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In our continuing series on grilling tips, journalist, photographer and barbecue expert Rick Browne, the author of numerous barbecue books, including The Ultimate Guide to Grilling and 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, shares the secret to searing the perfect, juicy, make-your-mouth-water burger:
Most packages of ground beef list a ratio of lean meat to fat. "To me, any burger that is made with less [fat] than 80/20 hamburger meat is a waste of time," Browne says, adding that a burger with 20 percent fat is the standard for restaurants and burger competitions. "You need that because the fat gives you flavor, it gives you moisture, and it keeps the burger light in the middle so it's not all compacted." (The fat melts and leaves air pockets, making the burger less dense, he explains.)
Season the ground beef with salt (Browne recommends a teaspoon per pound of meat), pepper and any other dry seasonings you'd like, gently form the meat into balls, and then flatten the balls. "Don't press [the ball] down with your hands and squeeze it," he warns. Some experts recommend putting a dimple in the middle of each patty so the center doesn't bulge when you cook it, and Browne agrees it's not a bad idea -- but it won't make or break your burger.
Season the patties with additional salt if you'd like and then place them on a well-oiled hot grill over direct heat for about three minutes, turn them and continue to cook over direct heat for about three more minutes; move the patties to indirect heat and cook for an additional two minutes on each side. (That's for a medium rare hamburger, FYI.)
The USDA recommends cooking ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb to an internal temperature of 165°. Browne says to stick a thermometer into each patty sideways so it registers the temperature in the middle of the hamburger. If you prefer your burgers well done, you can preserve some of the juices by making thinner patties, which will allow the meat to cook faster.
When the burgers are cooked, remove them from the grill, cover them with foil, and let them sit for another minute or two. Browne's final tip on burgers: "Do not ever serve a hamburger on a regular bun that hasn't been toasted." Why? "The minute you bite into the burger the juices start to flow and the bun will fall apart," he explains. "A couple of contests will disqualify you if you don’t do a toasted bun." Who knew?