare their advice on burger making—and came up with a few common tips.

• The leaner the meat you use, the drier your burger will be. The higher the fat content, the juicier it will be. Most cookbooks suggest using ground beef or chuck that’s labeled around 80% lean beef.

• About eight years ago, the USDA announced that ground beef was at high risk for carrying E. coli (when meat is ground, more of it is exposed to potential bacteria the longer it sits). As a result, the USDA urged consumers to cook ground beef patties until the temperature at the middle reached 160 degrees—in other words, dry hockey pucks. If you prefer rarer burgers, buy whole, fresh beef chuck and grind it just before cooking it.

• It’s very important to gently shape the meat; manhandling it will result in a tough burger.

• Cooking times will vary depending on the shape of your patty. Try shaping the patty no thicker than 3/4-inch and no wider than 31/2 inches. For a rare to medium-rare burger of these proportions, cook the meat, over very hot coals, for no more than 3 minutes on each side. No matter how well done you like your burger to be, there’s no need to cook it for much longer than 10 minutes.

• Do not, under any circumstances, press down on the burger with your spatula while it’s cooking—all you’re doing is squeezing the flavorful, juicy essence out of the burger.