Grilling Burgers Perfectly Every Time

No backyard barbecue is complete without grilling burgers,but how do you turn this simple summer fare into something sumptuous? Making the best burgers begins long before you light the charcoal. Start by choosing the right beef and knowing how to prepare it for grilling and then focusing on your grilling technique.

Buy the Best Beef
When it comes to grilling hamburger, you want to choose beef that has a fat content between 15% and 20%, so look for beef labeled 85% or 80% lean. Leaner meats dry out quickly during the grilling process, resulting in burgers that have a tendency to crumble.

If you want the best burgers, choose high-quality chuck over less expensive ground beef.

If possible, ask your local butcher to grind the beef for you or buy whole chuck and grind it yourself at home. Having chuck ground fresh helps ensure you're getting a quality product from a source you can identify, something you can't do with plastic-wrapped packages of beef at the supermarket.

Preparing the Meat
Burger purists will want to keep things simple, adding little more than basic seasoning to the meat, but you can take your burgers' flavor up a notch by mixing in flavorful ingredients like onions, chives, garlic, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, shredded cheese, seasoned breadcrumbs and even jalapeno peppers.

Alternatively, you can try one of the following variations on the classic burger:

Blue Cheese Burgers. Combine one pound of high-quality ground beef with two tablespoons of blue cheese crumbles, a dash of hot sauce, one teaspoon each of Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce and a pinch each of salt, pepper and ground mustard seed.

Onion Burgers. Combine one pound of high-quality ground beef with oneteaspoon minced garlic, one teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ¼ cup of chopped onions, and ½ teaspoon each of salt, pepper, oregano and fresh chopped parsley.

You'll want to be sure you mix these added ingredients in well enough to bind with the meat, but just like cooking plain burgers, take care not to handle the meat any more than is necessary. As with pastry dough, the more ground beef is handled, the tougher it gets and you'll taste that in the final product.

To make things easier, you can choose to don a pair of cooking gloves, rub a thin coat of olive oil onto your hands or simply wet them. Your hands will stay clean while you knead the beef and you'll be less likely to over-handle it.

Forming the Patties
You want to make sure your hamburger patties are neither too big nor too small, and neither too thin nor too thick. The perfect raw hamburger patty should be about ¼ to ½ inch larger all the way around than the bun on which you'll be serving it. Aim for patties that are about ½ to ¾ of an inch thick and weigh about four ounces.

Begin by forming a loose ball of beef and use the heel of your palm to form the patty, taking care not to squash the meat (the denser the pack, the more likely the burger is to shrink during grilling). Gently, with your fingertips, press the edges of the burger in toward the center to smooth the shape.

To further insure against shrinkage, make a small indent with your thumb in the center of each patty, which helps the burger cook evenly so you won't be tempted to violate an important burger-grilling rule: never press down on a burger during grilling unless, of course, you don't mind losing its juices.

Grilling Your Burgers
Prepare your grill for burgers by giving it a quick wipe down with vegetable or olive oil. Preheat to medium-low or medium heat. If you know your grill well, take care to avoid any dead or high-heat spots. Better yet, mark the best spots on your grill now, so you don't have to guess later. If you'll be using a grilling sauce, now is the time to brush it on your burgers.

Grill burgers for about three to four minutes on each side or until the burgers reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the grill closed and only turn the burgers once-these techniques both seal in the juices and speeds cooking time.

Beef Alternatives
If you're looking for a lower-fat option for the grill, ground turkey, ground chicken and even ground tuna or salmon make good burgers. However, all of these beef alternatives need a little extra help to make up for the lower fat content, so be willing to experiment with other ingredients to keep them moist and enhance their natural flavors.

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