Tips on Making Hamburgers

Just a few words about my Tips on Making Hamburgers

These tips and advice are intended for everyone, irrespective of experience levels. I sincerely hope that these articles can be of some value to you and that it may be the start of a creative and rewarding new hobby.

Quality or Budget?

Making Hamburgers tip #1: If you want the very best tasting burger all your ingredients must be of the highest quality, point. That includes the meat, herbs, spices, veg, bread roll, mayo and anything else you might be adding. Here I would strongly recommend grinding the meat of your choice yourself or alternatively have a butcher coarse grind it specifically for you.

If you are on a tight budget a burger offers excellent value and potential. Great taste, healthy, endless options and economical too. You will go far to beat the value a burger offers.

Tougher cuts of meat are cheaper but not necessarily less flavourful. You might have to sacrifice a coarse grind but when the meat is fine ground the toughness goes and the flavour stays. Look out for cuts of beef that are on sale and compare the prices to the cost of the pre-ground meat. The quality will inevitably be better than that of pre-ground beef and many butchers will grind the meat for you at no extra cost.

Chicken and lean pork are great alternatives, always tender, tasty and generally a lot cheaper than beef. They both make healthy and great tasting burgers.

Binding Patties

Making Hamburgers tip #2: Theoretically the inclusion of a binding agent increases the stability of a patty at the cost of a little loss in flavour.

Temperature, coarseness and moisture levels of ground meat and other ingredients greatly influence the binding properties of a patty. If you get it right there is usually no need for a binding agent.

Personally I find that the advantages of using some bread crumbs and a little egg to improve the stability of a patty outweighs the drawbacks. Grilling and serving a crumbling patty can become quite difficult and definitely is no fun.

In my recipes I use a little beef or chicken stock to soak the bread crumbs in. This more than compensates for any loss of taste.

A good rule of thumb per pound/500g of meat is about:

a handful or 1/2 a cup of fresh bread crumbs
about 3/4 of a beaten egg
1/4 beef or chicken stock block dissolved in 2 or 3 tablespoons of

Ultimately it boils down to personal choice but whatever you do never be embarrassed by adding a binding agent to your burger mix. If Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) can use a binding agent when making hamburgers you can too.

Grinding Meat

Making Hamburgers tip #3: Ideally you will want to use good quality tender meat and grind it using a coarse plate with holes about 1/4" or 6.5mm in diameter to really bring out the flavour. Nothing compares to a coarse ground burger.

Cut all the meat into small cubes not bigger than 1"(25mm) and if you are adding extra fat cut it into much smaller cubes, maybe 1/4 the size of the meat. This allows you to distribute the lesser volume of fat more evenly. The same principle applies if you add a second meat type, like bacon, which is less in volume than your primary meat.

Spread the meat cubes in a single layer on your work surface and then distribute the fat (or second meat type) evenly over the meat. Spice the layer of meat, turn it over (spatula/egg lifter works well) and spice the other side as well.

If you intend binding the mixture for patties with a little fresh bread crumbs soaked in some cool stock and a bit of egg now is the time to distribute this evenly over the meat.

Mix everything through lightly with your hands and put the mixture into the freezer until it is very cold (just before it starts to freeze). A very cold mixture makes grinding meat an effortless experience.

For more detailed tips and advice check my Grinding Meat page.

Seasoning - An Overview

Making Hamburgers tip #4: You will notice that to describe quantities or volumes of ingredients in my recipes I often use terms like 'pinch', 'shake' and 'handful'.

I do this mainly because I would like to get you into the habit of thinking about the amount of spice you intend adding and then adapting the quantities to suit your own taste preferences. This is the first step towards adding your own distinct touch to existing recipes and creating your own recipes.

Here are some guidelines:

When in doubt always put less spice or sauce into the patty mixture. You can always add more later. It's a lot easier and far more convenient than having to add extra meat to your mixture to dilute too much spice.

Always make a miniature patty, about a heaped teaspoon, after seasoning the meat and before molding the patties. Cook it in a pan and taste it. Now you can make any taste adjustments that might be necessary before you mold the patties.

As much as seasoning can bring out the wonderful flavours in a recipe it can also totally destroy a perfectly good recipe if too much is used. The trick is to compliment, not overpower.

Allow your personal tastes and the availability of ingredients to gradually influence to a greater degree what and how much you put in, leave out of, or substitute in hamburger recipes. At the end of the day when you serve those great tasting hamburgers the feeling of accomplishment will be far greater than it would have been had you strictly followed a recipe parrot style.

Seasoning Pre-Ground Meat

Making Hamburgers tip #5: Before seasoning the meat make sure that veg, fruit, cheese, nuts or similar ingredients that you intend mixing into the burgers are chopped finely. If they are too large the patties will not bind properly and you'll end up with the patties crumbling apart when you grill them.

Spread the ground meat out onto your work surface in a thin layer, about as thick as an average steak.

Take a good look at the spread meat and imagine that it is one big steak that you are about to spice. This helps to avoid over or under spicing the burger mixture.

Distribute the herbs, spices, stock and other ingredients evenly over the meat.

Mix through with your fingers lightly trying not to compress the meat too much in the process as this hampers the penetration and even distribution of the seasoning.

Don't forget to grill and taste a small sample.

Chill the burger mixture before molding the patties

Molding Patties

Making Hamburgers tip #6: Before molding patties make sure that the mixed ingredients are very cold.

Divide the patty mix into equal sized balls, about 4 per pound/500g.

Rubbing a little cooking oil on your hands will help to avoid the mixture sticking to your hands during the molding process.

Another way is to place the meat ball in the centre of the inside of a sandwich bag and shape the patty through the plastic.

The more fat patties contain the more they tend to shrink in size during the cooking process. They also become slightly dome shaped .

Subsequently it is better to mold them a little bigger than the size you want the cooked patty to be. If the patties contain a lot of fat you can make them as much as 25% bigger.

It also helps to make a slight indentation in the centre of the patty with the under side of a spoon to lessen the dome effect.

Place the wrapped patties on a flat surface in the freezer untill just before they start to freeze or leave them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before cooking.

This promotes the binding process and produces firm, stable patties.

Regulating Cooking Temperature

Making Hamburgers tip #7: The thicker the patty the lower the cooking temperature should be.

If you have too much heat the outside will be burnt before the centre is cooked to the required degree of doneness.

Below I have set out an easy method that will help you to judge heat if you are new to this.

This is not the ideal cooking procedure but it should teach you which heat setting is best on your particular stove or barbecue. Ideally you would pre-heat to the correct cooking temperature then put on the patties and seal the juices in, turning only once. This however takes a bit of practice.

In a pan/skillet:

Put a dash of oil, cooking spray or whatever you normally use into the cold pan, heat it slightly and add the patties.

With the heat turned up to about half way wait until the patties start to sizzle.

Lower the temperature slightly and try to maintain that same degree of sizzle. Lift the pan slightly if necessary

After a minute or two cautiously lift the edge of a patty near the centre of the pan and take a peek. If the pan is still too hot and the patties are in danger of burning flip them over and re-adjust the temperature. Otherwise cook the patties until you see juices appearing on the surface before turning over.

On the barbecue:

If you can keep your hand close to the grid for the count of ten before having to jerk away you should be ok.

Chicken is pretty lean so if you're grilling chicken patties it's a good idea to oil the grid before grilling or to brush the patties lightly with oil.

Better safe than sorry, lift cautiously and peek regularly, turn before they burn!

The more experienced you become the less you will find yourself having to turn the patties. You've got it right when you only have to turn once.

When is the patty cooked?

Making Hamburgers tip #8: The surest way of determining the degree of doneness of meat is by inserting a meat thermometer into the centre of the thickest part. This works well with thick cuts of meat and can sometimes work with thick, well-bound, patties too but be careful not to break up the patty.

Here are some internal temperature guidelines:

    Beef: Rare 140F/60C : Medium 160F/70C : Well Done 175F/80C
    Pork: 160F/70C
    Poultry: 175F/80C
Unfortunately this does not always work so well with thinner, less stable patties. Here, the easiest way to determine the degree of doneness is by the firmness of the meat.

During the cooking process the meat changes colour, juices become clear, the meat shrinks and the patty becomes firm.

Don't press down too hard on the patty with the spatula, you'll lose all those wonderful juices. Just lightly "feel" the degree of firmness with the edge of the lifter regularly. The more cooked the meat becomes the firmer the patty gets. Make a small incision in the centre and take a peek if you're not sure. Relate the firmness of the patty to what you see and you'll soon start to get the hang of it. When the centre is firm the patty is done.

Before long you will know just how firm the patty should be for your preferred degree of doneness.

For a more detailed description of this method please check out Internal Meat Temperatures.

Bread Rolls

Making Hamburgers tip #9: The quality of the rolls is just as important as any of the other ingredients to deliver a fine hamburger. Unfortunately this is often overlooked. Spend a few cents extra and buy your bread rolls from a good bakery.

Choose fresh rolls with a firmer texture that will not go all soggy and disintegrate when they become soaked with all those wonderful juices you intend producing. Also consider size, you will want rolls that are about the same size as a cooked patty.

Toast the cut surfaces of the roll lightly (under grill, on barbecue or in a dry pan) just before building your creation. It does make a big difference.

Tips on Making Hamburgers, a final word

Making hamburgers that taste great is easy and well worth the effort. Give it a try. It is not as difficult as you think. Once you have made a patty with good ingredients you will rarely find yourself buying a store-bought patty again.

Making hamburgers should be fun. Seriously consider investing in a patty press and a meat grinder. They are not very expensive and make the task of making hamburgers easy and enjoyable. They allow you to be far more adventurous. You might just find yourself getting hooked on making hamburgers.

Good luck, I really wish that you may derive endless pleasure from making hamburgers.


Top of Tips on Making Hamburgers page