From pan choice to meat blend, every detail matters.
With warmer weather (finally!) upon us, grilling season has arrived. Let’s be honest, though—juicy meat, melted cheese, chewy buns taste pretty great no matter what. But there are plenty of tricks for taking an average burger to the next level, and it is our moral obligation to share them with you.
Below, find some of our favorite chefs’ tips for making a better burger at home.
Grind your own meat (seriously)
It’s easier than you think, says Michael Pasquarello, owner of Philadelphia’s Kensington Quarters and KQ Burger. If you have a stand mixer, buy the grind attachment, then befriend a butcher and ask for any of the excess trim—the fat and meat that comes from all parts of the animal.
“People tend to stick to brisket or sirloin for the burger,” says Pasquarello. “But our burgers at KQ Burger are made from the scraps of the whole animal, lending an insanely good texture and flavor.”
If you’re grinding it yourself, try to keep the ratio to at least 75 percent meat and 25 percent fat, he adds.
Use a cast-iron pan
If you don’t have access to a grill like the one at Rider in Seattle—six-thousand pound or otherwise—the next best thing is a cast-iron pan, says executive chef David Nichols. “Once it’s done, you just wipe it out, so it’s well seasoned,” he says.
Pasquarello says to start by rolling six ounces of meat into a ball, almost like a meatball, and then use the tops of two takeout soup containers, and put the rolled meat inside to form the patty. “When you hand-form the burger, the edges get craggly, and that’s where the burger loses a lot of juice during cooking,” he says. “This method helps seal the edges, keeping the juices inside and making for a much better burger.”
Watch our very own Justin Chapple demonstrate the technique:
Mix up your meat
For a more flavorful burger without all the meat, add some mushrooms to the mix, says chef Nick Mezzina of Misconduct Tavern in Philadelphia. "Use less meat in your burgers and sauté shiitake, oyster, and cremini mushrooms, and then add Jack Daniels. Chill the mushroom blend with your beef before grilling.”
Choose the right bun
After getting his first taste in New York, chef Nichols became a potato bun loyalist. “I really hate having too much bun on the burger,” he says. And these are great—they play so well with a meat-to-bun ratio, plus it holds up to a big burger. You don’t want your bun falling apart mid bite.”
Whether you cook your burger in a pan or on the grill, flip it only once—that’s it, says Pasquarello. Every time you flip, you lose juice, so cook it 75 percent on one side, then flip and finish to your liking.
Level up with sauce
“Everyone loves ketchup, mustard, and mayo on a burger, but one of the things that can set a burger apart is a creative sauce,” says chef Nichols. He suggests starting with a simple mayo or aioli and folding in chopped chilies, pickled peppers, charred green garlic, or fresh herbs.